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Approaching an Understanding of Arts and Cultural Managers as Intercultural Brokers

Our current context of internationalisation, globalisation, and the increasing global migration presents challenges and opportunities for the arts and cultural sector. With creative and aesthetic expressions inherently reflective of cultural ideas, knowledge and values, arts and cultural managers have a significant role to play in directing, administering and mediating intercultural understanding. This refers to the ability to know, accept, value, and empathise with alternative perspectives and perceptions of the world.

By Victoria Durrer, Ina Ross and Raphaela Henze

Still, very little is understood about the historical, institutional and social dimensions of these processes within the field of arts and cultural management. At the same time, there is research available in other fields of study – postcolonial, cultural, history, cultural policy and higher education studies – that have much to contribute to building our understanding of these processes. After having met for the first time at the conference ‘Cultural Management without Borders’ at Heilbronn University in January 2015, we set about to establish an interdisciplinary and international network with the goal to bring diverse international researchers and practitioners in arts and cultural management together with those from other disciplines. By fostering exchange of research and practice, we hope that members of the network can collectively explore topics important in the intercultural context of arts and cultural management. The critical discourse on arts and cultural management practice is urgently needed, requires deep reflection and analysis of the conventional structures, terminology, institutions, and habits employed within the field in various contexts.

The Museum ‘Tradition’

The origins of cultural institutions like museums can be traced back to early modern Europe where collections were argued to present the ‘best’ art of a society or exotic artefacts collected from ‘other’ societies and thus stood as representations of national power and pride as well as political virtue. In the ‘global South’, many of these institutions are imported: either introduced by former colonial rulers or set up after decolonisation and again modelled on institutions in the western hemisphere. Thus countries like China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar or Indonesia all have ‘national museums’ – a concept typical of 19th and early 20th century Europe. 

Cultural institutions in what was formerly and derogatively called the ‘Third World’ can therefore appear familiar to those based in the western hemisphere. The sometimes-deceptive impression of familiarity is reinforced by the meta-narratives attached to cultural institutions. Under the influence of the anti-colonial discourse, for instance, the museum in India is understood primarily as an instrument for nation building. Visitors of a museum in a provincial capital in central India came up with a broad range of views of what they think a museum is (some explained a zoo or a hill station to the interviewer as museum). This is also true of the theatre. For example, in 2005, the Theatre India magazine devoted a special issue to the question of “How ‘National’ is our National Theatre?” . As referenced above, these perspectives are easily understood in the West and have parallels in the history of European culture and ideology. 

Standard Ideas about Professionalisation

This familiarity seems to result in efforts to exchange and ‘professionalise’ arts and cultural management practices in imbalanced ways. The suggestion is that western arts and cultural management and marketing strategies and practices can be transferred, which risks ignoring the specificities of local cultural contexts and practices. Rather than engaging in a more nuanced cultural understanding, such approaches pejoratively view and address these visitor as being 20 years ‘behind’ American or European consumers in their needs and habits. Similarly, a museum in Asia or Africa is typically viewed as needing to be ‘brought up’ to a level in line with the most recent stage of western modernity. 

Ongoing research by Ina Roß (a visitor survey including about 80 interviews in Hindi and English and a guest book and visitor observation in two Indian museums, the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal and the National Museum in New Delhi) demonstrates how increasing financial prosperity in countries like India, for example, has led to the emergence of many new private arts and cultural initiatives and enterprises that are working to ‘professionalise’ arts and cultural management practice. In this context, visitor numbers, marketing and management have increasingly come into focus, matched with greater efforts to foster a more standardised style of arts and cultural management practice. The Indian government has appointed a steering committee by which representatives from different arts and cultural institutions and private initiatives are exploring how arts management strategies might be implemented in organisations. Yet, arts and cultural management is still rarely taught in universities with academic efforts largely emphasising heritage management (e.g. the Centre of Heritage Management, Ahmedabad University). As a new career path being actively discussed and explored in India, management consultants, organisations and experts from Anglophone and European countries see a market emerging for developing arts management practice. Often acting on behalf of, or in cooperation with, diplomatic cultural institutions present in the respective countries (e.g. the Goethe-Institut or the British Council), actors like Art Think SouthAsia (ATSA) or Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre (SMART) have begun supporting and influencing endeavours to standardise arts and cultural management practice and education in India.

An Imbalanced Exchange

This resulting exchange highlights how our historical understanding of the development and professionalisation of arts and cultural management in both practice and education is often geopolitically informed and thus gives rise to some interesting problems and questions. We need to be cognisant that such approaches do not fail to take into account the possibility that these ‘non-western’ institutions are not at all deficient, but actually different – in terms of what they try to achieve as well as how they try to achieve it. 

Our conversations in Heilbronn in January 2015 reflected upon how those of us practicing in the western hemisphere too often assume they ‘know’ what cultural institutions are, how they should be managed, and what those visiting them need and want. In fact, our knowledge is indeed very limited, maybe even Eurocentric. At the same time, we have been presented with an incredible opportunity to learn from one another’s perspectives and practices. Rather than simply impose outside solutions, which assume that different cultural viewpoints of arts and culture, and specifically arts and cultural management practice and institutional structures, are simply transferrable between cultures, we need to develop greater balance of knowledge exchange. 

Following these comprehension, we are establishing an international research and knowledge sharing network entitled ‘Brokering Intercultural Exchange: Interrogating the Role of Arts and Cultural Management’. We aim to generate knowledge and case studies in the field of arts and cultural management that can serve both academics and researchers who explore and engage in relationships and working practices across and between cultures and nations. Activities will involve meeting in person in several sessions in different locations in 2017 as well as an online platform for wider dissemination of ideas and findings. By bringing researchers and arts and cultural managers, educators, and students together with policymakers and artists to engage in intercultural dialogue, we can begin to reveal and investigate the complexity of our experiences, traditions, and terminology. We hope this will assist in developing policies, practices and pedagogies that foster new value of alternative cultural perspectives. 

This articel has first been published in Arts Management Quarterly No. 124 on "An entriely new Arts Management"

The first workshop of the newly established network will take place in January 2017 at Heilbronn University, Künzelsau, Germany on the topic of "Framing Art and Cultural Management: the relationship of the management of arts and cultural objects to globalisation, internationalisation, and migration". It deals with intercultural understanding as the ability to know, accept, value and empathise with alternative perspectives and perceptions of the world, and the role of arts and cultural managers in relating processes. A follow-up report will be published on Arts Management Network.

 

Victoria Durrer is Lecturer in Arts Management and Cultural Policy at Queens University Belfast. She has over ten years of practical arts management experience in the United States, China, the UK and Ireland, and her research focuses on the relationship between cultural institutions and the social realm.  

Ina Ross is a cultural manager with a focus on PR and marketing. She has worked for cultural and arts institutions in Germany and Europe, was Associate Professor of Culture Management at the Academy of Performing Arts “Ernst Busch” in Berlin and guest lecturer at the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. Since 2015 she lives in New Delhi, where she is teaching Arts Management at the National School of Drama (NSD) and doing research on Indian museum visitors. 

Raphaela Henze is professor of Arts Management at Heilbronn University. Her main research focus is on the impacts of globalization and internationalisation on arts management and arts management education. She studied law at Humboldt-University Berlin and Paris X-Nanterre in France, received her Ph.D. at Ruhr University Bochum, was a postdoc at Yale Law School, USA, as well as at the National Institute for Educational Policy Research (NIER) in Tokyo, Japan. She also has an MBA from the University of London.

Management Topic: Education & Development
Cultural Area: General
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Jan 04, 2017