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Arts management courses to empower local artists in Mexico-City

For this interview, our correspondent Lisa Harborth talked to Marcela Jiménez López, the Subdirector of Mexico City’s program Small Cultural Enterprises. It was started ten years ago to support local artists in building up their own enterprises. The program teaches general knowledge in arts management and supports artists in building up their own enterprises. Small Cultural Enterprises thereby compensates the lack of management education during artistic studies in university. In 2016 alone, over 250 artists participated in the program. 

Picture: Street art in Mexico City © Lisa Harborth

Lisa Harborth: What is the main idea of the program Small Cultural Enterprises? 

Marcela Jiménez López: The main idea is to visualise the economic value of arts and culture, besides it’s symbolic one. The program’s aim is to overcome the view of arts and culture as something unprofitable. It is important for the artists to learn that you can charge for your artistic work. The second main idea is to show the cultural and artistic community of Mexico-City new ways to manage their projects. The program teaches them about the monetary value of their work, how they can make it profitable, and eventually how it pays their bills. 

LH: What were the reasons to create a program like this? How was it developed? 

MJL: Basically, it comes from the artists themselves. Without basic knowledge about arts management they are dependent on governmental and foundation grants. Thereby, the artists are forced to work on certain topics, they cannot chose the content by themselves. But the artists here in Mexico-City believed that they could get out this dependency, they just needed a basic education about project management, finance and marketing. 

When Marcelo Ebrard was governor of Mexico-City (2006–2012), they undertook some research about programs abroad to get an idea of how it could work and looked for possible professors and a coordinator. At this time I started working for the program that we developed all together, based on the needs of the artists. This dialogue between the artists and the professors is still an important part of the program. We always orientate the contents of the courses towards the artists’ questions and support them as good as possible. 

LH: How is the program organized? 

MJL: The program offers courses for about 35 to 50 participants and is structured in a one-week basic course and a four-week specialisation course. During the basic course, the participants present their projects and phrase a project description. In the following specialisation course, they are taught in subjects such as copy right, trademark registration, public training, fundraising, cultural marketing and social media. Also, they write the business plan for their project, including the next one to five years. If they already realised the project, the specialisation course can also be about how to build up their own legal business. 

LH: Who are the participants of the course?

MJL: The program is part of the cultural secretary of Mexico-City, so it is only open for artists who are local residents and over 18 years old. It focuses on participants with at least three years of work experience, and although we began to open it for artists who just finished their university degree, over 70 percent of the participants already have work experience. They participate at the program because they never learned how to manage themselves in a professional way. They do not know how to do a quotation or a business plan or how to develop a professional marketing concept. 

LH: Who are the professors and teachers? 

MJL: The professors and teachers of the program are experts in various areas of arts management. Most of them run their own company and have a profound knowledge of the cultural sector in Mexico. They have a lot of experience, maybe failed at some point in their career and learned from their mistakes. For me, as a person in charge of the program, it is important that they want to share their failures as well as their successes, their experiences and their knowledge. They have to know what can work and why, what you need as a young artists and how you can reach it. 

LH: How do you support the participants to fulfil their strategies? 

MJL: In addition to the established subjects, we orientate the program’s content on the needs of the participants. Depending on their questions and their profile, we change the topics given during the specialisation course. Also, we offer personal accompaniment and tutorials to include detailed information one artist may need. In two occasions, the program got prolonged by a month and a half because the participants wanted to get more education about copy right, marketing and show production. Additionally, after finishing the program, the artists get further support by the cultural secretary. We help them to promote their projects, to reach publicity and to get interviews or attention by the press. 

LH: What are the challenges for the participants and the professors? 

MJL: Sometimes, there are participants who calculate 2 + 2 = 8 (was will sie damit sagen?). Also some of them negate to charge for their work as it might loose it’s intrinsic value. They do not know how to or they are ashamed of charging. Mexican artists are very noble. So it is our goal to show them the monetary value of art and culture. We have to teach them how to measure the effort to create their work. They have to learn that their work has a monetary value, even if it is calculated different from living costs or services. But, after they experience the utility of the whole process, they do not negate to do it anymore, but are very glad that they learned how to think and act more managerial. These are some of the challenges we have to fight. 

LH: What results does the program have – any successes or failures? 

MJL: Over the long-term, there have been almost no failures of artistic businesses. Among all companies that passed our program, only two failed, but for personal reasons. Obviously, some are more successful than others. For example, there is a girl who offers art and trade workshops for blind people. Before starting in the program, it was a small project, but today she runs a whole non-profit association. In almost all cases, the program helps to improve the life standard of the participants. The tools they learn help them to become more successful. There are also participants that do not follow their business plan. They do not change their work routine, so we cannot help them. But in most cases, when they start to follow their business plan, they see the results and get ambitious. The participants say that there is a before and an after. That is very satisfying. In Mexico, we say “you changed my chip”. They always have had this certain idea, but after their “chip got changed”, they know how to make it happen. 

LH: How is the program financed? 

MJL: It is financed by public resources from the Cultural Secretary of Mexico-City. We pay the professors and teachers and support them in the coordination, the content and the development of the materials. For the artists, the participation is free of charge. 

LH: Where else than in Mexico-City can you attend to the program? 

MJL: This program only exists here. It is possible to offer parts of the program in other states, because Mexico-City is a leading city in the national Agenda 21 for Culture. That allows the Cultural Secretary to collaborate with other states, but one of their institutions needs to send an official request. Normally, the responsible person in the ministry for culture, the secretary of culture or a university invites us to share our experience with them. Until now, we already offered courses or workshops in about ten other states. To amplify the coverage of the course, we are also thinking about offering virtual classes, but that is still in process.

Marcela Jiménez López has degrees in public governance, creative entrepreneurship, administration and communication. For more than 15 years she worked in private and governmental organisations, as research and study program coordinator, professor, and teacher of arts management at different universities in Mexico and Bolivia. Currently, Marcela is working for the cultural secretary of Mexico-City as subdirector of the program Small Cultural Businesses and in charge of the program "Imagination in Motion" that promotes artistic and cultural practice. She also has a consultancy for large international companies.

See also the first interview of our series on arts management in Central America: "Where good connections are more important than artistic quality. The cultural sector in Mexico

Management Topic: Policy & Research
Cultural Area: General
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Jun 12, 2017