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New Places + Spaces + Faces. A review of the first American Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Conference on European ground

The 36th Annual AAAE conference was hosted by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh between May 31st and June 2nd 2017 and was therefore a new place for the Association that met outside the USA for the first time. The fact, that the conference took place in Europe, surely resulted in several new faces. One third of the participants were so-called first timers (assumedly several of them Europeans who took advantage of not having to travel that far).

By Raphaela Henze

Picture: Edinburgh @ Andrei-Daniel Nicolae/ flickr.com - CC BY 2.0

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!"
Rudyard Kipling

As always with conferences, it is difficult to give a coherent report on the proceedings since many things happen in parallel. The selection of panels and speeches presented in this text reflects my subjective preferences and the fact that it is still impossible to be at several different places at the same time. 

Soft power as solution for intercultural conflicts?

To me, one of the most rewarding sessions was surely the keynote “Negotiating Cultural Borders in an Anxious World” by J.P. Singh, Director of the University of Edinburgh Institute for International Cultural Relations, who, in a marvellous tour de force, spoke about the beginnings of diplomacy by referring to Francois de Callieres and Alexis de Tocqueville. The later explained already 200 years ago that trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. And although he was surely right with this assumption, it is – at least in my eyes – definitely not able to give a satisfying answer to many of the challenges we are currently facing. The market is not and has never been the only answer. 

J.P. Singh not surprisingly also touched on (post)colonialism that has formed and deformed cultural identities for centuries and has to be an integral part of every discourse on international arts management, and in this context referred to the poem by Rudyard Kipling that I cited at the beginning of this text. He also talked about soft power and its correlation with nation branding, which is definitely the case, but often denied by several of those working in institutions like the British Council or the Goethe-Institut.

Since a lot of effort is actually put into increasing soft power (and measuring it – the study "The Soft Power 30" by Portland Communications in conjunction with the University of Southern California school of public diplomacy just attributed the rise of France in the ranks of nations with non-military global influence to the election of centrist Emmanuel Macron), Singh asked important questions such as: What for? What comes out of it? What does it for a country? More international students, tourists, more foreign direct investment and more voting ideal points at the UN? Is this what cultural diplomacy is all about? 

Fostering diversity and equity

Following the keynote, I was lucky to find myself in a session with Crystal Yingling from the Intiman Theatre in Seattle who presented “The Possibility Spectrum: Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in Arts Organisations”. She referred to the fact that many arts organisations already understood very well that the homogeneity of the sector (see research by Dubois, 2016) especially in ‘Western’ countries is a serious threat to providing meaningful art to an increasingly hetrogenous body of people, and therefore welcome diversity and increase inclusion. Some, unfortunately, still work with a “deficit model approach”, as Tania Canas describes it. Canas asks us to beware of superficial aesthetic-only diversity that only re-creates the disposable voices of those involved. In an extremely well-structured session that allowed enough space for questions and group reflections, Crystal Yingling presented a case study of Seattle’s Intiman theatre that, after near extinction, reinvented itself with the mission to produce theatre “as diverse as the community in which we live”. In order to meet this challenge, the theatre launched the Intiman Emerging Artist Program (IEAP) that tries to convince more and diverse people to pursue a career as actor, focusing on those who would not be considered or – even worse – would not consider themselves as suitable candidates. 

In the afternoon, Laura Zucker from the LA County Arts Commission gave a speech on “Moving towards Cultural Equity and Inclusion in the Field”. She described the participatory process of determining how best to increase cultural equity and inclusion for staff, artists, boards, programming, and audiences for arts organizations. Laura Zucker was highly successful in gathering many people to contribute their views and ideas. The experiences she made after the first presentation of her actionable recommendations in April 2017 unfortunately sound familiar to many in the sector. It seems as if only a tiny part of her suggestions will be published and taken forward. This is highly disappointing, taking into the account the work as well as money that went into the process. What makes it even more harmful is that this course of action discourages especially those minority groups that raised their voices and got involved while hoping for a chance to participate to better the situation. 

How does arts management education have to change?

Another inspiring paper was presented by Antonio C. Cuyler from Florida State University. Since arts managers will increasingly have to deal with intercultural/ transcultural challenges in their daily work (Henze 2016), it is necessary to find new teaching methods in order to prepare students for these new opportunities and challenges. Antonio C. Cuyler presented his course on service learning that engaged students for fifteen weeks in cultural specific arts organisations. His survey proved that the participants’ perceptions of the field and the role they can, will and have to play within it and also in the respective communities have changed during the course of the project.

One of the sessions I did not participate in dealt with arts management education as well. “Global Conversations” took place on Wednesday morning and was only open to AAAE and ENCATC members. One focus of this session was to reflect on a “universally” applicable curriculum as well as standards for arts management education. Although I am convinced that we have to lobby for more content like postcolonial theory, (development) geography, ethnology and history in our programmes, I personally believe that the last thing we need is such a curriculum. The fact that the numerous programmes on the market are so diverse and are therefore able to consider the national and regional characteristics of the arts sector is an advantage in a field that is as fragmented as ours. Even if we agree on something as basic as the fact that every arts manager needs a sound knowledge of for example marketing – well, marketing in Finland might be very different from marketing in, for example, Nigeria. There is also a certain paternalism in such an endeavour. Today we already see too many “experts” traveling around the world to offer their services and who might not have anything to teach that really fits the local contexts since arts management is not a tool box with lots of one-size fits all solutions.

On Friday morning, the obligatory field trips were organised and I found myself with three colleagues from the USA and Spain at the amazing Festival Theatre in Edinburgh where we had a look behind the scenes and learned about the theatre’s great efforts to reach out inter alia to people suffering from dementia by providing “dementia friendly” opera performances.

In the afternoon the presentation “Across the Pond: trends in international cultural relations and engagement by US and UK arts and cultural organisations” by Aimee Fullman from the University of Westminster stood out. Together with Carla Figueira from Goldsmiths University of London she is working on a project that via a survey gathers anonymous information about international arts, cultural and educational activities that may be categorised as mobility or touring, exchanges, cultural diplomacy and cultural relations. This research will help to inform current and future higher education and field initiatives to support arts and cultural organizations and professionals working in international as well as intercultural contexts. 

All in all, the well-organised conference in Scotland’s beautiful capital was an interesting opportunity to meet international colleagues. The quality of the speakers and the presentation was high, the topics not necessarily different from the discourses in Europe. But since both regions are dealing with similar challenges regarding the arts sector, that was not to be expected. 

Prof. Dr. Raphaela Henze MBA is professor of arts management at Heilbronn University, Germany and co-founder of the international and interdisciplinary network Brokering Intercultural Exchange

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Management Topic: Policy & Research
Cultural Area: General
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Aug 02, 2017