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“There are no universal formulas.” How intercontinental experiences can enrich the profession of arts management

Emilio Piñango studied dance, arts management and arts education at universities in Venezuela and Spain. He worked as performing arts manager for the Ministry of Culture Venezuela and just started a PhD program in Arts at the Sorbonne University, France. Based on this manifold background, we talked to him about cultural policies and audience development for the performing arts. And as this interview is part of our series on cultural managers in Central and South America, he shared with us his experiences on the differences of studying arts management in Venezuela and Europe, and how the respective knowledge can be transferred to another region of the world.

Arts Management Network: Emilio, what have you learned about arts management in Europe during the last ten years?

Emilio Piñango: I can say that my education in arts management has been a nourishing experience and an on-going training process. I attended workshops, seminars and congresses in Spain and France, and meeting and listening to cultural managers, experts and academics from other countries and art fields there has been valuable for my learning process. Therefore, building an international professional networking with specialists from arts marketing, cultural communication, cultural policies, performing arts management and dance history has been one of the most important lessons I have learnt. In the end, we all work for the common goal of making art and culture relevant to people’s lives. I have also gained the insight that there are no universal formulas in arts management and that we have to work by trial and error sometimes. There are different social, educational, cultural, economic, legal, demographic, political and technological realities in each country and even in cities of the same country that we have to work with. This implies that every job or project can be different and forces us to rethink these indicators.

When I left Venezuela in 2005, there were no specific programs in arts management. Therefore, I began my training at the University of Barcelona, thanks to a scholarship of cultural cooperation and international development from the Government of Catalonia. During these two wonderful years I met young cultural managers from other countries as well as notable experts in arts administration. I especially remember a class with Francesc Casadesus, former director of Mercat de les Flors, a theatre exclusive on dance in Spain. Barcelona is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe and I keep beautiful memories of living in this city alive. Now since 2010, the Central University of Venezuela finally offers a Master in Cultural Management and Policies.

In the last twelve years in Europe, I have had the opportunity to see most of the world’s important dance companies. I am a performing arts manager with a formal background and experience in dance, so for me it is fundamental to know what happens on stage internationally. At the same time, it is also important for an arts manager to be a cultural consumer, spectator and citizen. I currently live in Paris and it is really special to me to see the Ballet of Opéra National de Paris regularly, this prestigious school, and to take my time to think about dance management and its cultural policies. For example, the first action of the government of King Louis XIV was to create the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661. This was a wonderful project for the world of performing arts. We can say that it was the first cultural policy in the history of dance.

In short I will begin another important academic period. I have been accepted for the PhD program in Arts and Sciences of Arts at the Sorbonne University where I will analyse cultural policies for the professional development of dance with a special focus on public policies for audience development. 

AMN: Where do you see potentials and problems of transferring this knowledge to projects in Venezuela?

EP: Arts management is a broad field with several challenges and needs according to each art discipline. For this reason, it is very important to highlight that dance is an art field with specific circumstances and key issues that we need to know in depth to solve its problems. In Ibero America, for example, the status of dance is precarious. Our dancers, teachers and choreographers often work under bad conditions. And dance deserves a more prominent role in the cultural systems of our countries.

Picture: Venezuelan dancers Jhosmar Chitty and Oswaldo González © JuanD.net Photography

It is also important to note that in Venezuela we are passing through a heavy economic, social and political crisis and it is extremely difficult to undertake any art project. We have a dictatorship, a totalitarian government, and for this reason, I dedicate myself to design my projects for a time when democracy gets back to the country. Hopefully it will be soon. I am currently designing two such projects in the field of dance. The first one is linked to the management of dance and its specific policies. And the second one is a biography about a notable figure in the dance history of Venezuela. I made more progress on this last project, for which I am now doing some research in Europe and South America.

In any case, talking back to the question, I would rather talk about exchanging insights, tools and experiences than only transferring knowledge to my projects or to the arts sector in my country. For example, I am sure that a lot of arts management professionals would be interested in collaborating in prospective cultural projects in my home country. In Spain, for example, there are interesting projects and initiatives in audience management. So, there is a lot of knowledge to exchange and learn. South America currently advances fields like audience development and community building through the arts, and there are very interesting cultural projects taking place in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru or Uruguay.

AMN: But, since arts management is a very broad field, you would still like to focus on the dance sector?

EP: I love this question, thank you so much for asking it. It is not common to talk about dance management and its cultural policies both in arts management and in Ibero America. First of all, I have to say that this is a very complex situation and it is not easy to give a general idea of it. 

In France, the working conditions for dancers in the national ballet companies are amazing. For example, the ballet of Opéra National de Paris has two theatres, the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille, around 150 dancers and the age of retirement is about 42 years. The ballet school is also a prestigious institution in the French cultural sector. In Germany, there are a lot of national dance companies with local and governmental support. In Spain, the situation is very different. The working conditions for dancers are not the best and there are only two national dance companies. Many international dancers and choreographers such as Nacho Duato, Angel Corella, Chevi Muraday and Goyo Montero have reported this situation.

In our countries, sadly, the dancers work under even worse and unsafe conditions to develop their artistic careers. The public budgets for dance are the lowest among performing arts and local authorities do not have any interest in dance. In Venezuela, the conditions are especially critical because of the crisis of the last years. Many dance companies and schools have closed their doors, among them the Ballet Nuevo Mundo and the Ballet Contemporáneo de Caracas. And many young dancers and teachers have left the country in the last decade. Venezuela has lost a wonderful generation of outstanding dancers. In Caracas, there are only two dance companies left: the National Dance Company and the Teresa Carreño Ballet. Both companies suffer from the shadow of the Venezuelan crisis. All in all, dance is not important. This is the cultural reality. One of the most important challenges of dance in Ibero America therefore is to focus on specific cultural policies for the sector and gain more support from local governments.

Picture: A Staging of the Nutcracker by the Teresa Carreño Teatro in Caracas © Adan Zarate 

Dance management in Venezuela deserve a meticulous analysis and a lot of research. If we talk about challenges for the future, the country first needs the return to democracy and an economic, cultural, social, ethical and political recuperation. Its cultural sector needs freedom of thought. With a new political context the first thing would be to understand that dance deserves long- and medium-term specific cultural policies. We will need at least two decades to build a strong and dynamic working environment to all professionals within the field of dance. I think it would need a second interview to describe in detail the many key issues of dance management and its cultural policies in Venezuela.

AMN: Is there maybe anything else, another bridge you would like to talk?

EP: I recommend everyone to follow two dance projects in South America. The first is the National Ballet of Sodre, Uruguay, under the artistic direction of the Argentinian dancer Julio Bocca. This dance company has consciously worked in the last seven years to recuperate its cultural brand and achieve more presence in international dance. The second project is the Bienal Internacional de Danza de Cali, Colombia, under the artistic direction of Juan Pablo López. In addition to its dance programme with international acclaimed works, I like this last project from an arts management point of view because of its communication strategies.  

Related articles of our series on arts management in Central and South America

Management Topic: Policy & Research
Cultural Area: Theatre+Dance
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Sep 25, 2017