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The Culture of Cooperation. Structures, Processes, and Cultural Practices

In the cultural sector and in cultural policy, international cooperation is taken for granted. But to be truly fruitful, cultural exchange must be on an equal footing. But what does that mean? Are arts organizations really on a par with their partners? Is it really fair cooperation they pursue? With her award-winning doctoral thesis, Dr. Annika Hampel has triggered the discussion of a topic debated still much too rarely. Below, she gives a brief introduction to a very complex subject.  

Cultural cooperations <1> between the Global North and Global South <2> are currently widely funded and promoted. The ambition, as is it described by Goethe-Institut, is to pursue “dialogs on an equal footing” or “partnerships between equals.” Indeed, besides the presentation of results, e.g. the performance of a jointly produced play, there is hardly any information about the implementation of the respective cooperation. The experiences gained by the actors, however, provide the relevant prospects for development of a new cooperation culture in the arts sector. 

Cooperations Are Risky Projects 

To learn from each other and with each other, it is high time to present and share the knowledge and valuable experiences gained from intercultural partnerships. Thereby, I am not just referring to the exchange of experiences from successful cooperations, but also from failed ones. As a matter of fact, failure provides the unique potential of learning from setbacks and disappointment for future cooperation projects, that is, of getting ahead and advancing oneself. So far, however, failed cooperations have been tabooed for fear of losing sponsors and supporters. A new culture of cooperation, hence, also requires accepting a culture of experimenting and failing. Cooperations are risky projects. The results obtained during or at the end of a cultural cooperation can seldom be predicted. Partnerships may fail for numerous reasons: Ill-defined objectives and esthetic differences excluding a common basis, lack of communication and confidence as well as cultural discrepancies, and inequality of partners. Stepwise funding enables establishing a culture of experimenting and failing. This way, at the start of their cooperation, the actors are given a “small” amount of money (“seed money”) for testing their cooperation idea for several weeks. After that phase, the cooperating partners together with their sponsors decide whether or not it is reasonable to continue the partnership. If cooperation is discontinued, only a small amount of money is lost. If the cooperation idea is realized through full funding, the potential of successful cooperation is increased by the trial period during which mutual confidence can be established and knowledge about each other can be gained.

One of the main parameters, apart from financing, is the duration of cooperations. One result of my research on international artistic cooperations is that most actors in international cooperation projects consider the short time that is only available for the respective projects to be a challenge. The time needed for cooperation work depends on various factors e.g., on objectives. In the ideal case, but rarely in practice, objectives are defined jointly by all actors at the beginning of the project. This requires knowing one’s own goals. An open exchange on the respective objectives and roles is important to be able to understand all partners in their expectations as regards cooperation, to acknowledge different objectives, and to define joint goals, which one can fall back on in the case of a conflict situation. 

It Takes Time to Build up Trustful Cooperations  

Cooperation work is demanding work requiring a frame and structures in order to be viable. Preparation, for example, means getting to know and understand the partner in his/ her life reality and artistic practice. Identifying similarities that motivate cooperation creates confidence. The building up of confidence, in turn, takes time. And, according to, it also takes time to look at occurring irritations, dissonances, culture shocks, and experiences of foreignness as challenging, fascinating, and frustrating spheres of learning and experience and to make use of them for a deeper understanding of oneself and others. 

Mostly, however, there is only little time between funding approval and project start. According to Anmol Vellani, founder of the India Foundation for the Arts in Bangalore – India’s only philanthropic cultural foundation which for more than one decade has been supervising and observing national and international cooperation projects – ”funding coming from Germany in general starts with jumping into the project and ends with the premiere performance or exhibition.” It is due to such short-term and short-sighted funding that, instead of dealing with and combining the different cultural realities and artistic practices associated with international cooperation, cooperations often are established all too hastily with unknown partners, conflicts are avoided, and cooperation processes are geared to a hurried achievement of a presentable result. Besides, the cooperating partners are required to find and secure follow-up financing arrangements for their artistic work or cultural institution. Hence as a rule, there will be no more than a superficial dialog between the cooperating partners who throughout the entire project will remain unknown to each other or will even disapprove of each other because differences are ignored and must be denied or negated. 

The limited time as well as the restrained budget forces cultural workers to skip both the preparation phase of cooperation and the follow-up activities or the positioning of cooperation in the South and in the North. This leads to passing up the opportunities and potential of enhancing and advancing international cooperation projects beyond boundaries and differences, e.g. by integrating the results of the largely ignored evaluation of past activities in the planning and realization of future ones.

Counteracting the Risks of Cultural Colonialism 

Besides depending on topics or subjects, calls for proposals for cooperation funding are dependent on regions or nations. International cooperation, in contrast, aims to overcome the obstacles caused by the division of the world into nations. Regional funding hence is in blatant contradiction to the fundamental interest of international cooperation work to free itself from regional boundaries and build up a continuous cultural network in the world.

Instead of motivating actors who really want to cooperate, one draws on partners addressed by the region-specific calls. Quite frequently, the partners abroad feel like being used: Instead of being partners whose interests and needs are considered at an equal level, they are background actors, so to speak, who enable the agendas of their alleged “partners.” To many cultural workers, this is a new kind of imperialism and reminds them of cultural colonialism. 

Expedient international cultural funding should aim to dissolve the financing conditions related to nationalities, topics, and subjects and instead offer open funding that gives artists the freedom to choose for themselves the issues they want to cover as well as the respective partners, methods, and purposes. Instead of handing over a fixed funding sum defined in advance, it would be useful to fund cooperations according to their needs. The cooperating partners must determine these needs by stating the financial and time resources required for their processes. To achieve permanent cooperation and long-term exchange relationships, future funding must be process-oriented instead of project-oriented.  

Partnerships on an Equal Footing Must Be the Objective 

Financing, which is mostly provided completely by the Global North, is the core of the hierarchization of the actors in intercultural cultural cooperations. Further unequal conditions are created by the actors’ different degrees of professionalization that often generate a student-teacher relationship. The inequalities are also increased by differences in local infrastructures, e.g. places where art can be created and presented. “These inequalities do not allow in reality the much-proclaimed equal footing,” says a German choreographer who, looking back on almost fifteen years of cooperation with Indian cultural workers, expresses the opinion of many internationally cooperating artists in an exemplary way. 

Partnership between equal partners seems to be utopian. But it is possible to reduce inequalities by creating conditions and structures that allow minimizing the European dominance. Thereby, the unequal use of funds is the biggest obstacle to equal partnerships. A first step, which has already been taken in some international cooperations, is that the partners broach the issue of unequal starting conditions. But this, however, will not dissolve inequalities. A more feasible possibility is to distribute the available funds, and hence financial control, equally to all participants. The joint financial responsibility enables cooperations on an equal footing. By ensuring that all parties jointly administer the entire funds, the cooperating partners are forced to agree on the use of the money. As a consequence, decisions as to contents, organization, or financial matters will be more democratic.

The ideal would be that all partners could make equal financial investments in their artistic cooperations and could thus mutually support each other. By identifying financing sources, such as cultural promotion institutions, commercial enterprises, or private persons in the South, financial structures can be built up there. All partners are required to pursue cultural policies that encourage such financial independence on a long-term basis. 

Cooperations Should Be Perceived as Long-term Processes 

The above-described profound structural changes in the countries of the Global South, however, would imply to recognize the basis on which the so-called partnerships have existed so far. If the Western partners actually were sponsors and investors only, they could become obsolete in the future through development of financing alternatives in the South. Independent financing options would provide the opportunity to abolish relationships based on the roles of givers and receivers, and would offer the possibility to newly define these roles in terms of real partners. This, however, means that the givers would have to question and, if necessary, change their own positions and working methods.

Within my investigation, an Indo-German cooperation team has paraphrased the “dialog on an equal footing” as “guiding light.” Such dialog is an ideal that one must try to achieve but that takes years of cooperation with the partners to become reality. Hence, establishing an equal footing as a base for the cooperating partners to contribute to and decide in the creation of a collective oeuvre in a balanced way is a long-term process that cannot be taken for granted or even decreed by political agendas. 

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<1Cooperations conceived as a format of voluntary collaboration with the aim of creating, on the basis of a joint work process, something new, which could not be achieved by one party alone.   

<2Instead of referring to “developing countries”, “Third World countries”, or the like, the study uses the more neutral terms “Global North“ and ”Global South.“ These terms, however, are not convincing – for example, “Global North” refers exclusively to the richer industrialized regions of the geographic north, while “Global South” roughly refers to the approximately 150 “developing countries” – and thus are italicized. 

 

Annika Hampel (2017): Fair Cooperation. A New Paradigm for Cultural Diplomacy and Arts Management. Peter Lang Publisher, Brussels.

This publication was awarded the Foreign Cultural Policy Research Award of the German Institut fuer Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Relations) and the Research Award on Cultural Policy and Cultural Management of the European Network of Cultural Administration Training Center (ENCATC) in Brussels.

Dr. Annika Hampel studied Applied Cultural Sciences at the universities of Lueneburg and Passau with a focus on International Cultural and Project Management. In July 2014, she earned her doctor’s degree with distinction at the Institute for Cultural Policy of the University of Hildesheim for her thesis on international cooperation in culture, education, and science. Among others, she coordinated and managed projects and events at the Goethe-Instituts in Ghana and Bolivia. Since January 2017, Annika Hampel is heading the International Affairs Service Unit of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Arts Management Quarterly No. 125 also dealt with "Cooperation and collaboration in Arts Management".

Management Topic: Organisation & Leadership
Cultural Area: General
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Oct 02, 2017