At the crossroads? Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

Yesterday was the opening day of the 7th world summit on arts and culture in Valletta, Malta. The summit will bring together government and cultural leaders from over 80 countries to explore Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century. Find out more about the theme and program here.

On Thursday during the open sessions we will have the opportunity to present The Fika project and our results.


Welcome to our book launch!

booksPerspectives and Narratives on Cultural Leadership
Book Launch – Presentations – Networking – Reception
Wednesday 22 June 2016 | 14:30 – 17:30
ARTS 56 – Avenue des Arts 56, 1000 Brussels

The books “Perspectives on Cultural Leadership” and “Narratives by Cultural Change Makers” are an anthology of research and essays and a collection of life and career stories by experienced cultural leaders representing one of the first public manifestations of The Fika Project.

We hope you can join us to hear more about The Fika Project and its plans, including the aim to launch a cultural leadership course for international change-makers.

The launch is also an opportunity to participate in Fika, a Swedish word for a work break with coffee/tea and something sweet to eat where surprising conversations, creative ideas and new collaborations can happen! You will also be able to buy the books at a reduced rate.

This event is organised in the framework of a Day of European Cultural Leadership in Brussels, that also includes the 6th Annual ENCATC Policy Debate (10.00–13.00). It will be an occasion to discuss cultural leadership development in a European context, from theoretical, contextual and pedagogical perspectives with the authors of this publication.

Both events are free and take place in the same venue, but you need to register asap (so we can order enough cakes). Places are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Register now for free!

Order copies by sending an email to:

Perspectives on Cultural Leadership: 20 € + shipping (5 € within Europe)

Narratives by Cultural Change Makers: 15 € + shipping (5 € within Europe)

Both 30 € + shipping

In Sweden: Order your copies on

The Fika Project

Our project is moving forward and on June 22nd we would love to share our results with you at our launch in Brussels. More information will come soon! We have now changed the name of the project to The Fika Project. Below you can read why.

The Fika Project: Empowering Cultural Change Makers

What is it?

Fika is a social institution in Sweden. There has been evidence of the word fika for over a hundred years. It is a transposition of “kaffi” (a variation of the Swedish word for coffee). To fika means to take a break from work to have a coffee with colleagues. You may well have buns and cake along with your coffee. And a chat – a fika break is a great opportunity to discuss anything and everything.

In similar fashion, The Fika Cultural Leadership Programme offers you a chance to replenish your reserves, both physical and mental, and helps you to develop your work in a significant way. These are challenging times and The Fika Programme is about building leadership capacity to face these challenges.

How did it come about?

The Fika Project was developed in five steps:

  • An examination of the leadership CPD (Continuing Professional Development) needs of the cultural sector, focussing on Europe: summary on the project website:;
  • A survey of existing cultural leadership training in different parts of the world: summary on;
  • Narratives by Cultural Change Makers: international case studies of the professional lives of ten cultural leaders published in book form and made available on;
  • Perspectives on Cultural Leadership: an anthology of research and essays published in book form and made available on;

…and will finally result in:

  • The Fika Cultural Leadership Programme: an intensive residential and distance learning programme that invites cultural change makers across the world (particularly – though not exclusively – those operating at small scale) to take a break from their day-to-day responsibilities. Not just to drink coffee and eat cake, but also to meet colleagues and mentors, share experiences, learn from others, take the opportunity to reflect, access new networks and make new collaborations

Who did it?

We are the partners behind The Fika Project, which is supported by the EU Erasmus+ education and training programme and Region Västra Götaland in Sweden:

Karin Dalborg (Project Manager), Anna Johansen Fridén and Mikael Löfgren, Nätverkstan Kultur: independent cultural organisation based in Gothenburg, Sweden, providing education, financial and technical services, project management and consulting to the cultural sector:

Birgitta Persson, Trans Europe Halles: European-based network of cultural centres initiated by citizens and artists:

Sue Kay and Annick Schramme, ENCATC: European network for cultural management and cultural policy education:

Sandy Fitzgerald and Paul Bogen, Olivearte Cultural Agency: providing wide-ranging support to the European arts and cultural sector:

Leadership development in the European cultural sector: paradigms, pedagogies and practices

ENCATC collaborative masterclass, Tuesday 22 March 2016, CIVA – Le Centre International pour la Ville, Brussels

I am sure you will recognise the date of this event for its significance as marking yet another atrocity, not just against innocent men, women and children but challenging our very humanity and how we care for ourselves on this planet. As news filtered through of the bombings, a decision had to be taken whether to proceed or to cancel. A decision was taken that if people turned up and wanted to go ahead, we would. Of the 60 registered participants, about 30 arrived and everyone felt it important to continue. This reaction, in itself, gave people an opportunity to share and support each other and to offer different perspectives on the tragic circumstances we found ourselves in. Indeed, the international and multicultural nature of our gathering spoke to ideals and aspirations that embrace interculturalism, learning and freedom of expression, values that gained in relevance, as the day went on.

The structure of the event saw four provocations in the morning from different perspectives on leadership: Dr Jon Price (Gray’s School of Art at Robert Gordon University, Scotland), Hatem Hassan Salama (Project Manager for Tansem Shami), Marjolein Verhallen and Pepijn Reeser (LinC project, Netherlands) and Dr Visnja Kisic (Creative Mentorship project, Serbia). The afternoon was then given over to interrogating issues that had been raised during the morning’s provocations but also within the context of the ‘The Fika Project’ initiative, which was presented to participants during this second phase of the programme.

Some of the main questions raised during the morning were interesting not only for their diversity but in their common approach to leadership, namely a non-hierarchical and collective based approach, rather then the traditional top-down, individualistic style. Jon posed the question of leaders as instigators, the people who act and then give permission for others to act. But, once the initial step is taken, what happens then? Who controls the resulting process? Hatem continued this line of inquiry by emphasising that the process is very important and should not be ignored or supressed by the tyranny of results and outcomes and that true leadership is much more a collaborative and participatory process. Marjolein and Pepijn pointed out the dichotomy between the collaborative process and what is often a very individualistic practice for the artist. Can this collective approach undermine the freedom of the individual? And is there a danger of blandness in the collective approach in what should be a very dynamic sector? Visnja raised the question of difference and how one model will not fit all circumstances. Different cultural histories and experiences need to be taken into account and it might be better to refer to an intercultural, rather than an international, approach.

The programme also featured ‘reflections from a critical friend’ Maureen Salmon, (Founder Director, Freshwaters Consultancy, London), who responded to the various interventions and gave insightful comments from an outsider’s perspective.

It is fair to say no definitive answers were found to the questions raised but, as was mentioned continually throughout the day, the process itself was illuminating and the discussions will continue, particularly in the context of the Fika Project, which has another event planned for June, where two books will be launched on this subject of cultural leadership.

It is worth finishing with the Fika Project vision statement, which was presented, as part of the afternoon programme:

Supporting leadership in the arts and cultural sector for change-makers internationally who are working to make the arts more relevant and creativity more central to people’s lives in the 21st Century, contributing to increased social and cultural democracy, empowerment and sustainable change.

There was a question from one of the participants as to whether this statement is too idealistic. Yes, it could be read as such but given the reality we are living in the world today and the terrible events taking place outside of the meeting hall on March 22nd, idealism may be needed now more then ever before. We have to be visionary, creative and dynamic, if we are to overcome this place of fear and darkness that we find ourselves in. As was said during the day, first steps have to be taken and we must support leadership that is attempting to take these steps. That was the unifying factor of all who participated in this collaborative master class and potentially there is a lot of strength and support available to future change-makers working for ‘increased social and cultural democracy, empowerment and sustainable change’ if Fika and other similar projects can be developed.

The text is written by Sandy Fitzgerald

Olivarte Cultural Agency, Project partner

Cultural leadership courses & programmes survey abstract

This desktop survey was undertaken as part of the needs assesment for the project. The final results do not claim to be a definitive record of all such courses and programmes available globally but it is safe to say they do give a good indication of what is available at this point in time to the arts and culture sector with regard to leadership training and development.20 relevant cultural leadership courses and programmes were found worldwide: USA 5, UK 5, Netherlands 4 and Germany, Singapore, Cambodia, Canada, Spain and Sweden, 1 each. The organisations that manage these courses and programmes range from universities to private companies. Of the 20 responsible organisers, 6 are nationally or regionally funded, 5 are universities, 4 are private companies, 3 are schools, 1 is a college and 1 a foundation. Content and methodologies vary widely, which also reflects the differing views of leadership and its role in developing culture and, indeed, society in general. Common themes, however, are: professional development, how to be successful in one’s chosen field and in-service training.

The intended participants for these courses and programmes are either specifically targeted groups or are open application to international participation: 9 have open international calls and the remaining 11 have a local, regional or community of interest focus. Of these, only 3 are aimed at students or early career entrants, while the remaining 17 require applicants to be professionals with leadership experience. Entry requirements vary, with three requiring at least 5 years experience, one 8 years and one 10 years. The remainder are a mix of open call (9) and specific entrance requirements that are related to a local focus e.g. North Africa and the Middle East (6). Outside of 2 accredited university programmes, none require any formal educational certification in order to join. The cost of the courses and programmes also vary widely, running from free to €53,000 (the latter a masters programme). There is no standard or average with respect to cost.

The first thing that is clear with regard to this survey is that there are very few dedicated arts and cultural leadership courses or programmes available, word-wide, compared to other types of training now available to the arts and culture sector. For this reason, and because the aims and the target audiences are so disparate, it is hard to reach many defining conclusions. Further, leadership is often confused with management and sometimes what is called leadership training is actually management training. It is also the case that most courses and programmes do not define what they mean by leadership but, rather, describe their intended outcomes, which can be broken down under two main headings: personal development and wider cultural development. Personal development is variously described, for instance as ‘leaders who want to realize their full potential’ or ‘develop personal leadership skills’ and cultural development covers a wide range of outcomes, such

as ‘to reshape creative and cultural institutions to better engage, educate and enrich community’ or ‘sustaining a vibrant arts community’.

Only 2 of the courses and programmes in this survey are accredited and most are set up either as a response to a specific need or as a general call by an independent group or company, as part of their private training portfolio. While the business sector has long recognised leadership in their training, accredited or otherwise, for arts and culture it is a relatively new concept and still does not feature as a priority for sector development, as is represented by the small number of offers included in this survey. However, this is beginning to change, as can be seen from the rise in the number of courses and programmes on offer since such training began to emerge in the early 1990s, even if the numbers are still small. This can also be deduced from a growing debate around the issue of leadership, which can be gaged from publications, conferences and interest from the sector itself. What is not so clear is the framing of the debate and how the broad spectrum of leadership might be developed with regard to common understandings and the sharing of knowledge around this topic, which even a cursory analysis of this survey shows.

What is apparent from this survey is that leadership is the poor relation of many other types of arts and culture training and development options. If leadership is a key component to the future growth, effectiveness and relevance of the arts and culture sector in society, then new methodologies and programmes for leadership are needed that can address both individual and organisational prerequisites for the sector’s development, particularly in the changing and very demanding environment we live in today.

Needs assessment

We have produced an overview of the perceived and identified Continuing Professional Development (CPD) needs of cultural sector leaders on the basis of surveys, documented workshops and in-depth interviews, which are reflected in our publication Narratives by Cultural Change Makers (see list of sources below).

At a general level, the CPD needs can be summarised as a need for (increased) professionalisation. The Fika Project is aimed at people who are already in positions of responsibility in the cultural sector and who are therefore not interested in basic skills. Generally speaking, their organisations have neither the time nor the money to be without key employees for lengthy periods of time, and so it must be possible to combine the training with the regular job. For this reason alone, several of our informants have underlined the importance of ensuring that the training is truly useful and can make a difference; it has to be worth the sacrifice made by both the individual and the organisation.

The perceived CPD needs can be divided into three categories, dealing with personal development, the organisation’s internal work and the organisation’s outward-facing work.

Personal development: having opportunities to:
share experiences with colleagues and self-reflect
become aware of our own drivers
bring our own ‘hidden’ knowledge to the fore
improve self-confidence through training and networking

Internal work: become better at
contributing to a creative working climate that is sustainable in the long term
managing conflict
managing stress
dealing with discrimination and power inequalities
managing and developing resources
analysing the organisation in terms of purpose, resources and capabilities

Outward-facing work: become better at:
analysing how our work influences, and is influenced by, the world around us
managing insecurity, risk and changeability
working interculturally with others
working with the private, public and voluntary sectors
building networks
identifying alternative forms of investment
negotiating with potential funders
arguing the value of our organisation
arguing against tendencies towards instrumentalism, bureaucratisation and politicisation
communicating with users
exploiting digital media

The question, however, is what is meant by the ‘professionalisation of cultural leadership’. One answer is: a general level of competence and universal tools that are suitable in all contexts and circumstances, irrespective of whether the organisation is large or small, commercial or not-for-profit, traditional or innovating. Many examples of cultural leadership training focus on this interpretation of professionalisation, which in practice often means that the training features large or medium-sized, established and heavily-subsidised cultural institutions as the norm.
The Fika Project represents a different interpretation of professionalisation. We question received wisdom about context-free skills and hierarchical organisations and conventional notions of authority and expertise. But we also challenge a number of preconceptions that are widespread in the cultural sector: that public grants are preferable to other types of funding, large organisations are models for smaller ones, cultural organisations in cities are more vibrant than those in rural areas, cultural organisations should copy the operational methods of the business world, and artistic activity is fundamentally different from all the other work in an organisation.

In our understanding, cultural leadership is always practised in a three-dimensional reality; the operational dimension must, in our view, be complemented by a contextual and a relational dimension. Without an understanding of the context and of relationships with colleagues, external parties, users and funders, skills and tools may be ineffectual. Views on what a cultural leader is expected to know should be adjusted accordingly. ‘Capability’ is an umbrella term that embraces knowledge, skills and competences.

The Fika Project does not view professionalisation as a universal tool but as empowerment, an opportunity for individual participants to work alongside peers and supervisors to develop their capabilities operationally, contextually and relationally.