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

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