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.

Next step, hosted by Encatc

Leadership development in the cultural sector: paradigms, pedagogies and practices 22 March 2016 Brussels, Belgium
How can we better understand the direction, challenges, and needs of leadership development in the European cultural sector ?

Join ENCATC’s collaborative masterclass to explore cultural leadership development in a European context, from theoretical, contextual and pedagogical perspectives. Exchange experiences, knowledge and research with the team who are developing a new cultural leadership development programme with our 21st century challenges firmly in mind. Consider a range of stimulating provocations from guest speakers; expand your professional network; and build bridges for future collaborations. Your input and point of view will be invaluable contributions, and thanks to the collaborative masterclass’s rich programme and interactive format, you are sure to leave with new ideas, thoughts and inspiration for your own work!

The ENCATC collaborative Masterclass is organised in the framework of the “European Cultural Leadership” project, a two-year partnership initiative supported by Erasmus+ and Västra Götaland region Sweden. The project consortium is led by Nätverkstand Kultur in Sweden and includes ENCATC, Trans Europe Halles, and the Olivearte Cultural Agency. 

Programme (9:30 -17:30)

  • 09:30 – 10:00  Registration
  • 10:00 – 10:10  Welcome by Prof. Annick Schramme, ENCATC President and Karin Dalborg, CEO, Nätverkstan Kultur)
  • 10:10 – 10:30  Cultural leadership development, introduction to the topic and each other
  • 10.30 – 12:30  What environment, structure, pedagogical methods and theoretical perspectives are needed to learn and develop cultural leadership in a European context? Four provocations followed by Q&A, discussions.
  • 12.30 – 12.45  Feedback from ‘critical friend’
  • 12:45 – 14:15  Lunch time
  • 14:15 – 14:45  Introduction to the ‘European Cultural Leadership’ Project by the team
  • 14:45 – 16:30  Workshop on key themes
  • 16.30 – 17.30  Feedback, rapportage and next steps.
  • Networking and a glass of wine


  • Dr Jon Price, Senior Research Fellow at Greys School of Art in Aberdeen (Scotland) and author of The Discourse of Cultural Leadership
  • Hatem Hassan Salama, theatre director and Project Manager of Tandem Shaml (Europe and Southern Mediterranean Region)
  • Marjolein Verhallen and Pepijn Reeser, Course Leader and Course Coordinator (respectively) of the LinC project (The Netherlands)
  • Dr Višnja Kisić, Co-founder and Development Manager, Creative Mentorship project (Serbia)

Critical friend and rapporteur for the day:

  • Maureen Salmon, Course Leader, University of the Arts and Founder Director of Freshwaters Consultancy (UK)

ECL pilot workshop at TEH meeting in Budapest

IMG_3019 IMG_3036

How to Participate in Cultural Leadership

During the one-day workshop the participants got the opportunity to get a taste of what this leadership programme can be like. Since the members of Trans Europe Halles are one of the intended target groups the feedback and opinion on both the content, form and pedagogic approach was highly valuable and will shape the future programme.

Here are some of the feedback we collected:
– To learn by experiencing in role play or exercises is important to be able to develop and  understand leadership skills.
– The program should offer lots of opportunities to apply things very concretely to every day to day leadership in organisations.
– Dialogue and diversity is vital through out the program to really enable new discoveries by learning from each other.
– The people factor is central as well as understanding the special context of the cultural  sector.

Thank you to everyone who participated!

Work in progress

European Cultural Leadership – an international educational program for emerging leaders in the European cultural scene.


Nätverkstan in Göteborg (Sweden) initiated a study in 2009 to learn more about Swedish cultural leadership. The findings highlighted three areas of deficit for the Swedish cultural sector with regard to leadership: 1. There are few opportunities for the development of cultural leadership 2. It is difficult to recruit competent leaders for cultural organizations 3. Leadership, in constrast to other areas of activity within arts and culture – for example artistic competency – has a relatively low status in organizations. On sharing these results with wider European partnes, we have come to believe this is not only a question for Sweden but that we can identify the same need for building cultural leadership capacity in a changing society around Europe. As a result, the European Cultural Leadership programme was born, a partnership between Nätverkstan, Trans Europe Halles, Olivearte Cultural Agency and ENCATC to develop a course in cultural leadeship that is relevant to the needs and future development of the arts and culture sector in Europe.

Aim and activities

The aim of European Cultural Leadership is to develop an educational program that provides an increase in capacity, skills and knowledge for leaders in the European cultural field. Using three dimensions of cultural leadership – operational, contextual and processual – as a frame or starting point we will prioritise a number of strategic areas and use this as a basis for developing the course in cultural leadership.


Between September 1st 2014 – August 31st 2016 the course will be developed through research, partners meetings (both face to face and virtual), consultation with the sector and testing of prototypes before launcing the course in 2017.


Nätverkstan will coordinate the project and have a leading role in developing the educational program and two publications connected to the project, while the partners will contribute with their experience, knowledge and competence.