IFACCA 7th World Summit on Arts and Culture: At the crossroads? Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century (Valletta, Malta, 18-21 October 2016) brought together government and cultural leaders from over 80 countries to explore Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century. Presenters and participants faced key questions to answer, and raised new one: Where the change can come from? Do we have a collective imagination? Is cultural leadership related to personality traits or it is a process? What is the responsibility of all of us as policy-makers, cultural managers, educators, and community members to nurture cultural leadership? What kind of new approaches and strategies do we need in the next 10 years?

The rainbow of various topics that formed the program was selected by Nina Obuljen, who became the Minister of Culture of Croatia in the time when the Summit took place: a real example of cultural leadership! Congratulations, Nina, bon courage!

I made an attempt to capture a few highlights from some of our discussions during the summit – to share with those who couldn’t join us in Malta. The rapporteurs from every session will complete their reports soon, which will be available from IFACCA’s website.

In her opening keynote Doris Pack emphasized that culture sector remains one of Europe’s more dynamic sectors and we do need cultural activities to make the integration possible. Cultural leadership can be successful only when the process includes many stakeholders. She underlined that without investing in culture, we cannot have a competitive economy and also, that the cultural sector needs to adjust to the rapidly changing digital environment.

Panel 1: What are the issues that have brought us to the crossroads?

We heard diverse voices from four countries and world regions.  Annick Schramme, the President of ENCATC, did a brief historical overview of the arts management education in Europe. She stressed on the importance of cultural organisations today to find alternative sources of financing, emphasizing that at the same time the government support for the arts should not diminish as a result. Annick asked the questions: “Are we too focused on our survival? How do we cope with “the golden age of uncertainty”? Isn’t it a time when we have to face challenges together, in a collaborative way? “

Oussama Rifahi, the Director of Arab Fund for Culture had a powerful and thoughtful speech, which is even hard to summarize or reflect upon…He emphasized that we live in a feeling of frustration, helplessness and paralysis in some regions of the world, and the most pressing tasks is how culture can help building tolerance, understanding, mutual respect. Culture needs to address the issues of global citizenship, to connect with the global issues, incl. the migration. In the Q/A session he was concerned that “we try to resolve global issues with local answers”, that “despite of the technology culture is about putting people physically face to face with each other and we need to go back to the basics”. Oussama was passionate about implementing a system where people can have the opportunity to travel outside of their country for one year, experience the differences and open up their mind as a result.

A highlight in the talk of Carlos Javier Villasonor Anaya, cultural policy expert from Mexico/Panama, was that policy-makers need to create conditions that people, and not only artists, need to be able to express themselves. He was clear that policies have to help diversity in a way that cultural rights are applied to everyone. “We need to find out how institutions set up policies that allow administrators to collaborate, and also – to equip citizens with the necessary tools to cope with the world of constant changes”.

Panel 2: What are the key drivers of change and who are today’s leaders?

Shahidul Alam, photographer and human rights activist from Bangladesh, reminded us that “the governments are the biggest players and any change at governmental level has a great impact that change the life of anyone else in a country”. He spoke passionately about the Chobi Mela Festival of Photography in Dhaka (February 2017) and raised the need for a more collaborative leadership today to govern our unstable societies.

Simon Brault, Director of Canada Council for the Arts, called for actions for leadership at all levels 20161019_143552to help arts to breath. He spoke about the urgency for having a big vision and bold actions for the arts to lead the way in trying to tackle the great problems of our era. We all need to build cultural citizenship at global scale and Canada Council for the Arts has already given a strong sense in its almost 60 years of existence that Canada  has something unique to offer in this respect.  He emphasized that “our approach is to make dramatic change, but to be transparent; to drive a change you need to make the case of culture for the citizens; to bring art to the table where serious issues are discussed….” His powerful speech included also the motivating statement: “If you believe in the power of arts, do not be afraid to say it to everybody!” In the Q/A session Simon emphasized that “change has to come from the civil society, change doesn’t come from inside the bureaucratic machines.”

The talk of Alejandro Denes, Adjunct to Director Nacional de Cultura in Uruguay was accomplished by a good sense of humor while tackling serious issues related to problems that artists and cultural professionals face in the country. One of the concerns he shared was the lack of confidence in the cultural sector by other sectors. He expressed the need for greater democratization of culture and cultural services and need for decentralization, related to giving more decision-making power to the regions.

Rana Yazaji, Syrian cultural activist and managing director of Al Mawred, asked an important questions: “Do we have a collective vision about our future?  Do we have a collective imagination as we often talk about collective memory? As the international fabrics are changing daily, are we talking about the same change? How this change can be reached and what are the mechanisms?” She offered five suggestions, among them: establishing cross border alliances; developing a capability to measure the change and impact; creating professional capacity in the sector, and organizing ourselves while making our structures more inclusive. As an activist, she strongly believes that creativity always nurtures changes.

The highlight of the second day was the powerful and emotional speech of Arn Chorn-Pond, the Founder of Cambodian Living Arts. He is an amazing activist, wonderful human being and musician, who survived the Cambodian genocide. He shared with us an extraordinary story about how music has saved his life and the motivation behind his determination to go back to Cambodia and help his country to overcome the traumas.  “The art is a tool for surviving”, he stated. “The young people of Cambodia want to deal with arts, to be able to travel, to express themselves artistically. They are proud of their culture and we have to do all our best to support their wishes. We have to build bridges between generations to continue the cultural and artistic thread in customs and traditions….” Arn made all of us standing and applause stating: “Why don’t we give musical instruments to every kid in the world, instead of guns?! My wish is for the children all over the world to carry a musical instrument! We need to save the world by turning the artists to play in front of politicians and business people so that to showcase the power of the art!”

Panel 3 on new approaches and new directions explored examples of good practices in the arts and culture sector as well as common issues and challenges – from cultural diversity and cultural rights to designing new models for arts production and distribution in the digital context.

20161020_104928Danielle Cliche, Chief of the Section of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Secretary of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions of UNESCO made it clear that diversity is a source of creativity and the UNESCO convention belongs not to UNESCO, but to all those who created it. So far 144 countries have signed the convention and 43 coalitions on diversity in the world are built up as a result. Danielle emphasized that cultural leaders need to have a long-term vision and being able to listen the needs of all stakeholders. She explained clearly the principles of the Convention and stressed on the need to increase the role of the civil society, to balance the flow of cultural goods and services across borders, to create a new trade framework and agreements, and to promote human rights worldwide.

Digitalization was a highlight in the presentation of Octavio Kulesz, Director of Editorial Teseo in Argentina. He stated that in the 21st century “culture is digital and digital is culture”, that “digitalization is a way to cross borders and overpass barriers, incl. censorship”.  Octavio expressed the need to have better and more mapping of statistics on cultural goods in a digital format so that we are aware of how many books, videos and other digital products are uploaded from different countries. He emphasized that if you can analyze the flow of data and metadata, you can be the leader on the global market today. He concluded, saying that “Technology is something great, as it facilitates teaching, allows lifestreaming of events, but we have to be aware that it  is also like a knife-you can cut a bread with it, or can do something terrible with it…”

In the presentation of Arundhati Ghosh, Director of India Foundation for the Arts, the need for independent funding was expressed. She sees the role of cultural operators and leaders as catalysts, provocateurs, facilitators in the arts. In her opinion, the questions which still need answers, among many, are: How we measure the impact of the arts? Artists should speak to people, to communities, to citizens. How can we develop our own mechanisms and do not borrow tools from other sectors. Among criteria that are on Arundhati’s wishlist for funders of cultural projects to consider are: independence, diversity of funding, dynamic programs, multilingual and multicultural organisations, learning, collaboration and partnership. She mentioned that the India Foundation for the Arts accepts proposals in 36 languages! She also added that “As funders, we have to get under the skin of people who live with the arts, and do not look at them just as projects”.

Finally, the passionate and thoughtful talk of Jo Verrent, Senior Producer from Unlimited (UK), made us rethink our policies and strategies in a way to also consider disable artists and shift our perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited is an important and efficient organization, supporting quality, innovation and ambitions of disabled artists across art forms.

The panel discussions in the morning were followed by afternoon parallel sessions on topics such as: politics and activism, transnational connections and trade negotiations as part of cultural policies, leadership in the time of political tension, the role of arts and culture in the foreign policy, enhancing leadership through training, digital era and cultural leadership, innovations in the arts, cultural networking, and more.

20161020_152309Our session in a long table format was titled Unexpected partnerships: where are the new spaces for creation and creativity and how do we support them?  We shared examples of innovative and unexpected partnership between arts and other areas, such as science, environment, education, industries, tourism, restaurant business, and more. Honor Harger , Director Art Science Museum in Singapore, presented advanced projects connecting arts and science – impressive works that show the connection between the “universe”, the “human minds” and the “arts”. Verónica Ahumada, Director of International Cultural Cooperation, Secretary of Culture (Mexico) and Dennis Marita, Director of Culture, Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Solomon Islands) emphasized on diverse strategies for support of the cultural sector and the importance to promote programs of interdisciplinary character, to  create linkages between artists and cultural professionals from different parts of the world– both virtual and real. My presentation was around the topic of 20161020_145619international entrepreneurship in the arts : why is it important, what are the mechanisms, what collaborative strategies and tools we could implement. I also shared several practical examples of partnership from diverse organisations, among them: “Café Kultura”, Belarus: “Street Capture” project, Israel; Ocean Sole, Kenya ; Timeraiser project, Canada. The session was brilliantly moderated by Magdalena Moreno Mujica, Deputy Directorof IFACCA – she was able to give the word to 19 people in 90 minutes and everyone who wanted to contribute had the chance to do so!

The closing session of the World Summit, titled “What next? Leading for the future”, was moderated in a very interactive way by Robert Palmer, an internationally highly respected consultant in a wide range of areas – from cultural policy and strategy to organisational development, creative economy and development of the cities.  There were four short interventions by prominent speakers. Below are some highlights:

Milena Dragičević Šešić, Head of UNESCO Chair in Interculturalism, Art Management and 20161021_100621-1Mediation, University of Belgrade, emphasized that the greatest risk of leadership is to look only at ourselves, our personal interest, our organization well-being. She expressed in a passionate way that leaders have to challenge and open up new horizons, and to be bold enough to reveal cultural conflicts and to debate and dialogue around possible solutions (to discuss censorship and autocensorship, limits of artistic freedom even in the Western world, or participation in cultural events organized within political agenda).  She made it clear that the real leader of tomorrow has to open platforms for civic imagination to be heard and seen, to act as catalyst, to offer new challenging ideas, to go beyond the usual. Milena stated that the future leaders must go beyond our usual frameworks, organisations, networks, nations, and that cultural leadership should be a real social process, enabling others to grow. As always, she was sharp, thoughtful, insightful, and considering the broader international perspective.

Rosemary Mangope, Chief Executive Officer, National Arts Council of South Africa, expressed the viewpoint that “Leadership is not about a single voice or individual position, but about collaborative efforts. It is about the ability to articulate your idea and share it with the world.”

The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources of Vanuatu Ralph Ragenvanu stressed that “development” means that whatever we have, it is not good enough and the reason why the development plans have not worked well in many cases is that culture has been left behind. He added that “cultural communities need space to create and we need to be able to provide these spaces”.

Ivan Petrella, Secretary for Federal Integration and International Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture in Argentina spoke thoughtfully about the need for public policy for culture that addresses the issues in the 21st century from global perspective, while considering also the localities.

20161021_095137The audience took an active part in the discussion that followed the presentations, answering the question that Bob raised: “What are the new mechanisms, talents and approaches that we need in the next 10 years?” As it is impossible to summarize the very diverse viewpoints, or to make a conclusion, here are some of the highlights which I recorded during the session, with an apology that not all names of these interventions are documented:

  • Leadership is about accepting responsibility to create conditions for others to be able to achieve goals in times of uncertainty.
  • It is important that leaders take risk and inspire changes.
  • Leaders are not created by leadership programs but by the communities who are seeking better destiny (Simon Brault).
  • Identity matters, and it is related with the values that we, as cultural leaders, create and disseminate (Elena Di Federico).
  • The leader is the best when people barely know that he/she exists.
  • Arts and culture are capable to change someone who can then change the world: it is the catalyzing effect that we try to reach out (Carla Delfos).
  • Leadership is a question of power. The power for change can come from everywhere. Leaders’ responsibility to see where the power for change is, and to catalyze it (Simon Brault).
  • We as cultural leaders, who have values and principles, have to stand and to defend human rights.
  • We are here to change the world through the arts, and this is our mission.
  • We need to open up culture and arts to other sectors, such as agriculture, food industry, tourism (Diane Dodd).
  • Our task as cultural leaders is to consider collaboration and to be aware about the role of education (Alexandra Uzelac).
  • The inter-generational connections are important as they are about transmitting the knowledge and bringing to the accumulated expertise a new energy. It is important to make a space for the young leaders.
  • It is important when we go back to our offices on Monday to use the energy in this room to take real actions.

20161020_074511Much more than what I wrote above was expressed and shared during the World Summit. The intensive two and a half days in the Malta allowed us to share diverse viewpoints, cultural practices and policy models from many countries. It was a great platform for establishing new contacts and meeting old friends. Ideas for joined cross-country experiences also popped up….The excellent organization and warm hospitality of our colleagues from Arts Council Malta made the 7th World Summit a memorable event and a treasure to keep in our hearts!

In parallel to the 7th IFACCA World Summit, the Global Cultural Leadership Programme (within the framework of the Cultural Diplomacy Platform)  brought together 40 young leaders from different countries to join a comprehensive learning and networking program in order to develop and strengthen cultural leadership in an international working context. The platform was launched in March 2016, to support the European Commission with the implementation of a new ‘Strategy for international cultural relations’.  The consortium partners are: the European Cultural Foundation, BOZAR Centre for Fine ArtsBritish CouncilEUNIC Global, and Institut français, led by Goethe-Institut.

20161018_193552I left the World Summit with a thought that I would like to see the cultural leaders as role models for other sectors to follow…On my wishlist is also to work further for seeking emerging and unknown cultural leaders from isolated regions of the world who do not have the means to travel and to help them to advance. I wish that each one of us in the cultural sector and beyond is much more generous in spreading the accumulated knowledge, information, contacts and funding to support diverse forms of cultural leadership worldwide. And where relevant, to step-by-step prepare succession plans for the next amazing generation of cultural leaders to continue….

Read also the very interesting reflection of ASEF on the Culture360 portal: Key Messages from the 7th World Summit on Arts & Culture: http://culture360.asef.org/magazine/61499/

One Comment

  1. 7th World Summit on Arts & Culture I Key Messages - ASEF culture360.asef.org | culture360.asef.org

    […] Read educator & researcher, Lidia Varbanova’s sum up of the 7th World Summit on Arts & Culture here. […]

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