Thinking Public

Brussels Comp

Last week on 22nd June, the day before the referendum, Jon Price delivered the keynote of ENCATC’s 6th policy debate focusing on our current AHRC funded research into Cultural Leadership and the place of the artist. We attended this Day of Cultural Leadership on the invitation of ENCATC, the European network of cultural management and policy. ENCATC is one of four partners in our current research within OTE including Creative Scotland and Clore Leadership Foundation.

Professor Annick Schramme of University of Antwerp’s Management School and President of ENCATC skillfully threaded the key issues of the debate that included a panel of discussants from the arts and cultural organisations: Koen Broucke, artist; Jan Bloeman, Managing Director of the Arts Centre Z33, Hasselt, Belgium; Phillip Dietachmair, Programme Manager Tandem Cultural Managers’ Exchange, Amsterdam; Sue Kay, cultural sector researcher from England and Marjolein Verhallen, Leadership in Culture (LinC) project, University of Utrecht. Artists, leaders of cultural and arts organisations from across ENCATC’s 40 member countries as well as policy officers in the European Commission joined the discussion.

Looking back, this was a poignant moment in the UK’s relationship with Europe. It marked one of many extraordinary opportunities to engage in discussion with European partners, widening our horizon of understanding across national borders, expertise and experience. This opportunity for debate now seems remarkably precious.
OTE’s research into leadership into the arts and culture from 2006 onwards has in all of its three phases been mindful of the changing social, cultural and political conditions in which the discourse on leadership has unfolded. The research has evolved in three distinct phases in relation to three very different periods.

The first phase of AHRC funded The Artist as Leader research (2006-9) emerged out of expectations of progress and growth, in response to the Cox Review (2005) that had been commissioned to foreground the role of creativity in industrial growth. Critical of the economist and instrumental values of the Creative Industries reflected in that report, our research at the time attempted to bring to the foreground the missing voice of the artist, to open up leadership to a different perspective– What might leadership mean to the arts? Might the experiences of artists enrich and extend the meaning of leadership in new ways?

The second phase, The Discourse of Cultural leadership (2016), Jon’s doctoral study, drew the findings of The Artist as Leader research into a new context in which the rhetoric of growth was now displaced by a new rhetoric of resilience, represented in part through a then significant reduction in public funding, particularly to the arts and culture. This economic change required us to think differently about leadership. Instead of situating the artist as missing, as in some sense outside of the policy debate, this research views the artist as participant in a civic process, simultaneously influential and influenced by a complex dynamic between art and life.

To this end Jon has provided us with some key concepts. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, he traces leading as part of a process, a movement between beginning that necessitates following through, or completion. Leadership therefore cannot be atomised in the persona of ‘the strong man’ or artistic genius. In this way leadership becomes a process, one that is subject to the boundlessness, unpredictability and plurality of life itself, concepts that Arendt laid out in her key text The Human Condition (1958). The originality of Jon’s thinking lies in the implications that result from this change of the artist’s position, the co-dependency and dynamic interplay between different subjectivities in civic space in 21st century.

This brings us to the present. At no point in the history of UK’s politics has political leadership been more absent, along with appropriate civic processes that shape and inform public opinion. What we are currently experiencing is not the kind of fluidity and responsiveness implied by Arendt’s unpredictability, boundlessness and plurality. These qualities, as Jon’s field work reveals, demand quality of relationship, of trust and of a certain improvisatory skill in keeping going. In contrast both in the UK and Europe, we are experiencing disintegration of the public sphere and public values. This constitutes a significant challenge to the third research phase of the research ‘Cultural Leadership and the place of the artist’ (2015-16) and its remit to disseminate the earlier phases research and further engage public debate on the issues. On the one hand the issues of leadership become more crucial, more necessary to a process of keeping going. On the other they become less easy to grasp, less simple than the stark profile of the heroic figure that stands out above others.

Annick pointed out in her introduction on 22nd June that cultural leadership in a European context needs to take account of globalisation, migration and digitisation, all outwardly focused trajectories. She noted that in many ways the discourse of leadership has emerged at a moment of crisis in the arts and culture in relation to value. There are few ‘free spaces’ left in which to frame and openly debate questions of value. Throughout the discussion we became more and more aware of the implicit tension in leadership as a construct – the desire on the one hand to reach out and take risks through pioneering work and, on the other, a counterforce that consolidates and sustains. Leadership in management is frequently defined in terms of the latter, instituting hierarchies that value loyalty over the judgement and the subjectivity of individual forms of action. Leadership in the arts and culture favours the former, not least in the persona of the uniquely talented artist opening up peculiar worlds not previously imagined.

While these apparently contradictory forces inevitably co-exist and co-constitute public life, Philipp Dietachmair of the Tandem network, revived a sensibility in the discussion of which we could so easily have lost sight. Tandem is an Amsterdam based network funded by the European Cultural Foundation that supports long-term cooperation, knowledge development and networking opportunities between cultural managers across the EU and beyond. Philipp discussed leadership through his experience of co-ordinating small scale projects with Turkey and Eastern Europe, contexts in which, he suggested, we do not have the luxury of not thinking public.

In the shock waves of referendum and post referendum behavior in the UK, we too do not have the luxury of not thinking public.

Our research will continue next week in a second workshop to be held at Bozar, in the centre of Brussels, 12th July 2016, 10.00 – 4.00 pm within Bozar’s current exhibition, Facing the Future Art in Europe 1945-68. It will seek to question the curatorial statement that forms part of the exhibition that the year of 1968 “…brought to a close an extremely productive period for a playful, utopian and activist form of art”. We will draw on art practices that have emerged since 1968, practices that manifest a leading role in terms of not having the luxury of not thinking public. These practices work within the prevailing conditions and in so doing, create, in quite grounded and practical ways, a new sense of possibility.

The three questions with which Jon ended his presentation on 22nd June are relevant to this new discussion:

  1. How should training provision be developed beyond the role of the individual and their skill set?
  2. How can leadership discourse move beyond the narrow remit of management to embrace social and cultural value?
  3. How can leadership discourse develop policy that embraces unpredictability and create space for the role of the artist in public life?

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