Who chooses cultural management as a career, and why?

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Today’s Arts Management Network newsletter carries a very interesting review of the French sociologist Vincent Dubois’ new book Culture as a Vocation: Sociology of career choices in cultural management.

Based on interviews with 654 students in MA courses in cultural management in France, it yields some intriguing insights on the demographics and aspirations of those seeking to become cultural managers (emphases mine):

Dubois examines, on the basis of his survey, the social factors and characteristics of the aspirants for an occupation in cultural management. In doing so he finds that these persons are mainly female, in the majority have a comparatively secure social background, often originate from families of academics and are equipped with a high educational capital. On top of that they frequently come out of an environment in which they early had the opportunity to socialize in a cultural way, as for example by getting private teaching lessons in music instruments or by being member of a theatre group.

This resonates strongly with my experience working in UCD’s Arts Management & Cultural Policy MA for 13 years. Given that arts management is often an economically precarious and competitive career, Dubois’ research into individual motivations for pursuing this path is intriguing:

Finally, Dubois points out further reasons for a career aspiration in cultural management – resulting from a broader social context. Thus, many of his study participants understand cultural work as an expression of self-fulfillment, freedom and satisfaction, because it gives them the feeling of doing something for the public welfare and acting for a higher purpose in life. Thereby, at the same time, they distance themselves from pure economically orientated occupational fields. A career in cultural management by that becomes a personal self-realization project, all in the sense of the central concepts of neo-capitalism.

Whether or not you agree such aspirations are an expression of neo-capitalist ideologies (and I would be more doubtful of aspects of this analysis), the descriptions Dubois offers are very compelling. To date, most research on the arts labour market deals with artists’ careers, incomes and training. Given the expansion and development of arts management as a specific career path (something I am directly involved with), this type of research is very valuable in thinking through the challenges of arts management training, and consequences for the sector as a whole. The overwhelming dominance of entry-mid level arts management positions by women, for example, is often remarked upon, but we understand little about the effect this actually has on careers, progression, and the functioning of arts organisations themselves.

One of the insights I found most interesting is Dubois’ description of the relationship between the social backgrounds of arts management and audience development agendas:

Dubois’ findings make it clear that the diversification of the audience required by cultural institutions can hardly be successful if the majority of their staff originates from academic families with a (high) cultural education. They simply cannot put themselves in the position of the living conditions of socially disadvantaged people or groups of society belonging to minorities and therefore in their work they reflect – as it is also criticised again and again – especially their own expectations of culture and cultural mediation.

This is a problem further exacerbated by the prevalence of unpaid internships in the arts, which creates a significant barrier to a diverse work force — a paradox not fully acknowledged by arts organisations that may run outreach programmes, but be structurally closed off for professional entry by individuals from similarly challenged backgrounds.

There are so many questions raised by this study — I look forward to reading the full text at length — and discussing whether they apply (or not) to the Irish experience.

 

Get in formation: Irish arts & heritage rising

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… and I don’t mean this formation.


Media & Public Response Round-up: (last updated 23/5/16)

Blogsphere:

On radio:

In the press:

On Twitter:

  • Follow #ArtsDeptNow for ongoing responses and a rolling list of those who’ve signed the petition
  • Minister Humphreys also had a short reply (11/5/16)

National Campaign for the Arts:

Party statements:

Elsewhere:

 


What a difference a week (or so) makes: the announcement on Friday 6 May of the re-shuffled and re-christened Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht has prompted an incredible public response (especially across social media using the hashtag #artsdeptnow) decrying the continued failure of government to adequately recognise and fund Irish arts and heritage.

The petition started by John O’Brien to reinstate a dedicated Minister for the Arts and raise the level of arts & heritage funding closer to the 0.6% EU average is at nearly 10,000 signatures (go SIGN IT now if you haven’t already!) At the bottom of this post I’ve included a round-up of some of the media and other responses over the past week (please respond in the comments if I’ve missed anything, and I will add to the list).

So the big question is: what now?

The petition’s a great start: it is a very visible and tangible demonstration of support for a dedicated arts ministry, that’s extending beyond the arts community itself to the wider public (whose support we really need!)

Other suggestions voiced across social and other media have included an organised national day of direct action; a national symposium/event highlighting the public value of the arts and heritage; and a coordinated event to present the petition to government once it hits the 10k mark.

From my perspective, it’s key to acknowledge the groundwork laid by the National Campaign for the Arts over the past years (and its achievements), and to reactivate that campaign. Most essentially: as Loughlin Deegan notes, the NCFA is made up of individuals willing to give time, attention, and also money to support its efforts – and we need more of all of that! It’s entirely run on the energy and activism of volunteers, and I’d love to see this recent outpouring of reactions to the demotion of the arts (yet again!) coalesce in a re-organisation and re-invigoration of our NCFA.

This isn’t just lip service: here’s what I’m personally willing to do:

  • run another fundraiser for the NCFA (our last pub quiz in 2013 raised over €3,000! Time for a rematch??)
  • work with the Irish Museums Association to widely disseminate the results of our Irish Museums Survey (which I’m writing up at the minute!) Knowledge is power: this is going to give us important information about the state of play in the museum and heritage sector that will help inform policy and further action in support of Irish museums.
  • assist in organising and/or publicising any follow-on campaign event

Beyond signing the petition: what can or will you do to keep up the momentum? Time to get in formation, folks.