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.