Exploring Sustainability in Cultural Networks

From September 27th – 30th 2017, Raphaela Henze and Victoria Durrer, co-founders of the AHRC funded Brokering Intercultural Exchange network, took part in the 25th ENCATC Congress on Cultural Management and Policy in Brussels. International academics, researchers, policymakers and arts and cultural managers came together to discuss and reflect on the purpose, role and sustainability of networks.

Our participation in the conference facilitated reflection on what we have learned from the research work of our network to date, in relation to networks specifically as we were able to host a workshop exploring our rationale for, and management of, an interdisciplinary, inter-professional and international network exploring intercultural exchange both between and within nations.

We reflected on the influence of the funding and the application process on shaping the agenda, the content and the make-up of our network. The funding has provided incredible opportunity to reach voices and perspectives completely new to us. At the same time, it led us to put some heavy expectations on ourselves. It influenced us into a kind of producer role, where we have held a number of wonderful and stimulating seminars throughout the year, that may have left us less time than we would have liked for reflection on the issues raised. An administrator of the network is thus key to a strong support system.

We have found use of the digital incredibly important to our process. Web conferencing facilities have been important to arrange meetings, but also to include people from afar to share presentations and participate in discussions at our seminars. Use of soundcloud, slideshare and our website have helped us share what we have learned regarding the traditions, assumptions and activities underpinning intercultural exchange in arts and cultural management practice and education.

Call for papers have really helped us find what we are calling ‘hidden’ voices on the subject. These individuals are not so much ‘hidden’. In fact they are very active and visible in the work that they do in arts and cultural management practice and education, but they may be ‘hidden’ from the global-north west dominated literature, debates and discussions on arts and cultural management. Yet, we found we were reliant on certain networks in sharing our call—ENCATC, AAAE and Arterial among them, but voices from South America and smaller nations in Southeast Asia are still absent thus far from our discussions. This has led us to interrogate more deeply the role of networks in perpetuating exclusions and inequality in critical debates.

That said, we have discovered and met some really wonderful colleagues, who are interested and engaged in examining the role of our profession and our perpetuation and professionalization of it through transnational education. Many have become Associate members of the network or have gone on to develop research projects with us. We have found throughout the process that it is through small gatherings where these connections emerge. The larger conferences are wonderful for gathering, hearing and being introduced to new perspectives but it has been in the smaller seminars and workshops where we have really exchanged, debated and learned.

We are grateful for the input and sharing that took place, also, at our workshop in the ENCATC session. Individuals from networks across the world and at various stages of development shared their experiences and insights with us. Together we explored important issues to consider when starting a network, such as clarifying not only the purpose or goal of the work, but whether or not the work you are doing is inward facing (amongst members) or outward facing (more public and about profile raising). The importance of determining the projected life of a network is also critical—is it a long term or short term endeavour?

Networks provide an opportunity for people with a common interest or cause to come together, grain knowledge and build trust, expertise and collective effort. A number of skills required for the management of a network were recognised, which include digital, communication, negotiation, and diplomatic skills. Understanding and identifying skills amongst members can help. Acknowledging and being honest about capacity amongst members is also important.

Challenges were found over the loss of memory that can sometimes arise when membership changes as well as the bureaucracy involved in some types of network structures and the associated financing. In fact, digital skills, determining what activities on which to focus one’s energy, managing the competing interests that can emerge among members, and developing mechanisms for cooperation between networks were key challenges highlighted amongst workshop participants.

Overall though, it was felt that having the space to reflect and review the work and rationale for a network is most important to its sustainability or, even, to realising that it has served its purpose. For that, we are appreciative of the ENCTAC session for facilitating that opportunity for us.



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