Johan Kolsteeg

Johan Kolsteeg worked as a concert programmer and producer in the worlds of classical and contemporary music before moving to education and research at the Utrecht University of the Arts. He now works at the University of Groningen, specializing in his research interests of cultural entrepreneurship, cultural leadership and communication about the arts.

Cultural diversity between organizational form and policy discourse

This paper starts off by looking at a cultural organisation which aims to improve cultural inclusivity by creating relations to all levels of stakeholders in a new governance structure of ‘cultural stakeholdership’. It defines diversity as curatorial cum organisational action in societal relevance and sustainable governance / stakeholder relations. The organisation defines its identity as fundamentally democratic and open, both in artistic and organisational aspects.

The paper will show that these ambitions require the organisation to substantially invest in the capacity of stakeholders and governance structures, persistently interrogating the meaning of organisational structure and societal embeddedness. Identifying the organisation itself as an arena for inclusiveness and debate entirely resonates with the works produced on stage. A flexible organisational structure aims to influence how we perceive the world, and leadership practices are considered to be experiments of which the outcome doesn’t need to be entirely predictable.

While the ambitions and strategies in this case study are likely to be encountered in other contexts, it is interesting to see how cultural diversity strategies may be coloured by local policy contexts. This paper therefore continues by contextualising the case study in relation to two macro-level circumstances typical for the Dutch situation. The first is an ongoing discussion among policy makers to allow for a larger influence of regional actors on national cultural policy development. Empirical research among cultural leaders and policy makers in three Dutch provinces shows articulated and uniform frustrations concerning the suboptimal relation between regional cultural identity and the dominance of artistic quality criteria employed for canonised culture. Participants strongly believe regional cultural identity of art as a societal and participative action is insufficiently recognised by national policy makers and cultural elite.

Not belonging to, or self-exclusion from dominant cultural discourses can lead to an experience of social marginalisation (Guasch 2018), indications of which are found in the regionalisation survey (Kolsteeg and Van den Hoogen, 2018). National cultural policy discourse itself is burdened with an unarticulated center-periphery discomfort which seems uninviting to intranational cultural diversity.

The second contextual point pertains to how national cultural policy in the Netherlands inherently does not seem to encourage cultural institutions to relate to such issues as participation, migration, globalisation. Instead, national policy seems to force cultural policy in a loop of provinciality, with the European cultural support agencies a possible refuge (Kolsteeg 2018).

Both – circumstantial – aspects will be shown to affect strategic thinking in the case study organisation. This leads to the question to be discussed in this open forum if and how implicit and explicit government discourses can affect diversity strategy in cultural organisations.  

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