Lennart Jan Junge is a German foreign language teacher with more than ten years of experience, and has taught all kinds of students including children, teens, asylum seekers, civil servants and businesspersons in Germany, France, Canada, the Netherlands and Brazil, while always making music. Lennart also studied Pop & Media, Musical Pedagogical studies and Music Production, worked as a technician in the show business and played as a saxophonist and DJ with bands and artists. In 2019, he obtained a Master’s degree in “German as a Foreign Language and Intercultural Education” from the University of Weingarten. His thesis analyzes the practice and impact of interdisciplinary cultural places with two innovative evaluation models.
Interdisciplinary culture centres. Their organisation and (perceived) impact
In an evermore intertwined and interconnected world, where human mobility poses increasing challenges and opportunities, a holistic understanding of culture and intercultural exchanges is necessary. Intercultural competences and mediation of cultural diversity in different social, economic and cultural contexts are required to ensure cohesive and peaceful societies. Several international documents, notably the 1982 UNESCO Definition of Culture and the 2006 UNESCO Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of Diversity and Cultural Expression, assert that the promotion of culture also entails the achievement of fundamental human rights and allows for inclusion of all and a better living together. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges the appreciation of cultural diversity (target 4.7) and fosters the promotion of development-oriented policies that support productive activities as well as, among others, creativity and innovation (target 8.3). The New Urban Agenda, which localises the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), assert that culture and cultural diversity contribute to foster sustainable and inclusive cities by empowering city dwellers to play an active role in these initiatives.
Cultural policy strategies are needed at all levels of governance, from local to regional and international spheres. These strategies emphasise the power of arts to promote understanding between individuals and communities as well as for one’s own identity. This participatory and shared experience can transcend ethnic and social differences. The cognitive, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of this process allow societies to become more open and democratic driven. The understanding of arts is a starting point to building mutual trust. Arts and culture create a space in which individuals can exchange, express themselves, and reflect on different perspectives. Culture can involve and integrate groups generally excluded based, inter alia, on their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, country of origin, and religion. Artistic expressions offer the possibility for interaction and communication and for developing human creativity. In culture, one can find meaning and orientation in an increasingly complex world.
(Socio-)cultural centres have faced difficulties in applying an inclusive and holistic approach to their activities. These centres struggle in identifying target groups and reaching larger audiences. Tax payers who use these facilities and participate in events usually have no say in management and programme design. Lack of local engagement and democratic participation often create barriers.
In this context, new cultural centres need to be established to allow experiencing and benefiting from culture and arts. Not only best practices, but also innovative models and activities are necessary to stimulate (re-)orientation or total adaptation of existing cultural places. Against this background, emerging interdisciplinary cultural centres play a crucial role in broadening the traditional approach of culture as related to artistic and literary activities by applying a holistic perspective to the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and creativity as major tools for the transformation of societies. These cultural places offer crosscutting activities touching upon different facets of the individual in its diverse dimensions (social, political, psychological, physical, emotional, ecological) benefiting community groups in the long, middle and short-terms.
To foster diversity, it is necessary to support all cultural expressions and make arts education and participation possible for all through a diverse range of activities. Public co-designing and co-creation for entertainment, empowerment and creativity under an interdisciplinary and transcultural approach should be in place to actively involve the public. The task of these organisations is to co-create, co-design and organise activities in a transparent manner. They need staff, partners, stakeholders, marketing, communication, resources, funds, research and management. They need to formulate activities targeted at the interested groups and describe their impact in society.
An interdisciplinary cultural centre must be flexible, adaptable, and be willing to make changes. Most importantly, it needs to adapt its programme and strategies to impact the cities and neighbourhoods they are located in. The organisation should be transparent and allow the public to co-decide, co-create, engage and participate.
The impact of interdisciplinary cultural centres that involve the community as an active participant and agent of change needs to be duly measured and managed, so as to ensure meaningful implementation of cultural rights as well as other rights deriving therewith. Bearing this in mind, it is crucial to create new spaces that support different cultural expressions and bring them together in a creative, dynamic and interesting manner, so as to promote inclusion, democracy, well being, economy, and development.
In this regard business-models can be used to stimulate (re-)orientation or total adaptation of existing projects. In Europe, conventional cultural places with „traditional offers“ prevail. However, some interdisciplinary cultural centres can be found. To analyse the application of this approach, this research analyses the practice of three interdisciplinary cultural centres across Europe, exploring their activities, concepts and organisational approaches aimed at identifying good practices, entrepreneurial structures, as well as pedagogical and intercultural goals. This research includes interviews with representatives, as well as with customers, which served to broaden and deepen the findings of existing records and documents.
The main points of reference in this analysis are the Business Model Canvas and the Dimension Model taken from the Social Return Of Investment (SROI) approach. The first tool is used to map the structure and objectives of the organisations and to identify positive aspects as well as gaps, allowing managers to rethink and reformulate concepts and practices. The later measures the (perceived) impact through the formulation of relevant indicators in a participatory and transparent co-creation process that involves the public, which benefits from the offered activities.
The Business model canvas consists of a template clustered in blanks which cover the following aspects of the organisation:
- Name of the organisation
- Customer Values: morals, principles, or other ideas that serve as information guide to attract participation in the organisation and/or its activities.
- Customer Groups
- Customer Relation
- Income/Expenses structure
- Revenue: the outcome and impact on individuals, groups and the community.
Each blank should contain detailed information on each of the points aforementioned.
Containing synergies with the Business Model Canvas, the Social Return of Investment approach is mainly used by stakeholders of non-profit organisations in the social and cultural fields, as well as by job creation programmes, to measure success or added value of interventions, so as to increase efficiency and quality.
The SROI is divided into five sub-studies that give a clear picture of the organisations performance.
- Input: idea, demands from stakeholders, mission, philosophy (as in the Businessmodel Canvas)
- Activities: description of activities, projects, events (as in Businessmodel Canvas)
- Output: quantitative information of visitors and participants eventually categorised by age, gender, etc.
- Outcome: the Social Return of Investment is evaluated according to indicators and evaluated through surveys.
- Impact: it is considered the exclusive outcome deducting all external factors and influences that happened with no connection to the culture center, its activities and possibilities. Those effects that go beyond the actions and have a continuing influence upon, and directly touch, people’s lives.
The customer value in the Business model Canvas and the impact description of the Social Return of Investment approach describes the interaction between the organisation, its actions and the consumers, but have two distinct vantage points. They do, however, influence one another. Value and impact are intricately connected. However, impact is not generated automatically, it can only be created when it is actively pursued and that clear objectives and definitions have to be in place for this impact to occur. The Dimension Model can be used to formulate those clear objectives as indicators, but is not pursued in this research.
Both de Businessmodel canvas and the SROI should be constantly adapted and updated according to results of the evaluation process and sustainable orientation so as to ensure continuous improvement, impact and quality orientation.
This practice-oriented approach is suitable for interdisciplinary cultural centres, as it explores conceptual foundations and provides a realistic overview. The application of both instruments allows these centres to apply a dynamic and continuous evaluation process, including the (re-)formulation of indicators and co-design of projects and activities to increase their positive and transformative impact in the short, middle and long-terms. This approach also allows for adaptation to changing stakeholders and financiers, as well as changes in society and in cultural policies. These instruments also support the formulation of participatory activities in a clear and easy communicated way that allows the beneficiaries to become effective partners in the broader aim of promoting plural and peaceful societies. Impact-oriented concepts and plans provide more clarity on the part of the organisation, stakeholders and participants. It conveys insights and experiences that open space for new networks, creative ideas and expanded action horizons.
Interdisciplinary cultural centres: an analysis
This research analysed the concepts and practices of the following interdisciplinary cultural centres: the Kulturmarkt in Zurich, Switzerland; the Alte Feuerwache in Cologne, Germany, and the Schunck in Heerlen, The Netherlands. The Businessmodel Canvas was used to map their respective activities and the structure of the organisation.
All the three interdisciplinary cultural centres are located in buildings that were not intentionally built to be cultural centre. While the Schunck is a former department store that gained a new purpose in the city, the centres in Zurich and Cologne evolved from squats. These three places are all almost 100% financed with publics funds. Regular income is made through gastronomy and rent of spaces, and in a less expressive degree, through course fees.
The Kulturmarkt offers its theatre and spaces to other independent performing arts groups, and also organises its own programme of performing arts. It also runs a restaurant and a job integration programme, which offers courses, coaching and guidance as well as employment in one of the sectors of the organisation to reintegrate unemployed persons who have worked in the creative or cultural sector into the job market. Their slogan – „where culture creates employment“ – reflects this approach.
The major stakeholder is the Regional Employment Centre (RAV) that sends people from all over Switzerland with a proper profile to the Kulturmarkt. The core role of the cultural centre is to offer activities for personal development, empowerment, cultural and creative (re)-integration. So far, the centre organises three festivals a year, an intercultural Africa festival, a Family Festival and a Jewish Festival.
The Schunck is located at the heart of the city in a former department store. The name „Schunck“ comes from „sjunkelen“, a word used to describe a certain rhythmic movement when people link arms and sway side to side on the spot. The name reflects the structure of the organisation. It is result of the merging of several cultural organisations located in the area. For this reason, Schunck is a multidisciplinary centre devoted to contemporary visual arts, architecture, music, literature and cinema and their intersection. A modern public library and a music school promote reading activities and music learning, talent development, and career coaching. Educational and experimental projects are based on a life-long cultural learning approach, making projects and activities available for professionals, adults, students, and pupils through intense collaboration with different partners.
The Alte Feuerwache in Cologne is a multidisciplinary socio-cultural center. The centre offers a theatre stage, various workshops, and ateliers for woodwork, metal procession, costume, mosaic and jewellery making, as well as dance, theatre, photography, video, audio, gaming, bicycle repairing, yoga, discussions and many other activities catered specially to parents, women, teenagers, boys and girls, seniors, and refugees. The building complex hosts a restaurant with a terrace in the courtyard and also offers art exhibitions, a graffiti wall, a library and a flea market.
The Feuerwache serves as a meeting point and public space in many ways. Multifunctional rooms and ateliers as well as the theatre are available for private persons, groups and organisations for short-, middle,- and long-terms for debates, discussions, parties, and meetings. Human rights are the basis and orientation of the work as well as respect for people’s strengths and abilities, support for emancipatory developments, and the establishment of sustainable networks.
These three intercultural centres stand out for their interdisciplinary structure, which creates a wide range of opportunities and possibilities to participate in culture. This diversity allows for a multidimensional impact and also for many sources of funding. All the centres offer cultural and educational activities as well as spaces to various interested individuals and groups to benefit from and enjoy cultural activities.
This research clustered the organisational structure and objectives of each of these cultural centres in the Businessmodel Canvas. The canvases provide a clear image to understand in which areas the places have individual strengths as well as gaps (see below).
All the centres had shortcomings in common. The three are relatively unknown in their communities and do not establish a bounding connection with the users. Main gaps are thus associated with communication, marketing research and impact assessment. The places fail in analysing and addressing the interests and needs of their target groups and in involving them as co-creators of projects and activities. Lack of communication strategies and marketing research are due to lack of fundings. In addition, the lack of data gathering on customers profiles and cultural interests inevitably jeopardises impact-oriented management. Programme evaluation only takes into account quantitative numbers of visitors, but do not assess the impact of the activities. In general, decisions are taken under subjective assumptions of what the benefits the activities would be. Another shortcoming is that information on the structure, the vision and strategic partners of activities are not effectively communicated. In all these organisations, the activities are being mostly held by external freelancers or volunteers, who are not involved or not aware of the vision and desired impact of the organisation.
Due lack of time and cooperation on the provision of specific activities outlines and their value for the users or customers, this research could not assess the various impacts that derive from the multi/interdisciplinary character of these organisations. To evaluate the impact of cultural projects and their contribution to users, where large numbers of (external) influences and side effects exist, is a complex and not easy task. However, it can be made possible if specific sub-goals and indicators are formulated and monitored, so as to measure the impact of interventions. In that sense, further research and cooperation is needed to adapt existing plans and activities to the Business Model Canvas as well as formulating impact indicators through the Dimension Model with meaningful participation of users.
As a way forward, interdisciplinary cultural centres need to know who they are and why they exist while getting closer to their communities. This would allow for diverse forms of activities, engagement, and space for co-creation and co-design. The Business Model Canvas can be a useful tool as it is not static and allows for modification and customisation. It is widely applicable in the elaboration of the organisation vision and strategic plan, as well as events, projects, and activities. It helps to establish clear and direct communication with stakeholders, sponsors as well as users and other interested parties. These models can also be used as a “thinking tool“ to develop activities. Those plans could then be ex-/changed, re-/used and re-/shaped in other culture places.
Formulating multidimensional impact indicators would be beneficial to orientate desired impact. These could be later evaluated for further development and optimisation. Extensive evaluations and surveys are necessary in order to react adequately to the Dimension Model. The Dimension Model can be used for further impact orientation on short, medium, and long-terms (see below). Effects should take place across the dimensions emphasising the institution’s interdisciplinary nature.
A transparent overview of activities, their timeline and customer value as well as foreseen costs and available budget need to be considered. Additionally, the target, and how the activities will be communicated, both internally and externally, need to be duly planned. In sum, interdisciplinary cultural centres need to adapt their orientation, activities design and programme evaluation so as to achieve better impact and outreach. Qualitative, dialog-oriented methods, such as interviews or group discussions, are suitable for developing a welcoming environment for learning from each other. Digital tools are also suitable for communication and evaluation.
The interdisciplinary design and participatory structure helps to promote and protect various cultural expressions, as well as intercultural and transcultural activities. Public and private funds for social cohesion, integration, democracy, cultural participation, economic growth, entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary and transcultural projects require formulation of impact as return for their investments. This return of investment has to be made concrete to attract partners, sponsors and donors, and most importantly the general public.