Guest Blog: Professor Anne Douglas’ AHRC Funded Research ‘Cultural leadership and the place of the artist’

In this guest blog from Professor Anne Douglas, Gray’s School of Art, Anne explains the significance of her team’s current AHRC funded research Cultural leadership and the place of the artist (2015-16) and emphasises the importance of European collaboration in conducting this research. To see more on this funded work visit:–2015-16/

“Thinking Public”

On the 22nd June, the day before the referendum, RGU Senior Research Fellow, Jon Price, delivered the keynote of European Network on Cultural Management and Policy’s (ENCATC) 6th policy debate focusing on our current AHRC funded research into Cultural Leadership and the place of the artist. ENCATC is one of four partners in our current research On The Edge (OTE)  which also includes Creative Scotland and Clore Leadership Foundation. The debate was attended by a number of prominent figures from arts and culture throughout Europe including a number of policy officers from the European Commission.

Looking back, this was a poignant moment in the UK’s relationship with Europe. It marked one of many extraordinary opportunities to engage in discussion with European partners, widening our horizon of understanding across national borders, expertise and experience. This opportunity for debate now seems remarkably precious.

OTE’s research into leadership in the arts and culture from 2006 onwards has, in all of its three phases, been mindful of the social, cultural and political conditions in which the discourse on leadership has unfolded. The research has evolved in three distinct phases.

The first phase of AHRC funded Artist as Leader research (2006-9) emerged in response to the Cox Review (2005) that had been commissioned to foreground the role of creativity in industrial growth. Critical of the economist and instrumental values of the Creative Industries reflected in that report, our research at the time drew attention to the missing voice of the artist and opened up leadership to a different perspective– What might leadership mean to the arts? Might the experiences of artists enrich and extend the meaning of leadership in new ways?

The second phase, The Discourse of Cultural leadership (2016), Jon’s doctoral study, drew the findings of the Artist as Leader research into a new context in which the rhetoric of growth was now displaced by a new rhetoric of resilience, represented in part through a significant reduction in public funding, particularly to the arts and culture. This economic change required us to think differently about leadership. The artist needed to be placed i.e. imagined in relation to everything else, to be conceived as part of a much greater and more complex cultural dynamic that we had previously envisaged.

To this end Jon has provided us with some key concepts. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, he traces leading as a movement in which there is a beginning that necessitates a following through, or completion. Leadership therefore cannot be atomised in the persona of ‘the strong man.’ It is a process, one that is subject to the boundlessness, unpredictability and plurality of life itself, concepts that Arendt laid out in her key text The Human Condition (1958). The originality of Jon’s thinking lies in tracing the implications of these characterisations for new possible ways of being in civic space in 21st century and its particular conditions.

This brings us to the present. At no point in the history of UK’s politics has political leadership been more absent, along with appropriate civic processes that shape and inform public opinion. What we are currently experiencing is not the kind of fluidity and responsiveness implied by Arendt’s unpredictability, boundlessness and plurality. These demand quality of relationship, of trust and of a certain improvisatory skill in keeping going. In contrast both in the UK and Europe, we are experiencing disintegration of the public sphere and public values.  This constitutes a significant challenge to the third research phase of the research Cultural Leadership and the place of the artist (2015-16) and its remit to disseminate the earlier phases research and further engage public debate on the issues.

Professor Annick Schramme of University of Antwerp’s Management School pointed out in her introduction to the debate on 22nd June that cultural leadership in a European context needs to take account of globalisation, migration and digitisation, all outwardly focused forms of engagement. She noted that in many ways the discourse of leadership has emerged at a moment of crisis in the arts and culture in relation to value. There are few ‘free spaces’ left in which to frame and debate questions of value. Throughout the discussion we became more and more aware of the implicit tension in leadership as a construct – the desire on the one hand to reach out and take risks through pioneering work and, on the other, a counterforce that consolidates and sustains. Leadership in management is frequently defined in terms of the latter, instituting hierarchies that value loyalty over judgement and the subjectivity of individual forms of action.

While these apparently contradictory forces inevitably co-exist and co-constitute public life, Philipp Dietachmair of the Tandem network, revived a sensibility that we can so easily lose sight of. Tandem is an Amsterdam based network funded by the European Cultural Foundation that supports long-term cooperation, knowledge development and networking opportunities between cultural managers across the EU and beyond. Philipp discussed leadership through his experience of co-ordinating small scale projects with Turkey and Eastern Europe, contexts in which, he suggested, we do not have the luxury of not thinking public.

In the shock waves of referendum and post referendum behaviours, we again do not have the luxury of not thinking public.

Our research will continue next week in a second workshop to be held at Bozar, in the centre of Brussels, 12th July 2016, 10.00 – 4.00 pm within Bozar’s current exhibition, Facing the Future Art in Europe 1945-68. It will seek to question the curatorial statement that the year of 1968 “ brought to a close an extremely productive period for a playful, utopian and activist form of art” (author’s emphasis). We will draw on art practices that have emerged since 1968, practices that manifest a leading role in terms of ‘thinking public’ by working within the prevailing conditions and in so doing, create, in quite grounded and practical ways, a new sense of possibility.

The three questions with which Jon ended his presentation on 22nd June are relevant to this new discussion

  • How should training provision for the cultural sector respond to definitions of leadership that go beyond the individual?
  • Can leadership training accommodate questions of social and cultural value as well as organisational effectiveness?
  • How can our policy making cope with unpredictability and create space for the role of the artist in public life?

Anne Douglas is a Professor in Robert Gordon University’s Grays School of Art. Her research re-examines the role of the professional artist as a catalyst for social change, including environmental and economic.

Funding award: Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia

This project is funded by a Carnegie Trust for the Universities in Scotland Research Incentive Grant, awarded to Jon Blackwood, Gray’s School of Art.  It will provide a comprehensive survey of contemporary art practice in Macedonia. Using participatory observation and flexible interviewing techniques,

  • it will deliver a multi-perspectival, rounded understanding of the major themes informing contemporary Macedonian practice,
  • demonstrate the problems faced by artists in a post-socialist society in transition,
  • identify the strategies adopted by them in engaging with international audiences for contemporary art.

The research looks at the views of artists and the art world as a whole – curators, writers, activists, academics, and Macedonian diaspora, still engaged in the local art scene, in the UK, Austria, and Canada.

The research will result in the production of the first English language survey of contemporary art practice in Macedonia, which will be published by malagalerija in Skopje.  The English language version will be launched in April / May 2016 and a version in Macedonian will appear in the autumn.  The work also builds on significant engagement by Gray’s with Macedonia in the last year; Gray’s students exhibited in Skopje in February 2015 and two were chosen to exhibit at the Paratissima Art Fair in the city in June 2015.  Jon will also publish an essay on censorship and contemporary art in Macedonia appearing in a collection of text on Censorship in Contemporary art, edited by Roisin Kennedy and Riann Coulter, which will be published in 2017.