Emerging leaders: what is the role of networks in supporting the culture sector, developing new visions and information decision-makers?



Romina Bianchini
Proyecta Cultura (Argentina)

Marie le Sourd
Secretary General, On the Move (France)

Phlouen Prim
Executive Director Cambodia Living Arts (Cambodia)


Annamari Laaksonen
Research Manager, International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA)


Elaine Falzon, Arts Council Malta  

Key words: 

relevance; sustainability; networking; realities; reinventing; exchange; collectiveness; engaging; leadership; leaders; funding; balance; formal network; informal network; netliving.





Annamari Laaksonen introduced the session by providing the reason for the relevance of this workshop within the summit: In 2015, IFACCA organised jointly with Asia-Europe Foundation and several networks (including ELIA) a workshop based on the project Thrive during which sustainability, governance and relevance of the networks were discussed. 14 networks from Europe and Asia took part in the Thrive meeting and had participated in the Discussion paper produced for the meeting. After the meeting the organisers invited more networks to respond to a survey and all survey responses (more than 50) were compiled to a report (IFACCA D’Art Report 49: International Cultural Networks). The outcome of the workshop was important for all the networks present, hence the wish for a continuity of the discussion.

The report highlighted the main points discussed, namely the role of networks (advocating, promoting arts and culture, collaborating, building capacity...), funding, challenges and, most importantly, relevance. 75% of the survey respondents felt that international networks are more relevant than they were ten years ago. The report also highlights different governance models of networks, their sources of income and exit strategies.

During the session, the speakers presented their different backgrounds, experiences and case studies and addressed the two main issues surrounding networks in the culture sector: role and relevance. Both panellists and workshop participants largely agreed on the following main points which summarise the discussion carried out throughout the session:

  • Networks are fluid and need constant self-reflection, upgrading and renovation.

  • Reinventing oneself leads to less dependency on a ‘traditional’ way of fund allocation. It leads to a more sustainable way of fundraising through the various existing channels.

  • Relevance is a key term for sustainability of a network. Networks need to diversify their work to be sustainable.

  • Networks offer models of collective leadership.

  • Collective effort leads to more tangible and concrete results.

  • Networks should go beyond addressing their own specific interests but should be interested in other subjects and also global issues.

  • It is important to know who is who. Annamari Laaksonen suggested the creation of an updated database/directory of networks.

Marie Le Sourd spoke about the role of networks in supporting the culture sector through the perspective of On the Move, a topic-based network which shares information about mobility opportunities, facilitates capacity building through training and information sessions as well as building evidence about arts and culture in general through evaluations. She pointed out the following:

  • The strength of each and every network should lie in the members working together, sharing experiences and resources.

  • Cultural leadership in the networks context should not be related to a person, but to a format.

  • In a network, one needs to ask how to go beyond your network.

  • In networks, one needs to ensure continuity. Two years ago, On the Move had to reinvent itself as a network due to a rejected funding application. This led to a healthy regenerative exercise for the network. On a general level, the challenge for networks is to find the right balance between different stakeholder priorities and the kind of action the networks want to lead.

  • On the Move connects to institutions through resource sharing acting as a link between them and the creative sector, is a facilitator in decision making processes and provides evidence and data such as the data quoted in a UNESCO report. In this context, mobility and direct meetings are still a very important element.

  • In this sense, the term ‘funder’ is utilised less. Rather, the network is now looking at partners. Most of the On-the-move funding is now directly related to projects. The focus is now on how the network will be providing value for money invested in the same network. On-the-move is increasingly trying to be innovative and find new formats to involve members and to reach out to ‘end-users’. It is about the difficult task of finding a balance between the needs, expectations and your own aspirations.

Phlouen Prim discussed the topic from the perspective of the work being carried out by Cambodian Living Arts. The organisation has four main pillars – arts development, education, knowledge, networks and policy and CLA enterprises. Phloeun presented the role of networking in the following manner: 

  • Cambodian Living Arts has a programme for emerging leaders connecting them with a network of knowledge.

  • In a country like Cambodia, networking - which is still a relatively new idea - is significant. Cambodia has worked a lot to bring cultural identity back to the community which could potentially lead to a strong, albeit exaggerated sense of nationalism in the way we see arts and culture. Therefore, Cambodian Living Arts realised that it was important to connect those leaders within the region; not just from a national perspective but also on a regional and international level. The programme also brings mentors from around Asia to help the young leaders. In this sense the network of leaders serves as a catalyst for change both within the community and beyond.

  • It is not only good to create networks but also to connect to other existing networks. A most significant exercise was that of finding existing networks in the region and connect to them.

  • There are different kinds of networks; their role varies and has many layers. The sector operates in both formal and informal networks – the latter usually created through a common circumstance such as post-conflict situations.

  • What is essential are connections at all levels. The relevance of the work is to see what is going on in the world and connect it to arts and culture.

Romina Bianchini spoke about the role of networks in supporting the cultural sector through a description of the work carried out by Proyecta Cultura, a platform supporting and promoting a variety of cultural leadersin Latin America. Romina tackled the following points:

  • Networks should be infused with new updated processes. Networks should be flexible and ready to embrace all kinds of cultures and policies while absorbing societies and clearly reflecting people’s opinions.

  • Networks should also be interested in the common good. In the context of the crisis of Latin America, the project reflected the need to have a network of cultural visions which would go beyond individualism and beyond the formal institutions.

  • It is not a question of funds, but of leadership which we can demonstrate within a network. Leadership and togetherness are important qualities in a network.

  • The network is leading to concrete results; it is offering a new way of working with young leaders on a permanent basis.

  • Networks do not cease to exist; all networks, even if they become obsolete, lead to a legacy and to the creation of something new.



On Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

The theme was discussed from the perspective of the different networks and networking experiences presented. The discussion reflected the fact that networking in itself, as a format, could effectively provide a non-hierarchical model of leadership as it is not simply a question of people with leadership skills but it presents a format or a model for leadership which provides an opportunity for individual empowerment and leadership within a collective experience.

Leadership (in terms of responsibility, clear vision and good communication) was also discussed as an essential value for change and continuity within the networks leading to a renewed and continuous sense of relevance of the networks both to its members and to the sector in general. In this sense, the discussion referred to leadership as a quality to develop networks and networks as a format to instigate and develop a sense of leadership in the culture sector. The On the Move network serves as a clear example of how these leadership skills were put to practice for the survival and success of the network in terms of relevance and sustainability. The other examples of the Cambodian Living Arts and Proyecta Cultura, clearly demonstrated how networks offer a good format for the development of culture leaders



Examples provided of leadership development 


  • The Living Arts Fellows (Cambodia Living Arts)

  • GMS Hub for Cultural Changemakers (Cambodia Living Arts)

  • Proyecta Cultura (Argentina)



Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 

  • Lack of funds and support: This is generally considered as an obstacle across the board, although the discussion reflected the fact that this also presents an interesting opportunity for renewal.

  • Lack of information about the existing networks: not knowing which networks exist and why they exist poses a problem which hinders communication, collaboration, relevance and sustainability.

  • Networks are, sometimes, too focused on their own remit. This hinders the opportunity and possibility to look beyond and to have a clear vision. It threatens risk-taking and experimentation within and outside the networks.

  • Good practices, in terms of leadership within networks and through networks are not shared enough.


  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues


  • The Cambodian Living Arts programmes provide a clear example of how networking can help address the wide issue of nationality in a post-conflict context. Through networking, leadership skills such as responsibility, communication and motivation are put to practice. In a sense they also provide stability and a sense of reassurance. Cambodian Living Arts have also used the existing platform ANCER (Asia-Pacific Network for Cultural Education and Research) to bring together several arts managers and cultural innovators and maximise on networking opportunities. Arts and culture have provided the opportunity to also create another informal network of post-conflict countries which share the same contexts and challenges. The link between the formal and informal network was automatic.

  • The Proyecta Cultura provides various examples of how culture leaders are brought together not only to grow and develop as leaders but also to engage with people and realities. It offers a space for exchange of common values, communication, values and reciprocity. One such example mentioned is the Zero Space project involving youths at risk.Laila Soliman’s theatrical piece Lessons in Revolting 


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership


  • Relevance and sustainability of networks: rather than thinking about how to get the funds, one should think about the relevance of the network. One should reflect upon the values that you want to promote through the network.

  • The road leading to the crossroads is fast evolving; we constantly need to adapt to the rapid changes occurring around us.

  • One needs to find a balance between the needs of the network, the expectations of the members and your own aspirations.

  • It is not only important to create networks, but to connect to other networks. Having contact with other realities, enhances your own. One needs to go beyond the remit of the network and think more about collaborations and connections.

  • Networks need to reflect their members, the sector and communities. 


  Key quotations


We should transfer the focus from networking to netliving.’ Romina Bianchini

I consider networks as a metaphor.’ Romina Bianchini

Our strength is our members, thousands of organisations and individuals, working together, engaging with communities, learning from each other, sharing experiences and resources’ quoted by Marie Le Sourd (original statement presented during the conference The value of international cultural networks – Malta, January 2016)

Networks are an effective tools for change and collaboration.’ Anna Steinkampf quoted by Marie Le Sourd

We are all here discussing crossroads; the road leading to these crosscroads is fast evolving and we constantly need to adapt to that.’ Marie Le Sourd

‘We are increasingly trying to be innovative and find new formats to involve members.’ Marie Le Sourd

‘By bringing young leaders together, we bring about change.’ Phlouen Prim

‘The relevance of our work lies in the fact that we see what is going on in the world and connect it to the relevance of arts and culture.’ Phlouen Prim