New approaches, new directions



Danielle Cliche
Chief, Section of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Secretary of the Convention on the Protection and  Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, UNESCO (France/Canada)

Arundhati Ghosh
Director, India Foundation for the Arts (India)

Octavio Kulesz
Director, Editorial Teseo (Argentina)

Jo Verrent
Senior Producer, Unlimited (UK)


Toni Attard, Director Strategy, Arts Council Malta 


Adrian Debattista, Arts Council Malta

Key words: 

cultural policy, diversity of cultural expressions, international trade, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, international law, UNESCO 2005 Convention, equality, accessibility, digital culture, digital participation, big data, arts funding, participatory, stakeholder management, collective leadership, transformational leadership, evidenced-based policy making, independent funding, disability arts, marginalisation, civil society, relationship management, discursive dialogue.





The session explored how global changes are affecting cultural leadership from different perspectives ranging from policy making, artistic practice, digital world and arts funding and promotion. It highlighted the conditions that led to specific initiatives ranging from legal frameworks to artistic projects that aim to counteract forms of social discrimination.

Danielle Cliche spoke about the formation and progress of international law in relation to the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expression (2005) and its translation into four policy goals. It was stated that international law does not emerge “from the sky” but there is a problem that is being addressed by the law. As the context evolves, its interpretation needs to adapt hence why constant monitoring and evaluation is needed. The problem being addressed in this case was that the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services was not being addressed in international trade law which generated momentum. The outcome was that changes come from inside and outside bureaucratic structures (e.g. civil society) bringing forth the importance of stakeholder engagement. She stated that leadership is needed to provide a vision, bring about change and in view of this leaders should be “marathon runners” as change does not occur overnight. Threats to artistic expression, freedom of movement for artists and gender equality in the arts are still out there and that leaders need to take risks while adopting a transparent, evidence-based, and participatory approach.

Octavio Kulesz started by posing the question “what is the relationship between the cultural planet and digital technology?” and challenged the tendency to see culture and digital technology as separate realities.  It was said that this perception should be changed as “digital is all around us”. As digital technology underlies every aspect of the cultural chain whether it is creation, production, distribution, access or participation. The new raw material in this chain is data and metadata (data about data) and therefore any actor that can process data well can lead the market as can be seen from big players such as Apple and Android in the app market- they have become the market not just links in the chain. Therefore there should be more focus on getting more data, since there is a lack of information for example in terms of statistics on cultural goods and services in many countries. This is related to the fact that the big players in the industry are pumping out data from the market to use it as they deem fit. So before doing any policy changes in different cultural sectors, there is the need to gain more information.

Arundhati Ghosh spoke about independent grant making in the arts and culture that is designed by listening to the needs and aspirations of the people that are supported and funded. She pointed towards societal changes that are taking place in India as well as the world over with neoliberal policies and market obsession suppressing those voices that are not the dominant ones. This is creating an environment of polarisation across different stratas of society especially the rich on one end and the poor on the other which in turn makes it hard for conversation and debate to take place. However there has been a rise of voices from the margins of society including caste, gender and religious minorities and the oppressed; young people and students with digital technology and online access assisting in the process. In view of this there are possibilities of fresh new conversations in the public domain and learn from the struggles at the grassroots level. Also, in the arts, there has been a tendency to borrow methods from the development and business sector when there could be more attention directed towards developing processes and systems from within the sector. She also spoke of funding mechanisms that are designed from listening to communities and being aware of the different cultural contexts being more empathetic and open, making opportunities become more accessible and flexible to larger number of people.  An example was given on how the foundation engaged in live dialogue with a certain group of musicians who come from a desert community with whom specific methods on how to measure impact and reporting had to be tailored based on their context of the arts and understanding. The outcome was that policy makers, artists and all stakeholders have to listen to and learn from each other while also speaking with those coming from outside the arts sector while constantly reflecting on one’s practices and break away from the silos.

Jo Verrent spoke about Unlimited a disability-led “time limited programme” that aims to counteract discrimination through disability arts underpinned by the social model of disability – seeing disability as derived from the barriers created by existing dominating structures in society. However the UK still has issues for disabled people as discrimination still exists were disabled people are underrepresented and objects of pity. Unlimited is seeking to help the cultural sector diversify its practice, by commissioning high quality work and equate disability the multiplicity of experiences that can be shared not making it exclusive.



On Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

In view of multiple changes occurring in society, leadership has to adapt and be flexible enough to reflect such changes and engage in ongoing development. Changes that were discussed include:

  • Censorship and restraints on freedom of expression and movement of artists.

  • The rise of digital technology pervading the cultural chain.

  • Data becoming the new raw material and source of power by digital industry giants.

  • Market logic dominating societies bringing about polarisation of different social groups
  • Social conflict in certain regions.

  • Increase of active participation of civil society and artists as a reaction to laws that hinder freedom of expression.

  • Discrimination and marginalisation of disabled people.

  • Inequality.

Therefore cultural leadership requires taking risks while facing such challenges and being able to turn them into opportunities. This begins by listening and having a deep understanding of the reality outside the bureaucratic environments and being aware of the different cultural contexts. Evaluation both from the inside and the outside is of importance in this process while gathering the necessary information through real-life conversations and digital technology. Also the arts sector cannot afford to operate in a vacuum and have to be in contact with other sectors and manage relationships. Cultural leadership is not only a reaction to change but a driver of change itself that involves collaboration and deep understanding between actors. This is done by creating opportunities based on information from those bound to benefit from such opportunities thereby creating exchange and adapting rather than imposing the prevalence of digital technology according to the digital ecosystems that differ across societies. 



Examples provided of leadership development 



Arundhati Ghosh explained how her organisation India Foundation for the Arts ( meets and speaks with the artists it aims to support and designs funding programmes that take into account the multi-lingual and multicultural environment in India. An example shared is that of a music project with Mir Musicians from the region of Bikaner situated in the borders between India and Pakistan. This meant that they live in a space which is not considered to be safe and since they are Muslim musicians they are ostracised from both the Muslim and Hindu communities. Also they only speak in dialects and do not have writing practices, IDs and bank accounts while their sense of time and projects is different than what is conventional. They do not see arts as projects but as their life and their sense of time is not based on calendars but on harvest and festival season. IFA wanted to facilitate a project where young and senior musicians would be able to travel to ten villages in the regions and engage with ustads, young adults and other community members in conversations on their musical legacy. Since this community is not accustomed to talking on the phone or email exchange, the IFA had to meet them face-to-face and learn their dialect and spend time with the community. The foundation asked them what they need whether it is money, resources or otherwise. When tackling impact measurement discussions with the community took place where in order for them to understand the concept they referred to poem which says “as you churn butter comes out”. In this way they understood impact as being the “butter”. IFA had to also talk to them about reporting which is difficult for them conceptualise given that music is their life and do not look at arts as projects. Therefore IFA had to learn and listen from their stories which were then used as a form of reporting. In this way this community made IFA rethink its processes and enhance its own programmatic and administrative frameworks to fit the worldview of the community.

Another example is that from Jo Verrent’s Unlimited programme is ‘disability-led’ supporting artists across all artforms, artists with all types of impairment, artists with all manner of political and non political stand points. They do this while collaboraing with partners such as ShapeArts a disability-led arts organisatoins, Artsadmin a producing and presenting organisation for contemporary artists and Sync focusing on the interplay between disability and cultural leadership. The work that has been programmed is high profile, skilled work that matches the quality of any other artist working the UK nowadays whether disabled or not. For instance sculptor Tony Heaton created “Great Britain from a Wheelchair” in the 70s and went to create many further pieces including one for television broadcaster Channel 4 in 2012. Also disabled artists Paul Cummins gained an Unlimited commission to create “An English Flower Garden” in ceramics and in 2014 he got a new commission for the Tower of London. 



Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 


  • Lack of information and data available which in today’s digital cultural chain is of significant value to inform decision making.

  • Constraints with regards to artistic freedom and mobility.

  • Discrimination and marginalisation of specific groups e.g. people with disabilities which restricts access to cultural and social participation all together.

  • Compartmentalisation of the cultural sector from other sectors which hinder the development of a more reflexive approach to leadership.

  • Lack of contextual understanding from those meant to provide support to the cultural sectors- more listening and conversation needed rather than perceiving artists as simply time-bound project – this could also be said to be related to the need for civil society to be strengthened.

  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues

In speaking about the implementation of the legal framework of the 2005 Convention, Danielle Cliche mentioned the guiding principles that were turned into policy goals. Among these principles were:

  • The promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms – this addressed artistic freedom as well as gender equality through legislative frameworks and policy measures that support women as creators and producers of cultural goods and services as well as promoting opportunities for women to access cultural goods and services.

  • Integrating culture in sustainable development frameworks – this goal is associated with the policy measures to support equity in access to cultural resources by vulnerable groups in the community and financial assistance that supports creativity in developing countries.

  • Partnering with civil society to support sustainable systems of governance of culture- civil society participates in the design and implementation of policies and the in the ratification and promotion of the Convention.

  • Implementing preferential treatment measures to achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increasing the mobility of artists and cultural professional around the world.

These examples demonstrate how the implementation of cultural policy can also be integrated with wider social concerns and in this case this done through an international legal instrument that emerges from problems addressed by civil society. 

As seen above the examples put forward by Arundhati Ghosh and Jo Verrent both address community issues. In the former case leadership enabled the integration communities in a region which is geographically deemed to be a space of conflict while in the latter, the arts were a way of provoking thoughts on the marginalisation and inequality of people with disabilities from a societal perspective and not just within the cultural sector. The organisational structure of both cases also is a reflection of such missions, given that in the case of IFA, funding programmes are shaped in accordance to the needs of different communities that constitute different cultures and languages. As for Unlimited it is termed as being ‘disability-led’ aiming to counteract the under representation of individuals with a disability employed across sectors.


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership


  • Provide more opportunities for evidence based and participatory policy making and thereby strengthening civil society in the process of cultural leadership.

  • Design funding programmes for culture that are flexible, nimble and diverse and based on deep contextual understanding of the environments within which those that are to be supported operate and live in.

  • Focus on listening and learning from all stakeholders involved in the act of cultural leadership- evaluation of current practices needs to driven by self-reviewing and dialogue.

  • Embrace digital technology as being part of the cultural value chain and use it to gather information for decision making while understating the diverse landscape of the local digital ecosystems in place across the globe.

  • Collaboration with leaders from other sectors that do not necessarily fall under the cultural sector – further enhances the integration of culture in other areas of development.


  Key quotations

'You need to be a marathon runner in order for change to take place' - Danielle Cliche

'International law does not emerge from the sky, there is a problem that needs to be addressed' – Danielle Cliche