What are the key drivers of change and who are today’s leaders?


Speakers: Shahidul Alam, photographer and human rights activist (Bangladesh)

Simon Brault, Director Canada Council for the Arts (Canada)

Alejandro Denes, Advisor to Minister of Culture, Director Nacional de Cultura (Uruguay)

Rana Yazaji, Executive Director of El Mawred, coordinator of the Arab Cultural Policy Group (Syria/Egypt)


Orlaith McBride, Director, Arts Council of Ireland  


Simone Inguanez, Arts Council Malta  

Key words: 

bold leadership; catalysts; shared responsibility; democratisation; civil society; supporting community; giving people a voice; empowerment; reconciliation; well-being; risk; ambition; realistic expectations; accountability; collective imagination; narration; articulation; globalisation   





Following a focus on what has brought the cultural sector to the crossroads (in the morning), this session focused on the changing nature of cultural management. The discussion developed around articulating and enabling a vision of change in relevant fields, as well as provoking, responding to, and managing relevant change within respective structures.

Shahidul Alam
National Governments uphold principles of freedom and democracy in their rhetoric, but actively suppress both in practice. Government is in reality the biggest player in town, that also controls resources. Genuine change at Government level generally has far greater impact than change anywhere else. The sector needs determine how to respond to realities with regard to Governments. In an ideal world, it would be a balancing act: where can the two parties (creatives and Government) meet? When you want your opponent to retreat, make sure you provide a decent escape route. Otherwise, that is where leadership will fall through. Allow the other side to get credit and dignity. Ideally, when the leader is gone, the people will say “we did it”. Decisions are often made by Government without consulting civil society. How can a Government get away with murder without being confronted by its citizens all the way? Such conversations need to be made completely public. The sector needs to take risks and positions that Government will not necessarily take.

Simon Brault
It is not the time to be fearful. We need to open the doors and windows, give dreams and poetry a chance: a call for action on all levels. Do not be afraid to have ambitious dreams, as long as you are realistic. The role of the arts in building reconciliation is well-documented.  Continuous change is needed, meeting the needs of artists and the concerns of society. We need to aim for a better future, through the arts. It is much more than an exercise of audience development. It involves giving people a voice, empowering people. We have an obligation and responsibility to support communities to lead their projects on their own terms. We want to bring about dramatic change : doing this in a transparent way, even when we do not know all the answers. The prevailing reality in some countries is war, conflict, poverty. Other countries may be seen as more privileged.

Alejandro Denes
We should seek to lead in as much a collaborative way as possible. A good way to start is by mapping all stakeholders and partners, including : artists (as the main players), local governments, civil society, artists and arts organisations, academics from all relevant fields, relevant government agencies. We then proceed to map all the challenges : institutional weaknesses – including fragmentation and overlapping of functions, lack of confidence in the cultural sector, lack of resources, need for greater democracy and accessibility in the cultural sector, need for decentralisation, need for rescue and promotion of cultural events.

Rana Yazaji
What change are we looking for in our respective region? Who can effect it? An alternative school of thought? The art of an artist who had to flee to a safer region? Actors who are creating individually need to come together to present alternative collective imagination and narratives. Artists who are looking for a change need to create strong allegiance. The international fabric is changing everyday. To what extent can civil society, in such a volatile situation, make an impact? To date, there has been a lot of advocacy, and an accumulation of very good practices, lobbies, information, stronger knowledge. Yet, in some cultures, no tangible commitment or change in legislation has been achieved so far. Creatives are still not yet allowed to work and create without interference. Yet, there is confidence that we will get there. An important factor is to target the system that has become too conventional. In the arts, breaking that system is very feasible. If the system becomes too bureaucratic, we can always create something else.



On Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

The discussion revolved around the recognition that, more than ever, current changing realities demand collective leadership across society – building a larger spectrum of interest: engaging with community, identifiying needs and trends, and driving the relevant change.

Speakers and audience shared the conviction that the arts need to breathe new life into the realities of our era. We all have reasons to act. Artists in various parts of the world are doing a very crucial job surviving, researching and creating in the context of very volatile realities. Governments should not interfere in the work of cultural leaders and drivers of change, yet cultural leaders need to be open and accountable.



Examples provided of leadership development 



  • Working with Civil Society.

  • Shared leadership through partnerships and funding.

  • Negotiation with Government with a view to influencing change that will have the greatest possible impact – a balancing act.



Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 


  • Lack of democracy, accessibility, transparency, decentralisation, access to resources in the cultural sector.

  • Bureaucracy:
    - structure nurtures the problem it believes it solves by preventing change
    - change does not come from the inside, but from the outside
    - can protect us from making mistakes, but it can also hinder our creativity.

  • Fragmentation with regard to the sector.

  • Collapse of traditional structures, and fragility of national budgets.

  • The challenges of digitisation.


  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues


  • Shahidul Alam’s show Crossfire on extra judicial killings in Bangladesh, which was closed down by the Government.

  • Canada Council for the Arts’ support to indigenous arts and heritage.

  • Salzburg Global Seminar: challenging current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern

  • Laila Soliman’s theatrical piece Lessons in Revolting.


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership


  • Tie the sector’s vision to a wider vision: the vision to improve the lives of citizens; and never to a vision linked to economic considerations.

  • Reflect on current realities - take a structured approach for bold collective leadership on all levels across society -  showing empathy and creativity - breathe new life into current realities.

  • Be more open, and reflect the communities we serve.

  • To drive change, you need to make a strong case to citizens, and this can be done through building on facts and passion.

  • There will always be adversity – there is too much at stake.

  • Help artists to organise themselves and engage in cross-border collaboration.

  • Enable narration and articulation of realities.

  • Take risks - demonstrate results.

  • Base your risks on ambition, excellence, accountability.

  • Create dramatic change, avoiding to break down any part of the cultural ecology.

  • Break down the systems that have become too bureaucratic, replacing them with newly-created systems.

  • Develop professionalism.

  • Promote advocacy, accumulation of good practices, lobbies, gathering of information, generation of stronger knowledge.


  Key quotations

'I do not know of a single government that does not uphold principles of freedom and democracy in its rhetoric, but actively suppresses both in practice.' (Shahidul Alam)

'You want Government on your side, even if governments may do all sorts of things that are not right.' (Shahidul Alam)

'Most of the time, it is the artists who are leading change: dreaming change, driving change, helping the rest of us to navigate change.' (Simon Brault)

'The world needs arts leadership. Our future depends on it.' (Simon Brault)

'Experience teaches us that we can never wait for the right conditions for change. There is no secret recipe.' (Simon Brault)

'To drive change, you need to base your case on facts and passion.' (Simon Brault)

'First we need engagement. Money comes at a later stage.' (Alejandro Denes)

'When we thought we had all the answers, suddenly they changed all the questions.' (Mario Benedetti, quoted by Alejandro Denes)

'We speak a lot of the collective memory, but what about a collective imagination?' (Rana Yazaji)

“Artists will always succeed at making their voice heard, at some point. Artists are constantly succeding at being catalysts. Our role is to find those artists.” (Rana Yazaji)