What next? Leading for the future



Milena Dragičević Šešić
Head of UNESCO Chair in Interculturalism, Art Management and  Mediation, University of Belgrade (Serbia)

Rosemary Mangope
Chief Executive Officer, National Arts Council (South Africa)

Iván Petrella
Secretary for Federation Integration and International Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture (Argentina)

Ralph Regenvanu
Minister of Lands and Natural Resources (Vanuatu)


Robert Palmer (UK)


Diane Dodd
Coordinador for Europe, International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA)  

Key words: 

values; courage; change; collective; partnerships.





Robert Palmer moderated the final session that became an intimate dialogue (as far as you can be intimate with 400 delegates!). He invited more than 40 participants on to the stage and brought the audience close to the stage in order to create a “new style of conversation.”

Robert Palmer gave an opening address starting with the principle that leadership is about passing on responsibility… to enable others to take responsibility so that in turn…this allows others to take responsibility and so on….

He provoked the audience by saying he does not see cultural but, rather he sees protectors of cultural assets. The potential of leaders lost as they are forced into a position to drive for efficiency. He challenged that promoting efficiency and good allocation of resources is not good leadership.

Einstein said we cannot solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. So he asked, where is the new thinking? what are our new values?

He thanked Arn for his provocation to cross the threshold that you have crossed.  He told Arn, that his story and many stories are a wake up call to a world that is in a mess. We all bear responsibility for contributing to this mess so we should identify ways out of it.

Initiatives from people fighting against what you don’t believe and moving through the cracks and trying to change the world. Fragmented and disconnected. Collectively no power because of disconnection. Big issues on all continents – leadership and governance disconnections. 

Makes us powerless or weaker. What is the new thinking?  The old thinking is not working otherwise we wouldn’t be in this mess.

He then invited the four panellists to speak for 5 minutes each to maximise the time for discussion afterwards.

Milena Dragičević Šešić from Serbia talked about real leadership inviting an open platform for civic imagination to be heard and be gathered by you the public sector. As cultural leaders we should acting as catalyzers and offer the possibility for new voices to be heard. She talked about us still living in a culture of fear and, the need to move into a culture of hope. To illustrate this she talked about the courage of artists that question negative past through their arts and the issue of censorship. She talked of an Indian writer that resigned from writing in protest (and what drove him to such an extreme) and then Arab stories that can only be told in English. She also talked about the word ‘global’ being used only to describe rich cities - not being a label for poorer cities…

Rosemary Mangope from South Africa spoke next and said there is a real need for Africa to meet Africa. She talked about the perceived limitations of the arts and the need to introduce art everywhere. She illustrated what she meant by introducing the artist Esther Mahlangu who is illiterate but a mathematician in art. Mahlanguan redesigned the interior and exterior of a BMW car, according to Ndebele culture and tradition, to give it relevance. It is now a legacy example in design. With this example, Rosemary Mangope made the plea that the arts should be embedded in our lives: we need to introduce the arts everywhere.   Leadership, she said, is the ability to articulate your gift and share it with the world by making the abstract relevant.

Ralph Regenvatu from Vanuatu talked about his frustration with politicians being the motivator to become one. He added that one path for cultural practitioners is to participate and introduce change from the inside. We added that we need to organise ourselves to address governance structures and make changes much more widely than in the past. He talked about the context of development and collectively imagining…as well as reminded everyone about the climate change issue adding that two whole nations will be completely submerged shortly with the resulting identity loss, as the people move to new communities to live. He criticised the current economic order with a steady 1% growing inequality and added that we all participate in this.  He added that we have to engage because the current situation is not sustainable and has to change. We added that we need toolkits ready to take action. We need to be prepared. We need cultural facilitators to provide spaces for others and to work across sectors, with other sectors and get them to redefine and change. He added that when dealing with the enemy we need to provide them with the space to exit gracefully…  and to slowly but surely building consensus for change.

Iván Petrella from Argentina said that leaders need to be both realists and prophets.   The fundamental question is how are we supposed to live? The big challenges such as climate change, violent extremism, migration and refugee crisis all provoke the same question - how you are going to live? He added that none of these issues can be solved by funding, therefore conversations are needed. As cultural leaders we need to ask two key questions every day: who are we and who do we want to be? Then find the points of pressure, the cracks because these will the opportunity for change. Follow the light, identify the cracks and prise them open.




Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 

Leadership myths need to be tackled. Leadership is: 

  • not any more just about the guy or girl at the top

  • not about creating and communicating a vision (one way)

  • not possible if you are disconnected or living in a bubble

  • not about being beautiful and harmless

  • not about ego

  • not about being defined by the old systems

  • not about only talking to ourselves

  • not about having a leader

  • not about being authoritarian.


  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues

Leadership is about: 

  • a shared concept and the collective capacity of a whole system to act 

  • a two–way process

  • looking into your crystal ball and visualising the future

  • going out and talking to other sectors (including the business sector)

  • taking more action and more risks

  • getting others involved (even the illiterate or less visible)

  • opening up new conversations for the good of others (beyond your lifestyle)

  • through art and the arts being an incubator

  • collaboration not competition

  • giving way to others 

  • exploiting cracks in the system 

  • holding on to values such as generosity, transparency, courage, humility, empathy, humour

  • understanding the complexity of your own context and then the complexity of others

  • using emotion to inspire change

  • bringing tools and culture together

  • being an agent for change

  • more people into the debate

  • breaking borders and collective leadership which means respecting each others ideas

  • challenging corporate greed that makes things difficult for people of limited means

  • being the first to show the way and open dialogue

  • about knowing how to prioritise… and, to go step by step in achieving new accomplishments.

Robert asked the panellists for a response:

Milena underlined words that show our values linked to social injustice and inequality in the world. She added that if we only stick to our own local environment we will not see the much deeper and larger problems and then we won’t contribute to change and bring new horizons. She questioned language and talked about those that are totally silenced… for example those that don’t speak English – can they have a say and enter the world? 

Ralph felt the key message was move out and work with other sectors.  He added that as cultural leaders we need to help others rebrand what we could collectively work on. Perseverance… was another message to come out and he agreed it has never been a better time to be an artist… things are happening.

Iván added that the old formula – act local and think global - doesn’t cut it anymore. He asked everyone to embrace as yours everything that the world has to offer…. He said governments can create spaces to build reconciliation and to change mindsets.  As an example, he spoke of when his government brought Canadian and South African drafters of truth and reconciliation processes to talk about their experience so that people in Argentina could see how that works and incorporate this philosophy in their own vocabulary and context.

Rosemary said that she felt it is important to keep all citizens engaged and the importance of intergenerational dialogue… use elders’ resources and gifts and time, to serve more - thereby creating more spaces for all people to be engaged.


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership

A second round took place where interventions were asked to focus on advice that you can give other cultural leaders in the room. 

  • Let young people come forward too (invite young people to board meetings and strategy meetings – they will learn from you and you will learn from them).

  • Institutions need to get smarter or they will become irrelevant.

  • Encourage all people to be leaders… there is a need for individual leaders.

  • Climb the tree and point the direction.

  • Take responsibility for the privilege you have.
  • It's your responsibility to involve people.

  • The power to change comes from everywhere – usually not where we suspect it is.

  • A leader should constantly think of the future and make it is better.

  • Hold on to values as cultural leaders.
  • Have the courage to stand up and respect human rights.

  • Stand up for those that are living social and human injustice.

  • We are here to change the world.

  • Talk to and question other sector leaders (i.e. in agriculture, economy, etc…) partnerships are needed.
  • Use the energy that exists within this room and momentum.

  • Do not just listen but hear as leaders.

  • If we want things we never had, we have to do things that we've never done.

  • Less talking and more doing.

  • If you want to lead for change then you need to invest in people.

  • Get arts back in the curriculum around the word.

  • Be courageous.