Whose vision is it anyway? Leadership in times of political tension, deficits in democracy and recurrent financial crises



Gantuya Badamgarav
Founding Director Mongolian Contemporary Art Association (Mongolia)

Elena Di Federico
Project manager research and publications at IETM  (Italy / Belgium)

Sana Tamzini
Curator, Ministry of Culture (Tunisia)


Staffan Forssell
Director General, Swedish Arts Council (Sweden)


Adrian Maanka Chipindi
Arts Council Zambia

Key words: 

leadership; vision; participatory; crisis; opportunity; bottom-up; needs-based 





The session was organised in workshop format in which the speakers took turns to address the audience based on a specific question asked by the moderator.


Elena Di Federico
In Europe, the cultural vision has various levels. Mostly at the national level the member nations drive their cultural agenda. At the EU level the vision is largely driven by the European Economic Strategy. In the recent past the grassroots visions have increased in power and have become more nationalist and populist leaning. This has sometimes brought them into tension with the European level focus as more social issues have come up.

Gantuya Badamagarav
In Mongolia, from a contemporary arts perspective there are three main drivers of vision in the arts. These are: Government which focuses on preservation of the status quo and culture; western culture through internet and digital platforms; and the almost invisible force of contemporary arts including films and music. The young generation of Mongolians is hungry for something different from the western influence. They seek identity and meaning of who they are. Given the example of the Mongolian Gallery for Contemporary Arts, there was a drive to new forms of artistic expression largely sharped by contemporary arts. From Mongolia it is clear that the young are driving some level of vision through their hunger for identity and new creativity and meanings of identity.

Sana Tamzini
Given the history of Tunisia there was a structure to create a certain kind of culture through the education system which prescribed what culture is and in a way drove the vision of the country. The 2011 revolution transformed the position of driving the vision. In this the people in particular the creators were more determined to drive the vision of the country.  The creators took over and colonialised the space. The situation has continued to keep changing with six governments since 2011 and there is still a struggle for the freedom of expression. Artists continue to be threatened and in some cases their lives threatened. Through her work at the Ministry there was an engagement of young people to work and create whatever they want to create. With this work they were able to see whether they had reached the limits of creativity. The tension has always been how to create and work in the interest of the arts. Even from the Ministry there were different voices and some wanted to continue the fight within the ministry? Examples of some of the work was the government efforts include legislation in 2014 to invest in culture but the outcomes were not as expected as artworks which questioned the status quo were left out in preference to those that support the government position. Though there has been significant investment in arts there is little effort to create a critical space for artists to work freely. Through the new constitution it was possible to work more independently through decentralisation. Through these structures there was possibility to work with young people who are at risk to suicide or IS.


Elena Di Federico
Whether crisis is an opportunity or crises depends on how we define a crisis or what we call a crisis. For example, before the recent happenings in Europe the assumption was that the values where shared but deep down these were in crisis. That there was a crisis of values. In many ways crisis is an opportunity as it shows insights behind the assumptions. For example, the idea those values cannot just be imposed but should be negotiated. Artists are reacting to crisis in different ways. Most times, There is a tendency to restrict the understanding of crisis to those events in the public dialogue such as media. But artists are turning crisis into opportunities most of these interventions we do not even know about them. There are a lot of problems not resolved but are not present in the media and the artists are highlighting them e.g. gender imbalance in pay, environment, ethical issues of funding by BP of the Tate. Crisis brings change and change brings new possibilities.

Gantuya Badamagarav
In Mongolia, the contemporary arts sector has always been in a crisis since the 1990s. During this time there has been an unstable economic environment. The crisis in Mongolia has brought opportunities for artists to come together. There has been opportunity for foreign artists to come to Mongolia to meet with fellow artists and explore issues affecting them. In crisis so many question appear and this is reflected in the arts and enriches it. In crisis a new style of leadership such as bottom – up approach emerges. Further events that have come up such as the Mongolia Biennale the collaboration between the MoMA and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Sana Tamzini
In Tunisia the political crisis was to an extent a positive move for the artists. It is without doubt that during a political crisis or any crisis for that matter, the creativity of artists is extra ordinary. The political system understood early on in the process that it is better to collaborate with artists than to try and stop them. Collaboration is better than confrontation. It is no longer a question of the system helping artists or the crisis-helping artist but it is rather mutual partnership and artists are not really being helped. In times of crisis then, an artists becomes the equalizer, the one who bring various aspects of the crisis together and expresses them in a creative way. Arts bridge the gap between government, the private sector and the social issues at play.


Elena Di Federico
ITM formed on the basis of bringing together cultural players and not really leaders but at a certain level. Leaders are able to come together physically and discuss but it is harder for artists to do the same. Leadership depends on context. What could be good leadership style in one place may not work in another. ITM has thus tried to work at a level that brings practitioners together. For example, work with the German coalition of independence theatre scene and the Sofia Actors Association has demonstrated that for leadership to grow it requires interaction.

Gantuya Badamagarav
For 25 years, Mongolians were adopting and copying the western culture as projected through internet and television. However, artists are now exercising Mongolian contemporary arts and questioning this western influence. Western influence is still there but minimum and more on Mongolian terms than before.  Projects such as the Nomad Spirit engages artists at a global level in Mongolia to discuss such issues as affect communities, for example, the impact of mining on culture and environment. This project makes a beautiful case for artists exchange as artists from various lived in minimum experience and united very well. The Mongolian strategy for exchanges and collaboration is to promote locally driven initiatives while participating in global dialogue such as the 2015 participation at the Venice Biennale. The biennale was quite transformational for Mongolian artists as they are seen to work a bit more at the experimental level.

Sana Tamzini
Speaking as artists and director, the question of collaboration can be looked at from the point of view of control. Who has the control of the exchange? It seems then that the one with money wants to control the collaboration and influence the outcome to the benefit of one side. Sometimes, these collaboration face challenges as partners are not often in the same reality. Examples could be cited with working with the EU where there is a question of how to change a creation so that a donor could accept it. In Tunisia, the question still remains who will accept the cultural policy as defined by the people who may not have the money to make decisions? Or the Cultural policy should always be inclined to the interest of the funders.



Kris from Sweden - Question: who drives the international collaboration? It is the need for it or the value conviction or the requirement that for an organisation to access certain funding, they should work with specific aspect of the EU for collaboration. In that way we see that the collaboration is not value driven but is shaped by the requirements of the donor.  What drives the collaboration? Is it need or the funding?

Elena Di Federico: From the experience of IETM, collaborations are driven by the need for international exchanges. These needs are often not just economic but the inherent need for artists to connect with others from Europe and around the world. For example, in Budapest without Government funding artists were able to organise a successful meeting with about 700 participants.

Gantuya Badamagarav: In Mongolia there are a number of players who work together. For example, on several projects various players such as the State Department, the Goethe Institute and local organisation have partnered to move the collaboration agenda forward. However, even with these partnerships, working with the government is always a challenge due to the artists’ divergent views.

Sana Tamzini: What is surprising in Tunisia is the fact that the international community felt, post uprising, that the country needed funds for dealing with dictatorial leadership. There are however, funds available to encourage artists to fight against terrorism. 

Phillip from Malta: Speaking from experience in Malta, there is an influx of different cultures from all over the world and these cultures depend on the power of the people. Would one say the people are the drivers of culture?

Ayeta Wangusa: Responding to Phillip’s question; if we have to have sustainable culture, organisations such as the African Union should take a lead in supporting culture. Africa should support its own culture and not depend on international aid. African lead institutions should take an interest in the sustainable development of culture. The African Union currently has agenda 2063 but there is no money for culture. It is not that we are against international funding, the issue is that African governments should take more interest in funding cultural development programmes.

Staffan Forssell: The problem in most situations is that hundred percent of the funding for culture is from international development organisation. How can people drive the vision?

Elvas, Zimbabwe: The situation is the same in most African countries; the foreign government are the ones putting more money in culture. This leaves the artists feeling inadequate especially when the funding comes from international agencies. It creates a lack of trust, as there is an expectation that the artists will only try to impress the funder. In order to ensure ownership and accountability there should be funding from both ends.

Gantuya Badamagarav: There is no such pressure in Mongolia, as generally the international community does not interfere with the creativity of the work. But focus more on the management issues. It is helpful to have the international donors, as the government does not seem to understand the importance of culture.

Stefan – France: The recent events of terrorism in France are a reminder that artists should have freedom of expression. This has also shifted the focus of countries such as France. Culture for example is no longer in the public policies because it has been moved to local authorities without funding. There is also the issue of defining what culture is and how it will be driven or supported.

Jonathan Price - UK: Whether a crisis is an opportunity or not depends on how we name and identify the crisis. If the crisis is not properly identified it may easily become a problem.



On Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

Vision is one key component of leadership. The discussion in this panel explored issues around who defines the vision, who is responsible for it and who has the power over it. If these critical questions are not answered there is a danger for the vision to be in crisis. From various experiences shared by the panellist, it is apparent that vision development and leadership is contextual. That each and every context has its own experiences with leadership. However there are some underlying key frameworks that provide some basic appreciation of what works and what does not. It is clear that for a cultural leader it is important for them to understand that vision should be participatory. That is; it cannot be decided by one party but should engage both the leader and the led to come to a vision for the cultural sector. Secondly, the vision of for cultural development should be driven by the needs of the community being led. However, these principles are always in threat due to the presence of international donors who in some cases try to influence the vision according to their interests. The international community is also just doing what governments should prioritise support to the cultural sector if the vision of these institutions will be participatory and needs based. In the discussions, it also emerged that good cultural leadership sees opportunities in the times of crisis. For cultural leadership crisis presents an opportunity to ask the difficult questions that not only helps cultural organisations but has a wider impact on the community.



Examples provided of leadership development 



  • IETM – practical artists level based exchanges.

  • Mongolia – The Contemporary Arts Museums is an important tool for leadership development.

  • Tunisia – Partnership between community and artists in times of crisis to provide leadership.



Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 


  • Lack of trust between the leaders and the led.

  • The influence of donor agencies to promote their interests.

  • The lack of adequate government’s and other regional bodies such as the African Union’s support.

  • Limited opportunities for exchange and collaboration


  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues


    • Mongolia: Leading the appreciation of contemporary arts and offering a platform for artists to express themselves beyond the boundaries set up by community’s seeming appreciation of traditional forms of artistic expression.

    • IETM: This project is showing leadership by encouraging exchange of ideas at the ‘grassroots’ level. This means leadership is not seen as a preserve of a small section of the cultural sector but that there is room for leadership to exist at all levels.

    • Tunisia: The arts community took up the leadership role during a time of the political crisis and offered creative platforms for the community to think about the future and the issues facing them.


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership

To support artistic self-organisation and other bottom-up approaches that contribute to innovative cultural expressions and cultural leadership