By Sanja Petricic and David Edelman
Associate Professor, Faculty of Media and Communications, Singidunum University (Belgrade, Serbia)
Associate Professor and Director of the Performing Arts Leadership and Management Program, Shenandoah Conservatory (Virginia, USA)
Leadership in a multicultural environment within the field of performing arts
A case study on the creation of a summer project in leadership and performing arts management through a student exchange between USA and Europe
The traditional image of conservatories as elite institutions that are removed from the reality of society is changing due to the evolution in audiences, society and the performing arts profession. These changes include the growth of multicultural communities, the impact of new technologies, changes in the nature of audiences and consumers, and the higher standards of artistic quality that they demand (Amussen & Smilde, 2007). For these reasons, it is important for professional performing artists (musicians, dancers and actors) to have a deeper understanding of both managerial and artistic leadership roles in contemporary society. It will help them in interacting with other performing artists within their working environment as well as with the audience. The artistic leader of an orchestra, dance company or acting group will also be perceived as an educator whose goal is to provide the artistic vision that can align with and be supported by the members of the performing group. Artistic leadership requires the judgment to create and frame a project that will succeed, and will enable the participants to hear, see, feel and understand the connections that are integral to the creative process (Renshaw, taken from Smilde, 2009). On the other hand, being the public figure in the media, the conductor, choreographer or play director should be perceived as an educator whose goal is to bring the art and the world of the performer closer to the audience.
Due to the growing awareness of multicultural society in all parts of the world, Hagoort (2000) argues that the most important task of a contemporary arts manager is to determine the importance of globalization to one’s own cultural organization. The changes in the performing arts profession that have taken place during the past half century should not be ignored. Conservatory performing arts leadership training that is deeply rooted in the 19th century should be challenged in order to meet the demands of the 21st (Polisi, 2005). Management theorists and practitioners must engage in a conversation to reposition cultural organizations within a global perspective. The questions are: Does the current curriculum at performing arts institutions in Europe and America prepare their students for these kinds of challenges? Are the students able to take the initiative in the global performing arts market of today?
The objective of the summer project in leadership and performing arts management that would take place in Athens, Greece, 2017 would be to discuss intercultural awareness and better the understanding of different social and political environments through field work, cultural visits, focus group discussions and joined art projects between graduate students from Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia (USA), Faculty for Media and Communication in Serbia and Janacek Academy in Brno, Czech Republic. The results of this summer project would lead to further discourse on important issues for implementing theoretical research work within the practical experience of arts administration and management infrastructure in both Europe and USA cultural sectors.
The origins of the summer project
Reflecting on the experience of students from differing cultures in a previous student exchange project in Belgrade in 2015, while working on a collaborative performance for the local audience, the challenges in cross-cultural communication within the team became clear. Observing the newly developed team going through the struggle to find common ground and to create a shared understanding of their concept for the performance in the local community of Belgrade provided insight on the process of building an intercultural team. This challenge was expressed by one of the participants in the intercultural team as follows:
“The language is the biggest issue for me. During our meetings, we are communicating in English but for both of our teams it is not our first language so there are many misunderstandings… I am getting lost with our new concept of the local performance because I can’t express myself clearly during our team meetings. Whenever I start talking I get worried about the proper grammar, how many mistakes I make in one sentence so I can’t get my message across. Then I turn to my colleagues from Serbia and start talking to them because it is easier. At the same time, other members of the team start speaking in Czech to each other and soon we have two teams instead of one”.
This was the moment when the process of intercultural awareness began. The issue of difficulties with language became a problem, demotivating some members of the team while heightening the challenge and motivation for others. After several team meetings, it became clear that the students who had the most patience, flexibility, clarity and innovative ideas became the informal leaders of the team. They started using different communication tools such as singing, playing music or drawing pictures and symbols through team building games to interact with each other in a more relaxed environment. For their discussions, they picked less formal topics that all of them could participate in such as “dating, travelling, finding jobs after school”. Students who were able to build trust and empathy from others within the team started leading them and creating common ground for their future work.
This international collaboration between students in the field of art management was initiated four years ago at Janacek Academy in Brno (Czech Republic, JAMU), where students and professors from JAMU and Faculty of Media and Communication in Belgrade (Serbia, FMK) developed a new platform for discussion on the professional profile and current position of the art manager in the 21st century. The main topic of discussion was the cross-cultural teaching methodology for art management courses that included lectures and workshops for professors and graduate students in art management from Janacek Academy in Brno (Czech Republic), Academy of music and drama in Bratislava (Slovakia), Mikkeli University of Applied Science (Finland) and Faculty for Media and Communication, Belgrade (Serbia).
Continuing the collaboration work in the field of art management by promoting cultural diversity through external relations, JAMU students from the Czech Republic visited the Faculty for Media and Communication in Belgrade in September, 2015. The objective of the research within the Art Management Infrastructure (AMI) project was to examine intercultural awareness and better understanding of different social and cultural environments through field work, discussions and joined art project presentation between JAMU students from Czech Republic and FMK students from Serbia. In April 2016 students from Serbia visited and observed the work of JAMU students in Brno (Czech Republic) at the ENCOUNTER festival that they were hosting.
The summer project in Athens, which will be held in 2017, is based on the idea of student exchange between the Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia (USA), the Faculty for Media and Communication in Serbia and the Janacek Academy in Brno (Czech Republic), providing the opportunity for students in the field of art management from these countries as well as the host country to share their knowledge and experience by developing intercultural student teams for research work in the field of art management, engaging and responding to new developments in arts, economics, societies and education. This project continues with the idea of intercultural awareness: European students will be joined by USA students within the field of leadership in performing arts and art management, finding common ground issues within cross-cultural leadership possibilities in global performing arts markets of today.
According to Northouse (2010) globalization has been rapidly developing in the last 10 years as people around the world have become more interconnected through international trade, cultural exchange and use of worldwide telecommunication systems. He further argues that globalization has increased the level of interdependence between nations in economic, social, technical and political aspects, creating the need for better understanding of how cultural differences affect the quality of performance practice. As a result of this phenomenon, designing multinational organizations or managing organizations with culturally diverse employees becomes a major challenge (House & Javidan, 2004).
The position of the arts manager has evolved as well, demanding new competencies in cross-cultural awareness and practice. In the framework of global discourse, the art managers should develop in depth understating of the impact of globalization on their own cultural organizations, including areas such as continuity, artistic innovation, competitive advantage and practical thinking (Hagoort, 2000). The important dimensions of cross-cultural leadership such as trust, empathy, transformation, power and communication that Grisham (2006) and Goleman (2002) talk about should not be omitted. Goleman emphasizes the need for emotionally intelligent leaders who demonstrate the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Grisham points out that living in the world of virtual teams and short schedules, building trust has to happen quickly despite the fact that the process of building and nurturing trust requires time and patience. Grisham (2006) further argues that there is a strong connection between trust, empathy and communication. In order to understand another person’s perspective there must be explicit information (dialogue, body language), context (education about a culture), reflection and re-engagement. However, Drucker (2000) makes the compelling remark that “What can be learned cannot be taught, and what can be taught cannot be learned”. This idea poses the question of cross-cultural leadership skills development and knowledge transfer where the ability to communicate complex tacit knowledge such as cultural attitude cannot be taught. Grisham (2006) further argues that in a global marketplace it is essential for time to be available for the translation of explicit information into tacit knowledge.
These are the reasons why student exchange programs should be more developed between Europe and the USA. One of the main goals of such programs is to provide graduate students of arts management and leadership with the opportunity to experience different cultural attitudes, ways of thinking and solving problems, work habits and cultural values systems. Through various experiences gained in the summer exchange program that will take place in Athens, students will further develop their skills of cross-cultural leadership by sharing and adapting to new transcultural leadership visions of today.
Culture and leadership
Another aspect of leadership in a multicultural environment is the influence of different cultures on the leader-follower relationship building process. Adler and Bartholomew (1992) discuss the idea of cross-cultural competencies that need to be developed within leadership in globalized societies of today. One of the crucial points they make is the necessity for leaders to adapt to living and communicating in other cultures which requires relating to people from a position of equality rather than of cultural superiority. Along with this idea Ting-Toomey (1999) argues that leaders in global society need to be able to create transcultural visions. In order to clearly articulate and implement those visions in culturally diverse workplaces, leaders need to acquire a challenging set of competencies and communication skills.
Before discussing further about the impact of transcultural visions on multicultural environments, it is important to define the meaning of the word culture. According to Northouse (2010) many anthropologists and sociologists have debated and defined it in dissimilar ways. One of the definitions that Northouse (2010) cites in his work is that culture presents the learned belief, values, rules, norms, symbols and traditions as shared qualities of a group that make it unique. Another similar definition is that culture is the way of life, customs and script of a group of people (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988). Other concepts that have a significant impact on how leaders influence others in multicultural environments are ethnocentrism and prejudice. As Northouse (2010) points out ethnocentrism is the tendency for individuals to give priority and value to their own beliefs, attitudes and values within their group over those that belong to other groups. It is the perception of people that their culture is better and more natural then others. He further argues that this way of thinking could become an obstacle to effective leadership because it prevents people from understanding and respecting other points of view. Thus, the real challenge for cross-cultural leaders is to find a good balance between accepting the other culture’s values system while at the same time remaining grounded in one’s own cultural values. Again, the question of trust and empathy (Grisham, 2006) that was mentioned earlier in this paper becomes very important in the relationship building between leaders and members of cross-cultural teams. Prejudice goes beyond ethnocentrism and refers to judgments about others that are based on previous decisions or experiences. As Ponterotto and Pedersen (1993) point out, prejudice involves inflexible generalizations that are resistant to change or evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, it is a largely fixed attitude, belief or emotion of an individual about another individual or group that is based on wrong or unsubstantiated data (Northouse, 2010). Therefore, another challenge for cross-cultural leaders is dealing with the prejudices of the followers as well as their own prejudice for different cultural environments. Since both ethnocentrism and prejudice prevent individuals from fully understanding and appreciating the unique experiences of others, it is the leader’s responsibility to find ways to negotiate with followers from different cultural backgrounds on the shared vision and behavior of the group.
The thought process in the development of the summer project Greece 2017
In the process of developing the platform for the cultural visit of Shenandoah Conservatory students in Athens (Greece) the following questions were proposed to be the central point of discussions: What are the advantages and disadvantages in creating new artistic visions in an environment with strong cultural heritage and historical background? Does the presence of old traditions and value systems present some kind of ethnocentrism that could become an obstacle in creating transcultural visions? Does lack of contact with and understanding of other cultures inhibit successful arts leadership within one’s own culture? Another issue that became important in the discussions of the previous AMI Project in Belgrade, in 2015, was the common use of the word “globalization” and how the phenomenon affects work on an intercultural level in the field of arts management. Furthermore, what would be the obstacles of intercultural teams that operate in virtual environments? Since there is more emphasis on the cross-cultural leadership aspect in performing arts, the next project in Athens, in 2017, will include the topic of finding correlations between promoting universal values system through storytelling of Ancient Greek philosophers and “globalized” value system in the arts society of today. This will include investigations of Theory of Mind that begins with Plato, continues through Descartes, and into the current research of how cognition and emotion interact in the human brain. The key issues on finding connections between globalization and the development of new cultural environments in global as well as local communities throughout this project correspond to Hagoort’s (2000) ideas of cultural impacts of globalization and the increased level of a nation’s interdependence that was proposed by Northouse (2010).
Transcultural leadership vision development
Instead of trying to find the answer to the question, “what is the profile of the professional performing artist in the 21st century?”, the project in Athens will focus on the artistic leadership role played by professional musicians, dancers or actors in contemporary society. We will explore the ways in which artistic visions of performing artists influence members of their audience on local as well as global levels. The idea of performing artists having an impact on social and political changes in contemporary society coincides with Sicca’s interdisciplinary approach to arts policy and management studies (Sicca, 1997).
As the student intercultural team of the AMI Project in Belgrade was developing their own cultural space and working on their final presentation for the audience, more practical aspects of work were discussed during their visits to cultural organizations as well. These practical aspects included the development of sustainable global arts management vision geared towards basic management functions including production, marketing, organization, finance and cooperation. Following this idea, both JAMU and FMK students were asked to formulate artistic visions that corresponded to their global ambitions, emphasizing globalization of cultural and artistic processes through a series of practical exercises. Students of the AMI Project were asked to propose a new model of the globalized cultural institution by analyzing the economic, social, cultural and technical conditions that will be needed in order to realize their global ambitions. Issues such as organization, finance and cooperation were brought up in debates. Students explored the possibilities of private and public funding of globalization, and what kinds of sponsorship would be interested in supporting bi-national (Serbian-Czech) or international cultural organizations. One of the most interesting ideas that came up between the students from both countries was to create an international space for art managers and performing artists who could spend some time in the same working space, exchanging ideas, creating short-term projects or performances for the local audience. As it was described by one of the students in the AMI Project:
“So, these young entrepreneurs would live and work together in this international space for a limited amount of time. They would pay for accommodation but would also be able to use the space for work, team meetings, performances…. It would provide some kind of ‘HUB’ for art managers and artists to meet from all over the world”.
Creating joint space for students from other countries to meet each other, exchange ideas and create new projects is the essence of globalized society of today. The goal with the next project in Athens is to continue with this idea of building intercultural teams who will create transcultural visions in performing arts globalized environments.
Methods for researching the promotion of cross-cultural leadership through a student exchange program between Europe and the USA
Data from the presented case study will be obtained through the use of qualitative research methods including the observation technique, debates, informal discussions, field notes and personal reflections. In the previous AMI Project, five students from JAMU and five students from FMK participated in the research that took place in September 2015 in Belgrade and in April 2016 in Brno. The topic of the research was the importance of globalization to their own cultural environment. In this paper, quotations from the final debates and informal discussions were used to illustrate the positive correlation between the development of an intercultural student team and the deeper understanding of cultural diversity through cultural external relations by engaging and responding to new developments in the arts, economics, societies and education in both countries. According to Patton (2002) there are three different ways to approach the qualitative interviewing process which include the informal conversation, general interview guide approach and standardized open-ended interview. In this research, the open-ended interview approach has been used since all participants in debates and informal discussions were graduate level students of art management with professional experience that are deeply involved and affected by the issues that were discussed. The next phase in the research process towards a summer project in Athens includes informal discussions and online debates between the planners on the topic of cross-cultural leadership in the performing arts, including elements such as building trust, developing empathy and communications skills as well as creating transcultural visions. Based on these discussions the summer program curriculum will be designed.
Research projects such as the 2017 summer program in Athens may be very effective in stimulating development of intercultural student teams for research work in the field of leadership and arts management by having the students engage and respond to new developments in arts, economics, societies and education. The collaboration between the Shenandoah Conservatory, the Faculty for Media and Communication in Serbia and the Janacek Academy in Brno that will take place in Athens will increase intercultural awareness and better understanding of different social and political environments.
Results of the previous AMI Project had positive effects on the improvements of the FMK course curriculum in the field of art management within the ongoing reaccreditation process and reforms in Serbian higher education system. These changes were made by implementing different aspects of highly successful models of the same type of courses at JAMU arts management program that had improved the current course curriculum at FMK. The reason why this project continues in Athens is to expand the idea of implementation of successful models and curriculum development through cultural student exchange between Europe and the United States. The research results of both projects will enhance discourse on the important issue of implementing theoretical research work within the practical experience of arts administration and management infrastructure in these countries.
In this world of highly demanding markets in the professional performing arts business, students of the performing arts field should develop, mature and grow in two different areas of expertise. They should acquire managerial work and leadership skills as well as in-depth artistic training that would prepare them adequately for multiple tasks that require interdisciplinary skills in the field of professional performing arts. As cross-cultural leaders and performers of today, we have the responsibility to accept change as a crucial part of our professional careers, constantly adapting to the new challenges that we will be facing in the future, and helping society to accept those changes with contemporary approaches to knowledge and training. Exchange programs will help the students to become effective and powerful cross-cultural communicators and build successful careers as artistic entrepreneurs of today.
Questions for further discussion
- What are the advantages and disadvantages in creating new artistic visions in an environment with strong cultural heritage and historical background?
- Does the presence of old traditions and value systems present some kind of ethnocentrism that could become an obstacle in creating transcultural visions?
- What would be the obstacles of intercultural teams that operate in virtual environments?
- In which ways will this summer project provide students of arts management and leadership the experience of different cultural attitudes?
- In which ways will this summer project introduce students to different concepts of work habits and cultural values systems?
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Dr. Sanja Petricic received her PhD in cultural management from Belgrade University of Arts. For her qualitative research, she collaborated with the Juilliard Faculty and the members of New York Philharmonic. Dr. Petricic has taught at the Faculty for Media and Communication, Singidunum University in Belgrade, Serbia. Her research area includes transformational leadership in music, professional sports and intercultural team development.
David Edelman is Director of Performing Arts Leadership and Management Program at Shenandoah Conservatory. He is founder and co-editor of The American Journal of Arts Management. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Association of Arts Administration Educators. He is the author of the chapter “Acting Up & Fighting Back: How New York’s Artistic Community Responded to AIDS”, included in Grassroots Leadership & The Arts for Social Change.