The Monthly interviews Dr Victoria Durrer lecturer in the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queens University

Dr. Durrer is the co-founder of the Cultural Policy Observatory Ireland and serves on the editorial panel of the Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy.

She is working currently on a research project with Raphaela Henze (Heilbronn University) to explore the role of arts and cultural managers as intercultural brokers in the context of globalisation, internationalisation and global migration.

Could you tell our readers a little bit about your academic background?

My educational background is in Arts History. I have a BA and MA in Arts History in the United States.

My practice has been working in education and participation programming in art museums, galleries; and most recently I was working in local government arts concentrating on youth arts in Ireland. I have worked in the United States, China, England, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

I completed a PHD in Sociology focussing specifically on New Labour’s Social Inclusion policy, examining how the Arts and Cultural Sector was charged with tackling Social Exclusion.

I examined three institutions in Liverpool where I was investigating how those institutions and the individuals within them interpreted, gave meaning to and implemented the policies regarding combatting social exclusion. How policy is defined, interpreted and implemented, informs much of my research.

Do you lecture now at Queens University?

A job as a lecturer in Arts Management and Cultural Policy emerged at Queens University. It was a unique opportunity to see a job like this offered. I applied and was delighted to be appointed.



You are about to work on a research project which is based on the question of Intercultural activities. Could you tell us a little bit about that project?

Arts and cultural managers working in the fine and performing arts and heritage engage with creative and aesthetic expressions – arts and cultural objects, exhibitions and performances–which are inherently reflective of broader social as well as personal cultural ideas, knowledge and values.

In directing, administering and mediating arts and cultural expressions, arts and cultural managers contribute to the creation of intercultural experiences or exchanges.

These experiences may facilitate the ability to appreciate, acknowledge, and value alternative perspectives and perceptions of the world or, conversely, foster or reinforce stereotypes and inequitable relationships between individuals, communities, institutions and nations.

Working at the interface of the production and consumption of these creative and aesthetic expressions, the work of arts and cultural managers contribute to how the terms and conditions for intercultural exchange are set both at home and abroad. We feel that building an understanding of their work in this regard will help us understand how historical, institutional and social assumptions about interculturalism, cultural diversity and cultural inclusion become established and challenged in the social world.

Could you elaborate on the idea of the network of academics and practitioners associated with your project?

The benefits of a networking grant is that it allows for open exploration of these ideas. Our work is at the very early stages of development and the opportunity to meet and exchange impressions and thoughts, areas of research and lines of potential inquiry with one another, gives us the freedom to see where our interests align and where that might take us.

You frequently mention Arts and Cultural Managers. What is an Arts and Cultural Manager?

We are specifically focusing on arts and cultural managers working in the fine and performing arts and heritage, rather than in broadcast and commercial arts. Examples might be those people who have a role either as a CEO of an Arts and Cultural organisation or a curator of a festival.

We might also look at people who market arts and culture, or who are Artistic Directors of either organisations or festivals—but those are just some examples. We would also be looking at creative producers and individuals working in smaller theatre and dance companies, as well as in the visual arts.

It is important to note that we won’t be focusing on commercially successful arts forms, broadcast media, popular music or film. When you look at issues arising from globalisation, post-colonialism and interculturalism, there is a tendency for studies to concentrate on those mediums.

While we won’t be ignoring artists or makers, what doesn’t often get looked at is the individuals who produce, disseminate and mediate arts and cultural objects and experiences.



What is the definition of Interculturalism that you are working with?

With regards the definition of Interculturalism, for our investigation, it is “the acknowledging, accepting and relating to alternative world viewpoints” within this kind of exchange.

We will collectively reflect on the historical, institutional and social dimensions of intercultural activities that take place within the realms of practice and education in arts and cultural management in the following ways: a) International project activities between individuals working in different countries; b) Inter and cross-cultural interactions that occur in arts and cultural programmes among majority and minority cultures within a single country; and c) Teaching and learning within arts and cultural management courses, particularly in higher education.

An example might be, although I do want to stress that we are at the initial investigative stages of the project, an EU funded cultural co-operation project, one theatre company from Bulgaria might work together with a company from Northern Ireland and they might exchange ideas, methods, orientations, ways of working and they might create a piece of theatre. Our investigation would look at that process of exchange.

It might be an ArtsEkta project where people from different cultural backgrounds exchanging ideas out of which they may create work, or the exchange which happens in the arts and cultural management classroom in the university with students who come together from different nations, or ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

We will be thinking about what is happening in these processes of exchange.

Does the present context regarding world affairs influence the work you are undertaking?

The wider context we are working in is the globalisation of society and the internationalisation of our world. While that in and of itself is not new, what is, is the new ways in which we can exchange. We have access to vast amounts of information, and have vastly improved tools for creative activities. That is the context in which Intercultural exchange takes place.

As a counter to that we have the recent rise of populism and nationalisation; the rise of Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump for example.

And then, when we look at our sector, migration across Europe has increased leaving a breadth of opportunity for intercultural exchange within nations, yet inequality is rife in our arts and cultural sector. There is an incredible lack of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity, particularly in management positions.

So while we are seeing a globalised and internationalised world, with new methods which allow exchange on a far greater scale than ever existed before, which offer greater capacity to make and develop creatively, and to collaborate within and across national boundaries and between communities at home, why is it that the make-up of our sector has not changed?

And there is plenty of research which shows us that this lack of diversity occurs both on the management side and on the side of makers.

There is research showing the lack of gender diversity, disability diversity and ethnic diversity, and this also seems to carry through to audiences as well which raises another question around audience development.

We think we need to look at this social world, and ourselves as key actors in challenging or upholding this situation.


At this initial stage, what is it that you might be saying to Arts and Cultural managers regarding Intercultural activities?

We are not purporting to say that Arts and Cultural Managers should foster greater intercultural understanding, but that the work that they do in the contexts I’ve described inevitably involves intercultural exchange and there is a need for greater critical discourse on what this process involves and facilitates in the social world. What we are looking into is the activities of arts and Cultural Managers, looking at the role that Cultural Managers play because they are mediators.

By the very nature of the work they do, from booking, promoting, marketing, exhibiting, managing and producing arts and cultural activities, arts and cultural managers shape and structure, they mediate, intercultural exchange. They direct and administer arts and cultural projects between nations, and devise, plan and develop arts and cultural programming to attract and include growing migrant populations as audiences, participants and creators within nations. That role as mediators of intercultural experience needs to be acknowledge, for better or worse, so that we can have a dialogue and build critical discourse about the important contribution they make in society. This is particularly important when considering the significant social and economic roles that state public policies place on the arts, and as a result, the work of arts and cultural managers.

We think there needs to be greater reflexivity and reflective practice regarding how arts and cultural management might be challenging or contributing to and reinforcing existing inequalities.

Does your project look at the work of Arts and Cultural Managers in the context of a more noticeable climate of intolerance regarding immigration and racism?

The project is certainly connected to the idea of combatting racism. We will be looking at case study examples of intercultural projects. We will be examining approaches, assumptions, and the practice of these projects.

In some cases, regardless of good intentions at the outset, projects may actually reinforce prejudices and stereotypes.

The research network is hosting a public event, Brokers and gatekeepers:

Arts & Cultural leaders in promoting intercultural exchange: Thursday 6th April 2017, 6:30 – 8pm at Queen’s University Belfast.

More info and booking here

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.