Between 18-20 April 2018 Aarhus University convened the Cultures of Participation conference which attracted over 100 practitioners and researchers from all over Europe and beyond. In order to adopt a wide-angle approach, the conference addressed 1) Participatory art & aesthetics, 2) Digital media & technology, and 3) Cultural policy & participation. The conference allowed participants to discuss the potentials and problems of cultural participation by bringing these research fields, which are often disconnected, into dialogue with each other.
I was happy to share my ongoing research into the role of intercultural managers with an engaging group of around 25 people. My interest lies in exploring the way cultural managers operate within environments that are made up of culturally diverse people. These may be described as international micro-environments. This is so because the cultural diversity within a group of people, or groups of people that come together to form a larger, even non-cohesive group, for economic or social reasons, recreates an international environment within a local, micro-one. It may be observed that dynamics, relations and tensions existing on an international level, hence between different populations of different nation states or political regions, may be recreated or distorted on smaller levels. This may be so because representation and perception on the basis of various demographic characteristics, including gender, ethnicity, age, social background, class, employment and education, may be common to international and local group dynamics.
References to Bourdieu for social relations, Foucault for power relations, Bourriaud for relational and participatory cultural practice and Debray for manifestations of culture, are helping me address the operations of cultural managers in this milieu, when arts or cultural activities are taking place.
In the case of Malta, where most of the research is based, one may speak of a (i) microcosm within the Mediterranean context, itself a (ii) regional reality in a (iii) global context. While varying social realities exist, I am trying to draw comparisons between these three levels. This is being done with particular attention given to four phenomena:
- Globalization, and its contribution to propagate and instil norms and behaviour, particularly related to markets and movement of people, across different countries and regions of the world
- Neoliberalism, and the impact of contemporary aspects of liberal thinking, politics, economics and cultural behaviour on the way people from different cultural groups converge in their attempts and struggles to survive and develop as human beings within capitalist societies
- Migration and integration, as key manifestations of cultural diversity and intercultural exchange among people who are uprooted and seek to start new, settled, improved lives away from their home countries
- The arts, as a social reality bringing people together through creative exchange, as well as dividing people on sensitive matters related to ethnicity, religion, censorship or mutual respect.
My ongoing research is engaging with a number of active cultural actors that wear many hats. This is a common practice in Malta in the cultural field, as it is in many other parts of the world. This is particularly true of places where making a practice out of culture, in terms of professionalisation, is very hard, for a number of reasons including market size, the development of the field and economic and social priorities that tend to go elsewhere other than culture. I do not intend to make a criticism out of this, since the fields of practice as one finds in Malta, which are generally speaking mixed with area areas of social life like education, academia, social work, a part-time interest or career in the arts as artist or creator, allows for a great deal of amateurism in the positive sense of the work, and a cross-cultural exchange on the basis of interests, influences, exposures and practice.