Democratizing the Arts and the Arts Sector

by Raphaela Henze  //  EDITORIAL
Heilbronn University

Raphaela Henze is professor of Arts and Cultural Management at Heilbronn University and Co-Investigator of the Arts & Humanities Research Council funded, international and interdisciplinary network Brokering Intercultural Exchange ( Prior to joining Heilbronn University in 2010 Raphaela Henze worked in several senior management positions in universities, ministries, and foundations. Her main research focus is on the impacts of globalization and internationalization on arts management and arts management education as well as on the role of arts and culture in times of rising populism.

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 – that are inherently reflective of broader social as well as personal cultural ideas, knowledge, and values.

Building an understanding of their work will help us understand the contribution of the arts and its agents as to how historical, institutional and social assumptions about interculturalism, cultural diversity, and cultural inclusion become established and challenged in the social world. We consider this understanding essential when addressing the anxieties that globalization and an increasing populism bring to the arts and cultural sector.

In directing, administering, and mediating artistic and cultural expressions, arts and cultural managers work at the interface of production and consumption. In doing so, they contribute to how the terms and conditions for intercultural exchange are set both at home and abroad. The intercultural experiences or exchanges they help create may foster the acknowledgement, appreciation, and valuing of alternative perspectives and perceptions of the world or, conversely, promote and reinforce stereotypes and inequitable relationships between individuals, communities, institutions, and even nations.

Since its foundation in 2016, the international and interdisciplinary Network ‘Brokering Intercultural Exchange’ ( brings researchers together with arts and cultural practitioners and policymakers. Over the last couple of years, the Arts & Humanities Research Council funded network succeeded in bringing together around 250 people in different places for small seminars on specific topics. Participants from more than 40 countries have been joining the seminars, two Winter Schools – specifically targeting master and Ph.D. students – as well as the Annual Gathering. We aim to build an understanding of the relationship of arts and cultural management practice and education to intercultural exchange – interaction between communities, institutions, and /or nations with different ‘values’ and perspectives and individuals with different social, economic, and religious backgrounds. While we have mainly been focusing on “ethnically-marked cultural difference associated with the international movement of peoples and, within national territories”, (Bennett 2001: 17), we acknowledge that intercultural/transcultural exchange happens across many groups and communities and involves concerns such as sexuality, gender, religion, class, and disability.

The texts presented in this special issue represent some of the ideas and concerns raised during the network’s Annual Gathering entitled ‘Democratizing the arts and the arts sector that took place in May 2019 at Heilbronn University in Germany. We considered ourselves lucky and privileged to have had amazing participants from around 20 countries and all continents. We are aware that being able to convene with colleagues from African countries for instance is unfortunately and for a variety of reasons – that urgently need to be addressed – by far a matter of course. However, we are also aware that an invitation to debate issues of exclusion and (in)equality does not in and of itself redraw or rebalance lines of power (Durrer/Henze 2018: 3).

A central concern that had been raised not only during the Annual Gathering’s discourses but throughout the entire work of the network, was whether democracy can be managed through a discourse of diversity (Taylor Brown et al. 2019; Cuyler 2015; Dubois 2016; Purwar 2014: 1; Schonfeld/Sweeny 2016). How can democratization of the sector be achieved by avoiding what some authors even call a “Benetton model of diversity” in which diversity becomes an aesthetic style or an opportunity to give organisations a better image (Ahmed 2012: 53) but does nothing to address the deep causes of exclusion and power imbalances in the arts (Canas 2017)?

Gargi Shindé’s text about her work for Chamber Music America ( and her referral to both unintended bias as well as a history of blatant racism and active discrimination in orchestras gives compelling insights. That minorities, who created music, which has than become a national cultural commodity, despite questionable authenticity, did and do not actually participate in its commercial success particularly but not exclusively in the USA, is as much discussed in post-colonial theory as is the role of ideology in the production of pop music (George 2005). Gargi’s work for grant equality is therefore unfortunately as important as hopefully superfluous someday soon.

Mihai Florea’s timely take on the funding policy of the Arts Council England, that has to be understood as exemplary for other funding bodies as well, fits in this context. Mihai, co-founder of Nu Nu theatre, critically examines the funder’s requirements when it comes to e.g. diversity and participation – often referred to by practitioners as ticking boxes. However, it is not only the funding policy that is in the focus of this text but also the ‘role’ artists have to play in these ‘publicly funded’ contexts. We need more bold texts like this and courageous authors like Mihai. It is unfortunately still a dicey thing to criticize a funder when you depend on their support. However, it will only be possible to improve funding strategies for the better when funders allow critical but constructive feedback and ideas on aspects of sustainability and measurement – unfortunately not many (neither practitioners nor researchers) dare to provide it (Henze 2017: 64).

Jason Vitorillo also asks questions concerning budget allocation and cultural governance referring to his native Philippines. He critically examines the policy of the National Committee for Culture and the Arts. The allocation of support goes to a few and not necessarily to the ones that seem to have the highest impact on society despite all difficulties to measure this.

Alex Tam, co-founder of Play Dot, refers to another important aspect raised during the Annual Gathering: democratizing the arts practice in order to involve more and diverse people in the artistic process and while doing so gaining more societal as well as social relevance (Henze 2017). What Alex as practitioner tries to achieve through public practice and activities – that particularly but not exclusively involve children – is even more relevant given the fact that he is working in Hong Kong. His idea of creating a ‘safe space’ has become a new and urgent notion throughout the last months of political turmoil.

Zainab Mussa Shallangwa is equally referring to societal relevance. In contrast to Alex, who co-founded a new, private organisation, Zainab is referring to museums in Borneo State, Nigeria. This text is central because it explains the educational as well as societal functions of an institution that has a colonial legacy. Some of the challenges Zainab is reporting, like a lack of financial resources and declining understanding of the social relevance in the political realm, sound vaguely familiar to “Western” curators but running a museum close to a Boko Haram headquarter, adds complexities most might be unfamiliar with.

Qinhan Chen’s contribution on intercultural learning of musicians fits well into the network’s research questions that centre on the role of intercultural education, which I consider underrepresented in academic discourses. My own contribution on Empowerment and Digitization hints in the same direction. I explain what I consider is missing in arts and cultural management education in order to empower aspiring cultural managers to set agenda instead of merely reacting to unforeseen challenges.

Finally yet importantly, I am happy to have Khaled Barakeh as a contributor to this special volume. An artists and cultural activist whom I admire for a long time. Khaled has founded CoCulture ( in 2017 as a response to the challenges faced by displaced cultural producers in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. His work will speak for itself.

I would also like to thank J.P. Singh, who has been a fierce supporter of the Brokering Intercultural Exchange Network from the very start, for the opportunity to edit this special volume. It is a great pleasure and an honour. I am deeply convinced that we need more of these high-quality open source publications in order to reach out to as many colleagues in academia and practice as possible. I also thank all the authors, who have gathered last year at Heilbronn University and will hopefully return to this year’s Annual Gathering in November, for their valuable and insightful contributions. I have learned a lot working with you.


Ahmed, Sara. (2012) On Being Included. Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Duke University Press, Durham.

Bennett, Tony. (2001) Differing diversities. Cultural policy and cultural diversity. Strasbourg Cedex: Council of Europe Publishing.

Brown, Marion T. et al. (2019) Moves Towards Equity: Perspectives from Arts Leaders of Color   (Accessed 18 January 2020).

Canas, Tania. (2017) Diversity is a white word, (Accessed 19 February 2017).

Cuyler, Antonio. (2015) An Exploratory Study of Demographic Diversity in the Arts Management Workforce, Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 26, No 3 (Fall 2015).

Dubois, Vincent. (2016) Culture as a Vocation. Sociology of career choices in cultural management. New York: Routledge.

Durrer, Victoria/Henze, Raphaela. (2018) Leaving comfort zones. In Arts Management Quarterly, Leaving comfort zones. Cultural Inequalities, No. 129, June 2018, 3.

George, Nelson. (2005) hiphopamerica. New York: Penguin Group.

Henze, Raphaela. (2017) Introduction to International Arts Management. Wiesbaden: Springer

Purwar, Nirmal. (2004) Space Invaders: Race, Gender, and Bodies out of Place. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Schonfeld, Roger C./ Sweeny, Liam. (2016) Diversity in the New York City. Department of Cultural Affairs Community (Accessed 5 December 2016).