Empowerment and Digitization in Arts Management Education: A Critical Self-Reflection of a ‘Western’ Educator

Raphaela Henze  //  BRUSHSTROKES
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 (www.managingculture.net). 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.


For more than nine years, as I educate aspiring arts managers, I critically self-reflect on the impact I can make on the generation of my students. There is a lot of talk and literature about empowerment these days – particularly in the context of participatory arts projects and in intercultural arts management (Canas 2015; Fernández Carrasco et al. 2016; Henze 2018; Matarasso 2019; McHenry and Annwar 2011) – but not so when it comes to the education of arts management students (Durrer 2019; Saha 2013). This is a huge shortcoming, which needs to be addressed.

As educators, we have to ask ourselves: do we really empower our students to courageously address future challenges? Do we enable them to set their own agendas and take over responsibilities? Do we provide them with media literacy, which will allow them to take well-informed decisions and not be prone to believe fake news and propaganda? Or do we just teach and lecture them?

I am not saying that it is wrong to teach methodologies and theories. To the contrary, I am convinced that we need them more than the vast amount of “best practices” in our discipline, which will definitely not help when addressing challenges that appear in different and more complex contexts (Mattocks 2017). This is also one of the reasons that I am sceptical about the involvement of practitioners directly at the beginning of study programmes. Without a sound understanding of methodology and theory, students will not be able to transfer and apply their knowledge. Without knowing epistemologies outside the western hemisphere, they will be ignorant of new approaches that might help tackle current challenges at home and abroad (Henze 2019). I assume most educators will agree to this – but let us self-critically reflect on what we really do in our programmes. Is what our curriculae demand us to do sufficient, when we look closer at the current and upcoming challenges that arts managers will most likely face?

Within this text, I briefly touch on populism, protection of cultural heritage, internationalisation, and globalisation, as I consider these topics most urgent, notwithstanding the ones that will surely emerge and that I am unfortunately unable to foresee. I then focus on media literacy, since this seems to be missing in most arts management programmes, even though it is a key competence. Finally, the conclusion offers first ideas on what we as educators can do in order to help to empower aspiring arts managers.


The topic of populism is not a new one. For decades, we have experienced left-wing populism in South and Central America (in several countries, e.g., Brazil and Argentina, this is now shifting to the right, with a particularly dangerous and frightening situation in Venezuela). We know the reactions from the art world to this by Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed,[1] for instance. I question whether we as educators have learned enough lessons from the experiences of colleagues in academia and practice outside the western hemisphere. Putting Paulo Freire’s seminal work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” on students’ literature lists seems like a good beginning, but it is not yet enough. We have seen the election of Donald Trump and a highly xenophobic Brexit campaign that unfortunately proved successful in the end – interestingly, this came as a surprise to many arts managers in the UK (Henze 2017, 35). We have seen Marine le Pen almost become the president of France and the rise of many other right-wing populists all around Europe.

That populism threatens a free artistic scene and cultural rights is a fact. In Europe, it leads to self-censorship of cultural programmes and institutions. The attacks on artistic freedom have not been properly sanctioned by politicians and governments, which do not want to confront an electoral body that is shifting to the right (Dragićević Šešić and Nikolić 2019, 33f). Despite the official UNESCO avowal to support the plurality of expression and alternative forms of art (UNESCO Convention 2005), what we experience today speaks a different language (Dragićević Šešić and Nikolić 2019, 34).

Where are the role models in our discipline that take responsibility and raise their voices against all forms of oppression? I am not saying that they are not there. I know that equity and social justice education is something that colleagues, particularly in the US, advocate for. However, it is – again – not yet enough. Even huge networks like the European Network on Cultural Management and Policy (ENCATC) or the American Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) are relatively hesitant when it comes to taking a clear stand on political issues, although several of their members are involved in or teach cultural policy.

Protection of Cultural Heritage

During the EU Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018, it became even more apparent that in many parts of the world the danger in which cultural heritage finds itself in is tremendous. As Shohat and Stam (1994, 183) wrote more than twenty-five years ago: “Arts and culture are symbolic battlegrounds.” It is not only about passion and emotions, but also about power and the prerogative of interpretation. Arts and culture are never neutral (Henze 2017, 24). This can be demonstrated by the manner in which the Islamic State treats cultural heritage.

The destructions are meant to send a message to the Christian, western world, negating tradition and history in a senseless and brutal way (Henze 2017, 24). This applies for the destruction of Nineveh, Iraq, or the Buddha statutes of Bamiyan, Afghanistan back in 2001, which was one of the first examples of global communication being used to enhance the impact of the destruction of cultural heritage (Smith 2015, 38).

Figure 1: Buddha statues in Bamiyan (Wikipedia).

These are deliberate attacks on cultural identities. The battlefield is, therefore, no longer symbolic but all-too-tragically real. All these hate messages and videos of destructions – called “socially mediated terrorism” by Smith at al. (2016, 1) – are spread around the world online for propaganda purposes. The Taliban’s use of media communication was from the beginning highly sophisticated and flexible. The internet has provided the fastest and most effective propaganda tool for them. They have their own, attractively designed websites, where all data is provided in five languages. If one website gets closed down by the CIA, for instance, they just open up a new one (Smith 2015).

We have also seen the reactions to this by the experts of digital archaeology in the form of a 3D replica of the 1,800-year-old arch of triumph from Palmyra. We can argue with Walter Benjamin and lament that the aura is missing, and it is. However, we could approach it in the way one of my students recently did. While the replica is obviously not the real one, it is now part of the history of Palmyra. We cannot deny the senseless destruction; it forms part of the history of the city. We have to deal with it, try to react to it, and the next chapter in the century-long history might now come out of a 3D printer.

Internationalisation and Globalisation

According to an empirical study of more than 350 arts managers from different cultural organisations and institutions from forty-six different countries, the majority considers their work to be international (Henze 2017). It is important to stress that these were not arts managers working in international contexts per se – e.g., for the Goethe Institut, the British Council, or huge funding bodies. Participants were working in the city theatre in Plymouth, a museum in Cape Town, or an orchestra in Berlin, for instance. Do we really prepare our students for these international and maybe even more so intercultural work environments? This is a huge topic that definitely needs to form part of our curriculae, and it definitely goes far beyond language skills and intercultural competencies (Durrer 2019).

In many of our study programmes’ rules and regulations, we find claims like this one, which was randomly picked from one of the many cultural management programmes in Germany:

  • 2 (4) 1 the goal of the master programme in arts management is: to enable our alumni to react creatively and competently to the current challenges arts organisations are facing.

This sounds good, right?

It is not sufficient. It is about reacting. Our discipline merely reacts and does not innovate enough. Constance DeVereaux (2009) hinted at this a long time ago already. It is about current challenges (or about those topics that we thought important when implementing the programmes) – what about the ones we do not yet foresee? I assume that we will face issues concerning, for instance, fake news and propaganda spread by terrorists and populists alike. There will be more “sophisticated” ways of destroying cultural heritage, more ways to attack identities, and more ways to infiltrate even larger parts of societies with right-wing thoughts that we are unable to fathom today; digitization will play a central role in all of this. Migration, globalisation and climate change (Figueira and Fullman 2019: 319 f.) will most likely provide us with more challenges than they do already and require new forms of collaboration. Change and transformation will be our constant companions. Are we prepared for this in a discipline that finds itself spending a lot of time and effort on defending century-old institutions?

Media Literacy

There are many new thoughts, ideas, experimental formats, and courage that will better prepare students for a work environment that is relatively alien to many of those teaching them today. Among many other things, such as network competencies, language skills, a sound knowledge of a variety of different narratives and methodologies, and the ability for critical self-reflection, I argue for media literacy that is, to the best of my knowledge, embedded in only a very few arts management programs.

According to the National Association for Media Literacy Education in the US, media literacy is “The ability to access, analyse, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication.” There are several aspects in this definition that will be important to (aspiring) arts managers.

Use of Digital Media

There is a wealth of literature on how to use social media marketing for cultural organisations or audience development, for instance. Eight years ago, I conducted a survey on the use of social media in German theatres (Henze 2011). Re-reading it today, I figure that cultural organisations have come a long way.

Just one random example of what arts institutions do is a joint project between Europeana and Culture24: VanGoYourself, which is a website that encourages people to mimic a range of famous Van Gogh paintings. Users find a painting they like from the VanGoYourself website, copy the pose and take a selfie, which they then upload.

Figure 2: https://vangoyourself.com/vango/aci-iksiri-adriaen-brouwer-1605-06-1638-vangod-by-burcu-2/

The site won several awards in 2015. It is considered to be a good way of getting the audience interested in particular artworks and has an obvious viral element to it.

There is definitely a lot more that could be presented here to show that cultural organizations can put media to good use, particularly when it comes to audience development, outreach, and archiving.

Creation of Digital Tools

Things get more complex when it comes to creation. We could argue that the creation is up to specialists and experts – and this is particularly true when it comes to games or special effects. However, I have a strong feeling that our students will have to be able to develop an app one day and thus must have some ideas about how to code. In the closing chapter of his book, The End of Education, Neal Postman (1995) reminds us that “technology education is not a technical subject. It is a branch of the humanities” (191). Did anybody think of this when designing arts management curriculae?

Nevertheless, there surely has been quite a lot of development in the sector – unfortunately not so much in education.

Just to give an example of how the rise of digital technology has helped generalize the process of buying a piece of art that was previously monopolized by auction houses’ regular customers. Online marketplaces selling affordable artworks are popping up and reshaping the rules of offer and demand. Thousands of unknown artists now have access to an online market, taking care of all of the buying and promoting processes. This is praised as a kind of democratisation, because it helps to get around gatekeepers like curators. Others say that it is exactly this that blurs the line and that quality needs the protection of experts.

The arts change because of this “digital turn” – new art forms emerge that we have to familiarize ourselves with. My students just recently presented an artist they find interesting and who “paints” with his smart phone.

Rembrandt is coming out of the printer; music is composed by artificial intelligence.

Figure 3: (dpa/picture alliance/ANP/Robin van Lonkhuijsen).

Ability to Access and Evaluate Information

At the centre of what media literacy in arts management education should be is the ability to access and evaluate information. We are aware that many people in the world are not able to access all information available online, e.g., colleagues in China or Kashmir. Cutting people off from information can be a very powerful tool to oppress them.

Accessibility is a right that we should fight for and we should ensure that all people have an opportunity to gather information from a variety of sources. However, it is exactly this variety of resources that we need to address and that should be at the heart of media literacy education. I believe that being correctly informed/having a sound and reliable knowledge base is key for whatever you do.


Even being from a different generation, not being a digital native, and only having had limited experiences concerning (im)migration, there are things we as educators can do:

1)    Be aware of the danger of the single story. The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her amazing Ted talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story), brings this to the point. We are accomplices to the single story that is told in European/western arts management courses. It is almost entirely a western story. We need to give students an opportunity to experience other narratives, methodologies, and epistemologies. This requires that we actively seek partners in countries and regions that have been marginalized in our discourses for too long (Henze 2019), which is not an easy task (Durrer and Henze 2018, 3). We need more literature from authors outside the western hemisphere. This requires more effort and money for translations. Free online translation tools like Deepl can have a huge impact and put artificial intelligence to good use.

2)    Talk to people involved. This is only possible when you have a network – and this would lead me on another journey on the importance of networks in cultural management on which I am most happy to embark in another text. However, contacting people from the respective regions is important when we strive to overcome our ethnocentric frames of reference (Henze 2019). Networks like Brokering Intercultural Exchange (www.managingculture.net), which are not only open for researchers, but also for students and Ph.D. candidates, can help overcome the dependency on unreliable media resources by providing reliable contacts and forums to gather and exchange personally and virtually.

3)    Train students to constantly question the information they receive. There is an enormous amount of literature on propaganda. Do we make use of this in arts management education? Do our students know the propaganda model by Chomsky? I think they should.

4)    We need more open access resources like this journal. The “publish or perish” doctrine in academia makes us accept standards that we would not necessarily accept in any other area of life. Making more texts available to the public via open access does not have to result in lower quality. It is partly on us to have sound but fair and objective peer reviews for open source journals.

5)    We need to overcome our hostility towards technology that seems to be embedded in our discipline and that might even reach back to Benjamin and Adorno. There is a lot to be sceptical or even afraid of when it comes to technology, but abstaining from it and hoping it will pass us by is not an option. It is on us or our students to use these tools to our advantage and we have to train them in media literacy. At German universities, artificial intelligence is the next big thing. A lot of research funding goes into it. Why not join forces? I am convinced that arts management can profit from it.

6)   Last, but not least, we as educators have to be particularly aware of our responsibilities and those of public intellectuals (Modood 2019). When I watched TV in my childhood, there was usually at least one respected person from the cultural sector or arts scene present at talk shows or political debates. These people have more or less completely disappeared from the public scene and media. In Germany, not enough[2] artists or intellectual raise their voices to point out inequities, even though they are living in a country where doing this would not put them in danger. When the ever-present Kardashians are the benchmark, we are in deep trouble!


Works Cited

Canas, Tania. 2015. “10 Things You Need to Consider if You are an Artist – Not of the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Community – Looking to Work with our Community.” Rise Refugee, http://riserefugee.org/10-things-you-need-to-consider-if-you-are-an-artist-not-of-the-refugee-and-asylum-seeker-community-looking-to-work-with-our-community/#.

DeVereaux, Constance. 2009. “Cultural Management and the Discourse of Practice.” In Jahrbuch für Kulturmanagement, 155–67. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Dragićević Šešić, Milena and Mirjana Nikolić. 2019. Situating Populist Politics: Arts & Media Nexus. Belgrade: Clio.

Durrer, Victoria, and Raphaela Henze. 2018. “Leaving Comfort Zones.” Arts Management Quarterly, Leaving Comfort Zones. Cultural Inequalities 129 (June): 3.

Durrer, Victoria. 2019. “A Call for Reflexivity: Implications of the Internationalisation Agenda for Arts Management Programmes within Higher Education.” In Managing Culture: Reflecting on Exchange in Global Times, 171–203. Edited by Victoria Durrer and Raphaela Henze. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan.

Fernández Carrasco, Ruben, Moisés Carmona Monferrer, and Andres Di Masso Tarditi. 2016. “Exploring Links between Empowerment and Community-Based Arts and Cultural Practices: Perspectives from Barcelona Practitioners.” International Journal of Inclusive Education 20 (3): 229–45. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2015.1047659.

Figueira, Carla, and Aimee Fullman. 2019. “Rethinking Cultural Relations and Exchange in the Critical Zone.” In Managing Culture: Reflecting on Exchange in Global Times. Edited by Victoria Durrer and Raphaela Henze, . 319 – 339 Cham: Palgrave Macmillan

Henze, Raphaela. 2011. “Nutzung des Web 2.0 an deutschen Theatern und Schauspielhäusern.”  In Jahrbuch für Kulturpolitik, 219–230. Essen: Klartext Verlag.

——. 2017. Introduction to International Arts Management. Wiesbaden: Springer.

——. 2018. “The Master’s Tool will never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Arts Management Quarterly, Leaving Comfort Zones. Cultural Inequalities 129 (June): 29–35.

——. 2019. “More than Just Lost in Translation. The Ethnocentrism of our Frames of Reference.” In Managing Culture: Reflecting on Exchange in Global Times. Edited by Victoria Durrer and Raphaela Henze, 51–80.Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Matarasso, Francois. 2019. A Restless Art. Calouste Gulbenikan Foundation.

Mattocks, Kate. 2017. “Just Describing is not Enough: Policy Learning, Transfer, and the Limits of Best Practices.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 48 (2): 85–97.

McHenry and Julia Annwar. 2011. “Rural Empowerment through the Arts: The Role of the Arts in Civic and Social Participation in the Mid West region of Western Australia.” Journal of Rural Studies 27 (3): 245–53.

Modood, Tariq. 2019. “Thinking about Public Intellectuals.” Journal of the Society for Contemporary Thought and the Islamicate World. https://sctiw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/171-Public-Intellectuals-in-the-Global-Arena-Tariq-Modood.pdf.

Postman, Neil. 1995. The End of Education. Random House: New York.

Saha, Anamik. 2013. “The Cultural Industries in a Critical Multicultural Pedagogy.” In Cultural Work and Higher Education. Edited by Daniel Ashton and Caitriona Noonan, 214–31. Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. 1994. Unthinking Eurocentrism. New York: Routledge.

Smith, Claire. 2015. Social Media and the Destruction of World Heritage as Global Propaganda. https://eprints.ucm.es/35077/1/Conferenciainaugural.pdf.

Smith, Claire, Heather Burke, Cherrie de Leiuen, and Gary Jackson. 2016. “The Islamic State’s Symbolic War: Da’esh’s Socially Mediated Terrorism as a Threat to Cultural Heritage.” Journal of Social Archeology 16 (2): 164–80.

[1] Simplified Theatre of The Oppressed is a theatrical format coined by Brazilian artist Augusto Boal in the 1970ies. Theatre is understood as a means for social and political change particularly by strong audience involvement and community engagement.

[2] A relatively recent development in the German arts sector has been the “Declaration of the Many,” https://www.dievielen.de/multilingual.