MOOC for Cultural Managers “The learning platform of the 21st century”

Putting the finishing touches on an exhibition opening at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, one of the video case studies for which participants developed strategies
Putting the finishing touches on an exhibition opening at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, one of the video case studies for which participants developed strategies | Photo: Bilderfest GmbH

17,000 students from more than 170 countries is no poor feat for an advanced training course in cultural management. The lecture halls weren’t crowded either. Three of the students chatted online with us about their experiences with the Mentored Open Online Course.

The tick marks are all green: Sally, Ayşe and José are online. It is Friday, 9 am, in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, 10 am in Istanbul and one in the morning in San José, Costa Rica. The three were participants in the Mentored Open Online Course (MOOC) held this spring by the Goethe-Institut and Leuphana University in Lüneburg for anyone who wanted to get further training in the arts sector. The trio is summing up their experiences in an online chat session with Nishant Shah, the academic director of the
MOOC Managing the Arts: Marketing for Cultural Organizations.

Nishant Shah: Thank you everybody... We are all getting together in different time zones to speak about your experiences in the MOOC. But before we go right into it, could you please introduce yourselves?

José Manuel Sibaja: I live in San José, Costa Rica and I work as a consultant focused on international relations, which is what I majored in. I’m currently working with a cultural heritage foundation. I turned 32 last Monday.

Nishant: Belated birthday greetings, José! We should cut a virtual cake for you.

Ayşe Taşpınar: I’m a 27-year-old civil society worker and communications specialist living in Istanbul. I have a Bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations and a Master’s in conflict analysis and resolution. In addition, I’m a steering committee member of Cultural Innovators Network, a network project of the Goethe-Institut for young activists in the cultural sector.

Sally Arnold: I’m from South Africa, 61, and graduated with a Master’s degree in art history from the University in Frankfurt. I work as a practicing fine artist.

Nishant Shah, Lüneburg: “The more you share, the more you learn” Nishant Shah, Lüneburg: “The more you share, the more you learn” | Photo: Gopal Patel Nishant: It is such a diverse group, representative of what we saw on the MOOC; a range of people from different disciplines, geographies and ages. Given that you don’t fit the profile of ‘traditional students’ – you have far more experience – could you tell us about your motivations and expectations?

Sally: I worked on a big cultural management project on behalf of South Africa at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and I wanted to see what was happening in the field now, twenty years later. I heard about the MOOC on the Alumniportal Deutschland. I wanted to learn something for my artistic practice and management and to share insights with others globally. I feel that MOOC is the learning platform of the 21st century: informal, integrative and far-reaching.

José: I have some experience with MOOCs, but this one caught my attention because it didn’t seem like the regular MOOC where you watch videos, do the reading and post something in a forum. Instead, it is a truly interactive, participative course with constant feedback. The MOOC fitted in with the work we are planning at the foundation where I work. To be able to see inside arts institutions from around the world from afar was the perfect opportunity for this.

Ayşe: For me, the MOOC provided a platform for multidisciplinary work and the opportunity to learn from the other people who are living in different parts of the world. I think it’s about how people are thinking, reacting, interacting over a given theme.

Nishant: I think, Ayşe, you touch upon the core design element :interaction, in as many ways as possible. Joe and Sally, I think the Goethe-Institut has been a pioneer in this. We haven’t come across any MOOC that tackles the questions of arts management hands-on and we hope that this continues to grow.

While Nishant is typing: The unique thing about the MOOC concept was its intensive supervision. Academic staff supported the groups and provided feedback on their results.

Nishant: So, given how different each of you is, in your training and your experiences, I am curious: do you all identify yourself as ‘Arts Managers’?

Ayşe Taşpınar, Istanbul: “Group work is what makes the MOOC distinctive” Ayşe Taşpınar, Istanbul: “Group work is what makes the MOOC distinctive” | Photo: private Ayşe: Not yet, maybe by the end of the course. My optimism about the culture and arts sector, my work, my network and life itself increased.

Sally: Being an artist helps me to understand more about the management aspect being done well and thoughtfully.

José: I’ve managed art projects before, but I was feeling the need for some strong basic knowledge. Unfortunately, although we have art and cultural events almost every day here in San José, there are no specific educational options for these topics.

Nishant: Like José has already talked his experience in San José, I was wondering what challenges or problems you see from your own context and practice in arts management.

While Ayşe and Sally are typing: Arts institutions have a rapidly growing need for trained staff in countries of the Global South in particular. Since courses for cultural management can often not cover this demand, the Goethe-Institut has been offering advanced training in this field for the past seven years in various world regions. The MOOC supplements these on-site courses.

Ayşe: In Turkey it is a really a pity that the culture and arts sector is secondary due to an intense political and social agenda. There’s no lack of need and interest by the audience or lack of artistic work, but we need to make it attractive and accessible. Currently the arts sector is limited to a small elitist circle and there is no strategy to spread it to a larger audience.

José Manuel Sibaja, San José: “Managing the arts is an art itself” José Manuel Sibaja, San José: “Managing the arts is an art itself” | Photo: private Nishant: What was impressive for us was also how many people had conversations about the functions of arts in the context of social and political change and the need for art to help us reorganize our society.

Sally: My core feeling is that arts and culture management are essential to a well-functioning society.

Nishant: I am curious to know what your experience was like... How did the organization in teams, working together and finding a common ground to build ideas work out?

While Ayşe is typing: Participants were able to learn the theoretical foundations of cultural management on the online platform, but the focus was on practice. They formed groups of five to work together on actual case studies from four cultural institutions in Bangkok, Berlin, Budapest and Lagos.

Ayşe: Group work is what makes the MOOC distinctive. Biweekly, when a new assignment started, we developed an interesting synergy in terms of distributing the roles and tasks. Molemo from South Africa, for example, drew up an environment analysis about our institution, I did research on Trafó’s programme and José then summarized our results in writing. The whole time we communicated and gave each other feedback on the platform and via mobile messaging. We all learned something. And it’s the first time I have a friend from Costa Rica and South Africa!

Sally Arnold, Plettenberg Bay: “MOOC is integrative and far-reaching” Sally Arnold, Plettenberg Bay: “MOOC is integrative and far-reaching” | Photo: John Brock Sally: It’s been very useful to our team to have cross-cultural insights.

Nishant: The MOOC was designed for this; to be a new intellectual commons for a community of future art managers. Learners in this MOOC have shaped resources, processes, and formats of learning, clearly showing us that when it comes to connected learning, the more you share, the more you learn.

José: We found ourselves – without noticing, I believe – living the role of arts managers, organizing work, distributing assignment sections, establishing meetings, trying to get in touch even with the time zone difference.

Nishant: What was the most important thing you learned?

Sally: To get an authentic feel for the value of a cultural project and it’s long-term spin off artistically, socially, economically.

Ayşe: Open case scenarios themselves are very good learning point to me. Because regardless their successes, they still have issues that need to be solved and they are quite open to share publicly. That is amazing! I want to contribute to teams and organizations that believe enjoying culture and arts is one of the basic human rights.

José: One extremely valuable thing I’ve learned is that no matter how much experience you have as a project manager or business director, managing the arts is an art itself. It not only requires knowledge of management but one must get to know the culture of the place to be successful. What I like the most about the course is that it puts us right there: thinking, finding answers, while we learn.

Nishant: Great closing point, José. Thank you very much, everybody. If you are ever passing through Germany, please do say hello in person. Have a good day and a good night.

Log: Franziska Bauer