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ALMA Reviews Blog: Challenging Assumptions in Intercultural Collaborations: Perspectives from India and the UK

Ruhi Jhunjhunwala (Advisor for The Performance Theatre, UK/Norway) and Amy Walker (Associate Consultant for BOP, an international consultancy specialising in culture and the creative economy, UK)

Published in: Durrer, Victoria and Henze, Raphaela (eds.) (2020): Managing Culture: Reflecting On Exchange In Global Times. Sociology of the Arts. Palgrave Macmillan (Part II: Practice, article no. 7)

Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030246457

Processes of internationalisation, globalisation and increasing global migration also present challenges and opportunities for the arts and cultural sector. According to authors Ruhi Jhunjhunwala and Amy Walker, “we now inhabit a world where people of different cultures meet and mix freely […], creating dynamic spaces for exchange and enabling the arts to […] be truly reflecting the societies […]” (p. 166). In this “new” world, managers of arts and culture – defined as intercultural brokers – have a significant role to play in directing, administering and mediating intercultural understanding. At the same time, the authors say, these brokers must challenge biased assumptions as well as power disparities, both of which repeatedly result in one-sided selections of topics and actors and imbalanced structures and processes when it comes to intercultural collaborations. Jhunjhunwala and Walker, both cultural practitioners based in the UK, though Jhunjhunwala’s experience was mainly gained when she was working in India, reflect and conduct research in their field of activity, analysing international “partnerships” in the arts between the so-called Global North and Global South. They use the example of India-UK collaborative art productions and programmes that they themselves work in and for.

Their core finding is that the funding of culture, especially regarding North-South cooperations, takes place in two ways: first in the field of development and, second, in the field of diplomacy. Funding for culture projects in the so-called Global South stems mainly from Europeans. In the case of India, funding for cultural activities is generally scarce because the Ministry of Culture in India allocates only a very tiny proportion of the annual state budget to culture. Ancient traditional arts, handicrafts and the protection or maintenance of the national cultural heritage receive funding; contemporary and experimental arts do not.

The consequence of external funding mainly from the so-called Global North is that rather than fostering mutual understanding and empowerment of local communities, cultural stereotypes and bias as well as traditional structures and neocolonial dependencies are actually reinforced: “[T]he UK partner is bringing the money (true in most cases), they also control the project and are accountable for it both artistically and managerially whereas the Indian partner is responsible primarily for logistical support to realise the project,” according to Jhunjhunwala and Walker (p. 161). Western networks and funding schemes dominate the agenda-setting, programming, formats and project management approaches in international projects. The Indian partner is reduced to being the “service provider”, becoming involved in the project’s development only during the middle or sometimes even at the end of the entire process of artistic production – without any possibility of participation or ownership in the work. This approach ignores the specificities of local cultural contexts and the inherent knowledge of the local cultural actors. All in all, Europeans continue to control the global discourse on culture and the arts, and European cultural traditions still dominate the definition of what is recognised as (high quality) art and what is recognised not as art but as craft.  

Jhunjhunwala and Walker point out that the paternalistic nature of the funding structures – prevalent not only for culture – can be traced back to colonial times between the now collaborating countries. The former colonial relationship still determines the present relationship. Of course, international collaborations are organised, shaped, structured and processed in individual ways, depending on the personalities of the partners as well as the preconditions and facilities of the respective partnership. But the analysis of Jhunjhunwala and Walker makes it clear why international collaborations in the arts are trapped in hegemonic or imperialistic patterns. In short: resources and history determine relations. Their article is a call to action for policy-makers and arts managers as well as artists and arts educators to leave their comfort zone and begin to challenge and change the current system of existing inequalities and elitism in global cultural diplomacy. The objective should be to truly engage with and learn from one another. Otherwise, the potential for cooperative work remains as untapped as it is unbalanced and biased.

This important contribution by Jhunjhunwala and Walker is unique in the current discourse on arts and cultural management practice. For the first time, the two perspectives – from the “North” and from the “South” – are shared and united in one piece of work that analyses current hierarchical structures, processes and dynamics within global collaborations in the arts and culture. Through this intertwining of the two perspectives, the reader is made aware of her or his own positionality, subjectivity and privileges. The text illustrates how especially Western arts managers benefit from existing power hierarchies, albeit unconsciously. Their success is not necessarily a sign of quality – a fact that, whilst an unpleasant realisation, is all the more relevant, given the pressing need for change.

The article is part of the anthology Managing Culture. Reflecting on Exchange in Global Times, edited by Victoria Durrer (Queen’s University Belfast) and Raphaela Henze (Heilbronn University) and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020. The anthology is based on the first three years’ reflections of the research network Brokering Intercultural Exchange – A Research Network Exploring the Role of Arts and Cultural Management. Everyone who explores and engages in relationships and practices across and between cultures and nations should read this essential contribution as well as others in the volume.

Reviewed by: Annika Hampel

Work cited:

Durrer, Victoria and Henze, Raphaela (eds.) (2020): Managing Culture: Reflecting On Exchange In Global Times. Sociology of the Arts. Palgrave Macmillan.

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Foto: ©Cynthia Matonhodze, Harare, Zimbabwe

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