Cultural Leadership Is the Scarcest Resource Cultural Leadership Is the Scarcest Resource Cultural Leadership Is the Scarcest Resource
Cultural Leadership Is the Scarcest Resource
Authored by Liu Xiaoyi
(Artist-in-Residence of Zuni Icosahedron 2023, Artistic Director of Singapore’s Emergency Stairs)
Chinese version available from Yazhou Zhoukan (April 10-16, 2023 issue)
The scarcity of long-term resources
The author was commissioned by Zuni to conduct field studies in six different cities across ASEAN.
In 2019, I conducted a field survey regarding the current state of cultural exchange in Southeast Asia. During my visits to cultural institutions, I was informed that the most significant challenge in Southeast Asian cultural exchange has been the scarcity of long-term resources.
However, what does this conclusion imply, and how can we address this issue?
'Human resources' is the key breakthrough point to address long-term resource scarcity
When we speak of resources, what precisely are we referring to? Undoubtedly, resources have always been a major concern in cultural exchange initiatives. Nevertheless, resources do not simply equate to the budget required for cultural exchange events. Resources encompass at least three categories, viz. talent, platform, and funding. Furthermore, these three types of resources are interchangeable. Human resources can attract funding, which can be utilised to establish platforms that draw creative talents. Similarly, outstanding human resources can help create platforms, which in return attract funding that could be used for talent development and recruitment.
Thus, resources are not merely a matter of having money or not. Shall we elaborate on the aforementioned interchangeability of resources? Can this interchangeability address the issue of long-term resource scarcity? Which among the three – human resources, platforms, or funding – is the key breakthrough point?
If we rely solely on funding, whether it comes from government funding or as a form of investment, cultural institutions will be in a passive position and constantly “providing a service”. Subsequently, regarding performance programs as cultural exchange activities, the platforms built will only work in the short run. On the other hand, if we incline to creating platforms, we must not fail to acknowledge that platforms cannot be created out of thin air and require the support of cultural policies and the initiative of visionary leadership.
Therefore, if we do not act passively, solely corresponding to the changes in the grand scheme of things and top-down adjustments of cultural policies, the one resource among the three that could turn passivity into proaction will then be human resources. Or to be precise, that is cultural leadership that we seek.
What constitutes cultural leadership and makes a person a cultural leader?
Indeed, numerous arts festivals, artist residency projects, etc, in the market always search for potential artists to deliver first-rate works. However, the diversity of artists and their style is immeasurable. How these artists and their works are rated could be subjective.Funding itself basically is not a solution to the issue. Artists and artworks will eventually be consumed by politics or the market under the guise of “cultural exchange”. Simply staging a piece of workwill not make an artist a cultural leader – at least not in the short term.
For my field research in 2019, I visited thirteen cultural and artistic organisations across six cities, namely, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta, and Singapore. Initially, I had intended to conduct a preliminary study on potential regional partners for collaboration. However, I gradually realised that what we seek are not just artists, but cultural leaders who can unite and guide them; what we should support is not just works of art, but the establishment of platforms that can lay the foundation for sustainable development through research, training, and dialogue.
Cultivation of cultural leadership
Author shared his findings with other researchers in the Hong Kong Belt-Road City-to-City Cultural Exchange 2019-conference.
Only through this approach can we ensure sustainable developments of cultural exchange and truly promote cultural leadership. We believe that the cultivation of cultural leadership must be approached from two perspectives.
Firstly, it necessitates our comprehension and exploration of the local cultural milieu and regional cultural networks. The preliminary field research I conducted only exemplifies the very first step. We must facilitate the development of cultural practitioner networks and invest in more cultural network research that outgrow academic discourses and give novel insights as well as practical solutions by comprehending and analysing the ever-evolving cultural environment.
Secondly, rather than acceding to changes, a keen attention and a proactive approach to cultural policies is essential. Cultural leaders should be able to critique cultural policies professionally with sagacity and intrepidity. To cultivate this capacity, skills of reading, comprehension, and critical evaluation, with a particular emphasis on fostering creative and critical thinking, should be at the forefront of what we promote.
In summary, research and critique are the essential attributes of artists who are to become cultural leaders. With regards to these two aspects, more effort should be dedicated to developing training programs that are tailored for cultivating cultural leadership.
Solution to the scarcity of resources
However, existing mechanisms of cultural exchanges tend to prioritise short-term outcomes, and artists often prioritise the creation of works. As a result, research and critique are plainly not the primary focus of government funding. There are neither subsidies from art festivals or centres. This creates the problem of “long-term resource scarcity” – investors often expect artists to produce works upon receiving funding, yet there may not be resources of the same amount readily available once the funding is used up. The same funding can be used to produce 100 works that can easily please the public, or it can be used to nurture 100 young cultural leaders. The sum of funds can also be split in half and used in other more creative ways. In the context of cultural exchange, fundings that goes to sustaining start-ups may not be as straightforward as box office revenue.
Therefore, the most pressing issue is the dearth of cultural leaders who possess the power to effect transformation. Talent alone does not make a leader. Those who are capable of creating platforms, attracting funding, and unifying talents should have the foresight and vision of genuine cultural leaders.
So, how do we address the problem of long-term resources running scarce? Would the cultural policy makers think about the urgency and criticality of human resources and hence employ a more forward-thinking mindset? Can we make good use of more funding and platforms to uncover and cultivate cultural leadership? How should the training methodology and curricula for cultural leadership be developed? Can the government and cultural institutions collaborate with artists on the ground to devise plans and conduct research?
These questions are critical and should be considered by anyone who is concerned about culture.
About the author
As a committed practitioner with a desire to push artistic boundaries, Liu is regarded as a promising figure at the forefront of the experimental theatre scene in Asia. He received the Young Artist Award awarded by the National Arts Council of Singapore in 2016.