Tafterjournal n. 122 - GIUGNO – LUGLIO 2023

Mind the Gap


Rubrica: Editoriali

Parole chiave:

The cultural sector needs managers.

There is no other reason why the cultural sector is not the great thing of this era.

The entire sector has changed since Europe acknowledged culture as one of the most interesting future industries.

Analyses, data, business plans, financial statements, sustainability concerns: culture is no longer what we were used to thinking.

Managing tools are more and more sophisticated, urban planning tools could provide real-time data about city fruition.

Museum services, such as audioguides can interact with visitors based on their position within the exhibition area.

The undeniable growth in terms of economic planning abilities that the cultural sector has experienced in the last ten or fifteen years, should have produced a comparable growth in incomes related to cultural activities.

Press releases continue to proclaim culture as one of the most important and productive sectors within entire economies, but everybody knows what an important productive sector looks like, and culture is not the case.

Many reasons could justify the difference between what culture is and what culture should be.

The first could be that in the cultural sector, supply exceeds the demand: in this case, the number of organizations that are active in the cultural field could produce a number of products and services that are far bigger than the number of cultural products or services that citizens need.

This interpretation could match with the observations except that one of the most essential actions cultural organizations are called to implement is the growth of cultural consumption and/or fruition.
This is like saying that excessive supply is a structural component of the cultural market as a whole, and it is the reason why governments and public administrations participate in financing cultural organizations.
Furthermore, the excessive supply hypothesis should be limited in time. It is a well-acknowledged phenomenon that occurs in every market: when the supply exceeds the demand, economic actors struggle to reach sufficient revenues, and this leads to a progressive exit from the market.
As seen, since the supply of cultural products and services is structurally bigger than the demand, we should have now reached a near-equilibrium condition.

We can therefore argue that public intervention keeps, through its financing commitment, artificially alive those organizations whose activities would have been stopped without public funding.
This hypothesis, however, which sounds very reasonable, does not fit with the observations. Taking into account that public fundings are not sufficient to keep alive all the cultural organizations, we should assist in the exit of a significant number of organizations (who do not receive public funding), leaving on the market only those organizations that can rely on public financial aid. This should lead us to a condition in which supply decreases moving toward the number of cultural products and services demand.

Neither the supply excess nor the public funding hypothesis is therefore able to completely describe the cultural condition.

By adjusting those hypotheses by taking into account the lack of managerial abilities, however, the picture becomes clearer. Combining these elements it is possible to describe a condition that is not far from observations.
On the one hand, we assisted in the rise of planning skills within cultural organizations, and planning skills are needed to receive public funding (call for proposals, et similia). On the other hand, financial aid does not have always produced the impacts they were supposed to realize. 

This could be justified by the fact that managerial skills include but do not coincide with planning skills: managers should be able in organizing all the available resources (human and financial resources, machinery, and equipment) in order to create an efficient value-chain through which deliver cultural products and services to a specific or generic target.  And this ability includes also relational abilities, practical skills, and knowledge and consciousness on how to run an organization. 

Most practitioners, however, are not trained to manage an organization. Neither during the academic curriculum nor in organizational life, and this lead to a sub-efficient organization, and to a sub-optimal impact.

In this sense, hence, the cultural sector presents a skill mismatch, being mostly composed of organizations that are run by persons who do not have managerial experience ok knowledge, being persons who are involved as cultural experts (architects, archaeologists, etc.).

According this hypothesis, hence, the lack of managerial skills could generate a net social loss in terms of impacts generated by cultural projects, and in terms of cultural organizations mean incomes, and this kind of net social loss could be recovered when the ability to manage and run organizations in order to produce goods and services will equal or overcome the quality of project-planning.

Several observations could support this interpretation: while cultural research has developed fundamental tools that could enable an important shift in cultural supply distribution and, consequently, in terms of supply and demand matching schemes (theoretical knowledge), these tools are not implemented in real-life (practical and organizational skills); many organizations, despite public funding, (reached thanks to planning and project designing skills) still struggle to reach a sustainable path, even when it is possible (managerial skills).

Taking into account this hypothesis does not explain everything, not even a dimension of our life could be perfectly explained by using only three hypotheses.

It could happen in “models”, not in reality.

But this hypothesis could help to better explain the real condition of the cultural sector, and since cultural organizations act and live in the real world, it could be helpful to consider, among other hypotheses, also the need of real cultural managers for the cultural sector, as long as they understand the cultural organization in its uniqueness, avoiding to think that run a cultural organization is the same thing to run any other type of productive enterprise.


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