“It’s about the exchange of ideas”

Experienced consultant commits to promoting the next generation of cultural entrepreneurs

By: Oscar Tollast

“It’s a great topic,” said Lidia Varbanova, overlooking the gardens of Schloss Leopoldskron. “I find it very important for the cultural sector worldwide, which is about promoting the future generation of cultural entrepreneurs.”

Dr Varbanova, a lecturer, consultant, researcher, and writer in the areas of cultural policy, strategic management, and entrepreneurship, was at Salzburg Global for a strategy session convened on ‘Promoting the Next Generation of Cultural Entrepreneurs: Planning for Success’.

She was happy to return to the Seminar, helping to devise a new program to evolve from the 2012 Young Cultural Leaders Forum. Dr Varbanova had previously attended sessions on ‘Cultural Institutions in Transition’ in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

She is currently an associated researcher at the David O’Brien Center for Sustainable Enterprise at Concordia University, and lecturer at Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.

“I’ve been here several times and I find this is a very unusual, unique place where people get together to discuss issues of global concern. It’s a space where we can open our minds and can come up with great collaborative ideas.”

Participants were tasked to find ways to promote the next generation of cultural entrepreneurs, looking at who the partners could be and what models could be adopted.

Dr Varbanova pointed to the overall scarcity of funding worldwide for the cultural sector as a concern. “Money coming from government, sponsors, foundations, [and] international donors is getting less and less. Therefore artists and cultural managers require strategic entrepreneurial thinking and actions.”

She suggested that professionals in the cultural sector needed to have a business acumen to survive – one of the competences to become a cultural entrepreneur. But how did Dr Varbanova define what a cultural entrepreneur was?

“A person who has a passion, never gives up, loves the arts, doesn’t have initial resources but has a great idea that he or she knows step-by-step how to turn into a business opportunity, considering also the added value for the society.”

It was a question that caused much debate among the participants during the session’s brainstorming exercises. Dr Varbanova, however, praised the diversity of the group, suggesting it allowed for a greater learning experience.

“The plus that I see is the active engagement of the participants. Everybody is very much a leader in his or her own field.

“I was impressed that my colleagues have a lot of experience in their own country and region, which I think is a great treasury for all of us to share.”

Dr Varbanova also complimented Salzburg Global’s open atmosphere and the process that allows for creative thinking.

“It’s about the exchange of ideas and experiences, which hopefully are going to bring us to the next level of provoking entrepreneurial thinking and actions in the cultural sector.”

Leading thinkers, including those returning from the 2012 Young Cultural Leaders Forum, were invited to reflect on last year’s Forum’s strengths and weaknesses.

Dr Varbanova was keen for the new program and network to adapt to rapidly changing global trends.

“Hopefully this is going to give us a very good background for looking at how we can encourage and promote cultural entrepreneurship in the next 10 years in a way to become better and better.

“What should be the next step so that we can keep this network of young leaders alive internationally – I would even say – globally? It’s a question of how we’re going to make sure that this network will be sustainable in a strategic framework in the next years to come.”

Dr Varbanova spoke to the group about Central and Eastern Europe on the first evening of the session, as part of a fireside chat on global views on cultural entrepreneurship.

She outlined the vast political, social and economic diversity between the 29 countries in this region and the challenges cultural entrepreneurship face within them.

“These countries have a lot of differences in how cultural policies are formulated and implemented, as well as what the cultural sector looks like. Hence, there are some common issues and concerns on both policy and organizational level.

“Many countries still don’t have a very well-developed legislation in supporting cultural entrepreneurship and start-up companies in the creative industries sector. At an organizational level, many cultural organizations in the region are still managed in an old ineffective style, with heavily administrated structures and little flexibility.

“There is a strong need to start implementing elements of intrapreneurship as this is a proven effective way to motivate organizational innovations in the arts.”

But for artists and cultural managers to succeed, Dr Varbanova believed action needed to be taken at an individual level, too.

“There are loads of ideas and incredibly talented people in many of these countries.

“The region is very well known for its old traditions in the field of training and education in different art forms, but the business thinking is still not there.

“Many artists and art managers are still scared when they see Excel sheets, balance sheets, figures, finances [and] financial figures.”

Despite these challenges, Dr Varbanova appeared keen to face them head on and help build a bridge between creativity and business through cultural projects, considering also the importance of social innovation in the arts.

“I’m definitely committed to promoting the next generation of cultural entrepreneurs worldwide, helping them to think beyond the box, to be much more innovative and to do things differently than others.”

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