The Idea of Cultural Leadership – Bassam el Baroni
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The Idea of Cultural Leadership – Bassam el Baroni

18/02/2009

A Concise Reflection on Questions of Culture, Excellence, and Authority

Culture is too vast a reference and too complex a term to have ever been invented by politicians scratching over how to liberalize a cultural economy. Culture is not an easily traceable phenomenon it is an evasive and an unspecific term to the point of confusion, yet it remains a habitat for the many logics and emotions of artistry, ingenuity, debate, as well as tradition and its protectionism. On the other hand ‘cultural leadership’ is a specific, recently invented, and hyper-pragmatic term that calls to mind a somewhat precise moment and place in history, politics, and economics. Whether we find the idea of cultural leadership to be our cup of tea or not, it is exactly its unambiguity, pragmatism, clarity of roots and agenda that makes it a good point at which to start addressing some of the severely tangled problematics inherent in the architecture of today’s highly politicized cultural industry.

Functioning within the borders of a country or as a cross-border vehicle, the cultural industry is on an over-dose of political utilization. Cultural Leadership’s role has been mainly to, among other things; raise the standards of this utilization process. It strives for excellence but, it has yet to formulate a strong questioning of the terms on which this excellence is being promoted. What units do we measure excellence in? A so called ‘gangsta rapper’ might have elements of influence, appeal, creativity, cultural leadership, and business entrepreneurship embedded in a cultural code that doesn’t make sense to a creative industries jobholder in an Amsterdam or London office. In this example of many, the conservative roots of the cultural leadership methodology begin to reveal themselves. However, there is still room for negotiation, maybe even a renegotiation of the moulds that have confined the relationship between cultural leadership and its industry.

What needs to be renegotiated is cultural leadership’s position within the wider context of the cultural industry. Can it remain in its current position, exceptions acknowledged, under the binding authority of air-tight cultural industry circumspection? Or should it attempt to gain some more authority and autonomy in the scheme of things? In other words, should cultural leaders be led by the industry or should they be leading the industry? It seems that the current situation is one that highlights cultural leadership on the leash of political leadership. It is up to a younger generation of potential cultural leaders, all over the world, to empower themselves with enough knowledge to create a balance in this authority dynamic.

© Bassam El Baroni