The challenge for music training institutions is much the same the world over. If the whole training sector within different countries is to engage with the continually changing demands of the 21st century, it needs to address certain key questions:
The market forces driving the music industry, together with the rapidly changing cultural landscape, are requiring professional musicians to break out of those categories that have largely defined being a musician in the past. One major influence is the growing interest in different musical genres by musicians and audiences. Various minority ethnic groups are beginning to make a significant impact on our cultural life, whilst music from all parts of the world is becoming increasingly accessible. This marked development is encouraging artists of all traditions to extend their own musical boundaries and to play a far more dynamic role in society. For some musicians these new circumstances have provided opportunities for them to use their creative energies in a positive and fulfilling way. Others have felt lost and dysfunctional due to a lack of the skills, imagination and breadth of perspective needed if they are to play an effective part in a contemporary living culture.
Basically, the training sector, working together with the music industry and other cultural institutions, has to realign its priorities if it is going to meet the needs of this changing world. No longer can it hide behind that institutional inertia, intransigence and limited vision which in the past has frequently prevented its musicians from connecting to changing cultural values and to those deeper concerns confronting people in their everyday life. Too much is at stake for both the profession and the wider community. It is imperative that composers, performers, teachers and artistic leaders have the skills, confidence, imagination and vision to create live, shared experiences which have something to say and make sense to audiences in different contexts.
Any reordering of priorities would have to grow out of the history and experiences of a particular institution, but there is little doubt that changing expectations in the current social and cultural climate are challenging us to attach greater value to those artistic and educational developments which reflect the diversity of different contexts. For example, these might include:
Because the nature and rate of change is now so significant, both the training sector and associated cultural institutions necessarily have to reappraise their priorities and reposition themselves if their future is to be assured. It would seem critical that any future development has to be rooted in a contemporary social and cultural context which only makes sense through seeing, understanding and making connections. The following examples would help to transform current professional arts practice:
At this point I have sketched an embryonic framework for possible future development, identifying some of the key issues, interconnections and shift in priorities which need to be addressed by training institutions if they are to play a dynamic role in an increasingly complex and ever-changing culture. We will now move on to see how such thinking is impinging on practice.
There are countless examples of individuals in different parts of the world who have been activists and catalysts determined to change the seemingly closed mindset of many publicly funded cultural institutions. Significant artistic and educational developments have taken place, but conservatoires, especially, have proved peculiarly resistant to change — there is a grudging reluctance to move into the 21st century. Making new connections lies at the heart of those future initiatives which are likely to make a difference and I will now give a few examples where a pragmatic, visionary leadership is beginning to shape a qualitatively different future.
In one of the initial background papers to this Symposium, Professor Simone de Haan is very clear where he sees the place of interconnections in the future direction of Queensland Conservatorium:
CONNECTing with….and Jammin’ are intended to support the evolution of local and globally driven pilot projects which will focus on the development of new collaborative work, individual and group creativity, artistic innovation, and ways in which meaningful musical practice can contribute to achieving sustainable cultural development within our communities. Central to this concept is the establishment of a network of individuals and organizations committed to music-making as a participatory and dynamic living process.
This view is further strengthened by Professor de Haan’s proposal for a Research Centre for Creativity, Innovation and Sustainable Cultural Development — INMA: International Music Action. Although the ideas have to be more fully shaped, the vision demonstrates a belief in artistic practice being an integral part of its society and essential to living a life of meaning and cultural depth. It is intended to create a virtually networked process of collaborative practice and research, through which a global audience can reflect on participative action in local contexts. Web-based technologies, new media and communications would be critical to generating an international conversation about new paradigms in trans-global creative music practice, education and research.
The centrality of culture in sustainable development is argued strongly by Jon Hawkes (2001) in his perceptive paper The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability, written for the Victorian-based Cultural Development Network. Alongside social equity, environmental responsibility and economic viability, Hawkes sees cultural vitality as critical to sustaining communities within a cultural democracy (p 25). He is well aware that in practice, such statements may be little more than political rhetoric aimed at getting more funding for those major arts organizations already receiving a significant proportion of public subsidy. In a world as culturally diverse as Australia, such a policy manages to marginalise even further those groups who might wish to engage in a dynamic form of arts practice within their local communities.
For Hawkes, practical engagement in the arts is fundamental to the meaning and vibrancy of cultural life. In his paper, he captures the heart of artistic experience:
The arts are the creative imagination at work (and play). Its techniques involve improvisation, intuition, spontaneity, lateral thought, imagination, co-operation, serendipity, trust, inclusion, openness, risk-taking, provocation, surprise, concentration, unorthodoxy, deconstruction, innovation, fortitude and an ability and willingness to delve beneath the surface, beyond the present, above the practical and around the fixed…A society in which arts practice is not endemic risks its future. The support of professional artists is a laudable policy but far more important is offering all citizens, and their offspring, the opportunity to actively participate in arts practice – to make their own culture (Hawkes, 2001, p.24).
Summing up his view of the place of the arts in a contemporary living culture, Hawkes states that:
In the context of working towards a more inclusive and engaged democracy, it is active community participation and practice in the arts (rather than the consolidation of professional elites, ‘audience development’, economic development or cultural tourism) that should be the primary focus (Hawkes, 2001, p.30).
This perspective is reflected in Robert Putman’s powerful analysis of the decline of American community and the need to rebuild social capital in the United States. Putnam, who is Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, argues strongly for active participation in cultural activities rather than merely consuming them as spectators (see pp.114-115, 411), a point also clearly articulated by François Matarosso in his seminal work, Use or Ornament:
The greatest social impacts of participation in the arts….arise from their ability to help people think critically about and question their experiences and those of others, not in a discussion group but with all the excitement, danger, magic, colour, symbolism, feeling, metaphor and creativity that the arts offer. It is in the act of creativity that empowerment lies, and through sharing creativity that understanding and social inclusiveness are promoted (p.84).
The Queensland Government, in its recent ideas paper for developing a government cultural policy, also demonstrates its commitment to a more inclusive approach to the arts and cultural development. It is aiming to shape a Cultural Policy:
“which will work for all of us so that our cultural life enlivens our personal sense of self; enriches our communities; builds community identity and pride; and helps us celebrate our differences and diversity…..It will be for all Queenslanders, crossing all Government departments and inclusive of all Queenslanders &mdsh; indigenous peoples; people from culturally diverse backgrounds; rural and regional Queenslanders; people with disability; young people and older people” (p. 2).
The questions raised by the paper are as critical to professional arts training in any country as they are to creating a framework for artistic and cultural life in Queensland. For example:
The Queensland Government is well aware that if it is to succeed in generating a relevant and vital cultural policy, it has to encourage a cross-sector and cross-discipline approach to sustainable development:
The potential for government departments, arts organisations and local groups to work together to deliver a vibrant cultural sector is enormous. Not only does it make sense economically to work with other groups, but it also lays the foundations for cross-fertilisation of artistic ideas (p.6).
Similarly, the Australia Council, through its Multicultural Advisory Committee, recognises the need to establish different forms of creative partnerships if it is to succeed in promoting multicultural arts practice across the whole spectrum of arts activities. Its strategies include:
These few examples illustrate the sense of urgency being felt by those cultural leaders who wish to see the arts playing a far more dynamic role throughout the whole of Australian society. In particular, this Symposium is especially well placed to frame the thinking that might guide future directions. For instance, in the introductory notes to the Symposium, Professor de Haan highlights several key questions which are pertinent to fostering and sustaining cultural vitality in any community — What potential links can be created between our arts, music education and cultural industries, towards the maintenance of quality music-making within our local communities? How can we best develop enhanced relationships between the various key stakeholders? How do we engage our communities in a pro-active way to ensure music-making continues to play an active role in our cultural life?
Not surprisingly, there are similarities between these initiatives in Australia and recent collaborative developments between European cultural institutions. Within the context of the training of professional musicians, several projects could be seen as possible reference points for the way ahead. For example, the recent Association of European Conservatoire’s Project Socrates Sound Links (2001) Unpublished Interim Report to European Commission on project examining Cultural Diversity, Mobility and Employability in Music Education (Rotterdam Conservatorium)</ref> on cultural diversity, mobility and employability in music education. Directed by Huib Schippers at Rotterdam Conservatorium and supported by researcher Ninja Kors, this project is drawing on the work of Malmö Academy of Music, the Conservatory of Amsterdam, the Irish World Music Centre in Limerick, Dartington College of the Arts, the Rhythmic Academy in Copenhagen and the World Music Centre in Serpa, Portugal. One important strand of the research is designed to investigate different ways of introducing and working with cultural diversity within institutions for music education. In its Interim Report to the European Commission, Sound Links makes explicit that its research demonstrates that “cultural diversity challenges the assumptions underlying common practice in European conservatoires (p.3)”. It identifies several fundamental issues which need to be addressed by training institutions:
Many of these issues have been at the heart of the developmental programmes of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama since the inception of its work in performance and communication skills in 1984. The declared goals of the School have evolved partly in recognition of the need for conservatoires, music organisations and musicians to be responsive to developments in the social, educational and cultural environment (see Renshaw, 2001a, p.3). This evolving philosophy and practice has gradually become integrated into its ethos, curriculum and infrastructure, and continues to inform its ongoing development.
Building on its considerable experience in collaborative work, the Guildhall is now in the process of articulating a social and cultural policy which will further strengthen its role in and contribution to regional regeneration, lifelong learning, widening participation, cross-arts and trans-cultural partnerships. It is within this context that the recent GUILDHALL CONNECT Project was launched, with generous funding from the National Foundation for Youth Music. A new strategic programme of action research is aiming to build on and extend the Guildhall’s experience in the London Boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham. These are all priority areas and form part of the network of Youth Music Action Zones, which are designed to strengthen those local and regional collaborations that embrace agencies and institutions across musical genres and educational sectors. This major initiative, directed by Sean Gregory, constitutes one of a number of projects through which the Guildhall aims to develop new sustainable partnerships and to research new models of effective practice in the field of creative and participatory music-making.
Just as the Queensland Government (2001) is keen to foster a cross-sector and cross-discipline approach to sustainable development (p.6), the GUILDHALL CONNECT Project is forging links with the London-based Centre for Creative Communities. This is a fruitful alliance as the Centre is committed to the building of communities where creativity and learning have pivotal roles to play in personal, social, civic, cultural and economic development. Currently, the Centre for Creative Communities is conducting a European mapping and consultation study (sponsored by the Ministry of Education of Greece) investigating Creative Community Building through Cross-Sector Collaboration. This project embraces such key areas as culture, education, community development, youth, health and social services, and demonstrates the current shift towards more integrated policies that combine social and cultural objectives within different forms of multidisciplinary practice. It is in such a vibrant context that higher arts training institutions could come to play an increasingly active role.
A final example from UK is the recent high-profile, £40 million Creative Partnerships programme (2002), initiated by the Arts Council of England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The aim is to develop long-term partnerships between schools, cultural and creative organizations and artists. 16 pilot locations have been chosen with the intention of creating new and sustainable ways of including young people in the cultural life of their communities, nurturing their innate creativity and supporting teachers, artists, cultural and creative organizations to work with them. The broad view of culture being taken includes the creative industries, the fashion, music and broadcasting industries as well as galleries, museums, craft, heritage, architecture, design and media. Whilst much of the activity will take place in schools, it is anticipated that links will be made with out-of-school activities and broader community initiatives. The potential for higher arts training institutions to work within such partnerships is enormous. It requires little imagination to see, for example, the many ways in which conservatoire staff and students could become a vital collaborative force in some of the designated locations. The question is — do they have the vision and will to seize the opportunity?
The case for a humanistic perspective on management was presented convincingly some years ago by Peter Senge (1990), in his widely acclaimed book, The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization.. Subsequently he co-authored a fieldbook outlining strategies and tools for building a learning organization. In this, Senge (1994) and his colleagues emphasise that cultural change within an organization will only occur when our deeply held beliefs and assumptions change through experience. As our individual and collective stories evolve, we begin to see and experience the world in different ways. We gradually grow in confidence as we find ourselves living in a professional community which respects “integrity, openness, commitment and collective intelligence — when contrasted to traditional organizational cultures based on fragmentation, compromise, defensiveness, and fear.” (p.21)
Writing about cultural change in The Independent, Adrian Noble (2002), Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, recently made the following pertinent observation :
When we embarked on modernizing the Royal Shakespeare Company last year, there were clearly going to be rough seas ahead. Like many areas of British public life, reform of great cultural institutions is difficult. But change isn’t just necessary in the arts, it’s crucial. It’s the ‘institution’ bit that’s the problem (p.4).
He then highlighted several critical points which have a resonance across all arts institutions:
The skill of managing an arts organization is managing risk…. The first responsibility of any Government and arts funding regime is to encourage and support risk taking, and to manage failure…. There’s no such thing as a theatrical model that will last a lifetime. The whole essence of the thing is managing continuous revolution…. We had to act to re-empower the art to run the structure. The key thing about structures is that they need to be flexible enough to let the art flourish…. Only by changing do we have any hope of passing on a vibrant theatre tradition to the next generation (p.4).
Adrian Noble clearly identifies the heart of the problem confronting most major arts organizations today — i.e., the ‘institution’ itself and its stubborn resistance to change. This is especially the case with many higher arts training institutions, who are precariously poised between conserving the past and being swamped by the increasing constraints of public accountability: for example, quality control systems which rely heavily on quantifiable performance indicators; and inflexible funding structures which can result in mechanistic ways of controlling and managing knowledge. Within this culture of compliance it is only too easy for arts institutions to become disconnected from the heart of their artistic life.
But for this artistic life to make sense, it must be rooted in a contemporary world which only becomes intelligible through the making of connections. In her exploration of the importance of cross-fertilisation and learning across boundaries, the Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, Rosabeth Moss Kanter (2000), urges modern leaders:
…. to imagine possibilities outside of conventional categories, to envision actions that cross traditional boundaries, to anticipate repercussions and take advantage of inter-dependencies, to make new connections or invent new combinations…. Thinking across boundaries and creating new categories is the ultimate entrepreneurial act…. Blurring the boundaries and challenging the categories permits new possibilities to emerge, like twisting a kaleidoscope to see the endless patterns that can be created from the same set of fragments (p.250).
If arts institutions persistently fail to see artistic, cultural and educational developments in a wider interconnected perspective, they run the risk of ossification. The ability to grasp this and to make these connections happen in practice is one of the biggest challenges confronting leadership throughout any institution.
Perhaps the operative word in this context is "throughout". Many conservatoires, for example, continue to hide behind hierarchical management structures, which rest on outmoded assumptions and fail to be responsive to change and innovation. Often dominated by inflexible forms of line-management, in which departmental tribalism and parochial power politics prevail, little attempt is made to create a trusting environment in which shared leadership and authority are fostered throughout the institution. Ironically, the very skills and qualities often associated with creative arts practice are denied the opportunity to flourish. For instance, such generic, transferable skills as leadership, project management, communication, creativity and the ability to work in collaborative teams can only be acquired in an environment committed to cross-tribal practices. This is as relevant to staff as it is to students. In a learning-based organisation like a conservatoire, leading can be compared with parenting. It is there to enrich, to nurture, to release human possibilities, to inspire people to believe that they matter and that they have something of value to say. This transformational form of leadership should be given every encouragement to flourish, as it helps to provide a supporting climate for facilitating dialogue throughout an institution.
Rather alarmingly, many conservatoires seem cut off from some of the seminal thinking guiding more enlightened management practice in the business world. For example, in a recent report examining the growing complexity of leadership conducted for the Institute of Management, Matthew Horne and Daniel Stedman Jones state that:
The increasing role of values, communication and interpersonal relationships, and the central importance of responding to, and shaping continuous change challenge all those in leadership positions…. There is growing recognition that good leadership needs to be understood as a systematic process which is distributed across whole organizations, and represented in the relationships between leaders and followers at all levels, rather than just concentrated in the behaviour of those in the most senior leadership positions (p.1).
The tragedy is that many conservatoires have failed to respond, not just to current management thinking, but also to the diverse needs of the music industry and to those of the community it serves. They are rapidly becoming an anachronism, effectively cut off from the real world in which their students will be working. There seem to be only two ways in which these institutions might change — by either changing the criteria that determine funding or by changing the culture of the organization. The first possibility is in the hands of government, the other is the responsibility of each institution.
Perhaps the ultimate challenge to leadership is how best to enable an institution to adapt effectively to change — how to confront change and uncertainty with a shared vision of the future. Basically, cultural change cannot be forced on people. Conditions have to be created which will enable new structures, new practices and new styles of management to evolve organically within newly aligned priorities. At the heart of this process lies the critical role of "conversation". In a conservatoire, for example, a trusting environment has to be fostered which will positively encourage the development of an institutional conversation. Focusing initially on certain key areas, like a Futures Strategy, a dialogue can be facilitated throughout the institution. In order to build up a measure of collective ownership, all staff, students, senior management and the governing body should be given every opportunity to engage in this conversation — sometimes at departmental level, but whenever possible, cross-departmentally. The whole process should also be informed by discussions with collaborative partners in the music industry, in the professional arts community, in education and the wider community.
It is partly through this kind of sustained dialogue that cultural change evolves in an institution. Through respecting and listening to different points of view, people gradually let go of cherished assumptions and begin to see themselves and their world in a different way. They begin to tell a different story. For this process to work in practice, there has to be a sensitive awareness of the different levels of language used by groups to describe their experience and to shape their stories. Discussions also have to be grounded in where people perceive themselves coming from. The psychological climate in which these conversations take place is absolutely crucial to any likely shift in future action. For example, most arts institutions are experiencing budgetary constraints, restructuring, reordering of priorities and changing patterns of work within an increasingly vulnerable industry. This very easily creates an atmosphere of stress and uncertainty, which means that any discussion of fundamental issues has to openly acknowledge feelings of fear, anger, apprehension and doubts. Staff and students must be given the opportunity to share their aspirations and any sense of vulnerability arising from possible changes.
The key to ensuring that honest dialogue takes place throughout any institution lies in adopting a style of leadership which is genuinely open and facilitatory. This involves a broad range of skills and attitudes, such as keen listening skills, empathy, the ability to ask appropriate questions, the capacity to let go and most importantly, the ability to make connections. Such a collective approach inevitably invites an institution to reappraise its distribution of knowledge and power, shifting from mechanistic management structures to greater opportunities for shared leadership and shared responsibility. Effectively, it makes the processes and procedures in any institution more accountable and transparent, and it enables all staff and students to have a voice in shaping their own future. This can only be healthy for the life and work of the institution.
My concluding questions centre on whether conservatoires have the artistic and educational vision to redefine who they are in terms of contemporary cultural life. Have they the motivation to jettison those deeply ingrained assumptions which effectively block change and innovation? Have they the will to harness the creative energy necessary for becoming a vital force in a living culture? Have they the imagination to make those connections which would help to transform their artistic practice?
In general, these questions touch a raw nerve, resulting in many staff and students adopting defensive positions. The legacy of the past tends to prevail. New initiatives, aimed at matching training to the diverse reality of the music industry, are often perceived as a "dilution" of the "core business". In my view, this ostrich-like behaviour prevents many artists from connecting to the changing demands of the 21st century.
Transforming conservatoires into dynamic cultural institutions with a contemporary voice is the ultimate challenge to leadership. The only way forward is to establish a process of honest, open, sustained dialogue through which people become willing to change. Without such a fundamental shift in perspective, the conservatoire could be seen as little more than a cultural dinosaur.
Peter Renshaw, first published in Music Forum 8/5, June 2002. Entered on Knowledge Base as a significant older contribution, 25 September 2013. This paper was a keynote speech, setting the agenda at the CONNECTing conference organised by the Queensland Conservatorium of Music for the last weekend of April 2002.