Giving arts managers an edge in the international market: In conversation with François Colbert, Co-Director of the MMIAM

colbertfrancois_2008-smallFrançois Colbert holds the Carmelle and Rémi Marcoux Chair in Arts Management at HEC Montréal and the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Management. He is also the Co-Director of the Master of Management in International Arts Management program.  Laura Adlers met with François recently via Skype and asked him how this program, now in its fifth year, is different from other arts management programs.

What is it about the MMIAM program that differentiates it from any other arts management graduate programs in the world?

First of all, this is the first program that is focussed specifically on international arts management, but more than that, it is the first program offered over one year in four international cities, with the experience of living in four different cities, adapting to new environments and truly living the international experience.  In addition, our cohorts are small (ideally 10-15 students), and are truly diverse in terms of their cultural backgrounds and experiences in arts management in their home countries.

Why were Dallas, Montreal and Milan chosen as the three main international campuses for the MMIAM program?

There are many graduate programs around the world which have arts management components as part of an MBA or which have business courses as part of an arts management graduate degree, but we are unique in that our course curriculum is taught by exceptional faculty at internationally-recognized business schools which also have great arts management programs.  The program idea was mine, but it really developed in partnership with Dr. Zannie Voss at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  Her reputation as a leading academic researcher and instructor in both the Cox School of Business MBA program and at the Meadows School of the Arts arts management program is well-known. This is why our two schools formed the foundation of the program.

Many people ask, “Why Dallas?” In fact, I was surprised when I visited Dallas for the first time at the incredible cultural district, which is a concentration of cultural facilities and arts organizations on 68 acres and 19 contiguous blocks in downtown Dallas.  It is the largest arts district in the United States and is home to some of the city’s most important cultural facilities and organizations, including the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, Crow Collection of Asian Art, Perot Museum of Art and Nature, AT&T Performing Arts Centre, Winspear Opera House, Dallas Opera, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas Symphony, Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, Dallas Theater Center, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas Black Dance Theater, and Klyde Warren Park, among other attractions. So, not only is this cultural district a very interesting case study in municipal cultural planning, but our visits to these facilities and organizations as part of the MMIAM program also add so much to the academic and cultural experience.

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The Dallas Arts District. (Image via dallasartsdistrict.org)

Our partnerships with SDA Bocconi and Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá were created, because they are regarded as two of the top business schools in Europe and South America respectively, but also because we already had established relationships with Alex Turrini at Bocconi and Jaime Gutiérrez at Los Andes. The culture and history in both of these cities are unique and fascinating and add so much to the MMIAM program. The faculty members at all four schools are passionate about the arts; many of them have been arts managers themselves, or have served on arts boards for many years.

What is the focus of study at HEC Montréal, where you are based?

We teach a Master’s in Arts Management at HEC in French, so when we were developing the curriculum for the MMIAM program, I wanted to ensure that our students got the full benefit of being taught by experts in the field of arts management. Our focus in Montréal is more on marketing, but there are also other topics which I thought were important, like the Leadership Management course, and a course in Information Technology.  Our strength at HEC is marketing and market research, however, so this is the primary focus for the MMIAM program.

The students also visit Bogotá, Colombia for a 10-day Campus Abroad program. What do they experience there?

We visit the beautiful Universidad de Los Andes campus and about twenty cultural and private sector organizations which are involved in innovative cultural programs. We also travel for two days outside of Bogotá to visit Villa de Leyva, where there are many artisans and cultural activities.

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The MMIAM’s second cohort in Colombia

The Bogotá campus is unique in that students learn about how a developing country can use cultural activity for social innovation to benefit the broader community. Besides the high art concert halls and theatres, there are foundations and businesses which work with the underserved communities of Bogotá to engage them in the arts and cultural projects and give them opportunities which will hopefully benefit them long-term. There is a real push towards the democratization of culture in Colombia, which has six class levels [according to Colombia’s system of legally defined socioeconomic levels], the bottom two being very poor and the top two being very wealthy.

For the students, it is eye-opening, as it was for me the first time I visited. We visit the national library, which has a system in place which allows everyone to access literature across the country.  The philosophy in Bogotá is that the poor and underprivileged deserve the best.  The national concert hall offers free tickets for 20% of the hall, and brings families in on buses from the poorer parts of the city to see world-class orchestral, dance, theatre performances for free. Colombia is the most stable country in South America right now and they have really done a lot in the last twenty years to improve the quality of life in the country. The cultural policy and private sector investment, including foreign investment, has had a lot to do with this.

The MMIAM program was launched in the 2013-14 academic year and is now in its fifth cohort.  How many students have completed the program to date and where are MMIAM graduates from?

To date, 54 students from 18 countries have graduated from the program.  They have mostly been from the United States and Canada, but we have also had candidates from Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Czech Republic, India, Iran, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia.

Who is your ideal applicant for the program or are you looking for a broad range of backgrounds?

We are looking for broad diversity in terms of country of origin, arts sector, and level of experience, and of course we want people who are passionate about the arts. We are not going for quantity, we are really going for quality. The ideal candidate is around 25-30 years of age, and with at least five years of experience, but we have had more experienced arts managers in their late 30s and 40s in the program, as well as a few very bright candidates under 25. We really choose our candidates on a case-by-case basis.

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

More and more globalization is happening in the arts. I have been in this field for 45 years, and know that most individual artists and arts organizations want to tour – dance companies, orchestras, art or museum exhibits – and the international market is open to them as never before.  More than anything, we would like to give our alumni the edge to be able to work in the international market and to understand that working with different cultures means learning and understanding different ways of doing business.

What innovative ideas have you observed in the cultural sector in Canada which are leading the new wave in culture management?

With larger arts organizations, I am seeing that they want to really engage with their communities and go beyond their art form. The two brightest examples in Montréal are Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and its new dance therapy centre [The National Centre for Dance Therapy] and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and its new art therapy centre. They both want to serve the community through presenting wonderful art, but also by using art to help their community. This kind of engagement also forces boards of directors to broaden the scope of their strategic planning and fundraising.

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The dance therapy program at Les Grands Ballets. (Image by Karine Kalfon via grandsballets.com)

 

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