Monday, 29 November 2010

Is it only the term that bothers?

When 17 years ago I started my MA in Museum Studies and I discovered the world of cultural marketing, that is, the world of marketing for not-for-profit institutions, there was an intense controversy going on regarding this subject. For the big majority of museum professionals, marketing was incompatible with the mission and objectives of these institutions. There were warnings regarding the danger of ‘museological prostitution’ or the creation of ‘cultural super-markets’.

In 2002 I wrote an article for the Portuguese Museum Network bulletin entitled Museum Marketing: after all, is it only the term that bothers us? I read it again now, eight years later, and, although today I would have probably constructed my arguments in a slightly different way, there are certain points I still defend: the need and interest of museums in using marketing as a means that allows for a consistent and efficient communication and that contributes in fulfilling their mission; the awareness that museums were already developing various marketing initiatives – but in an isolated, unarticulated way, that was not part of strategic planning -, which could lead to the conclusion that it was mostly the term that bothered and not the use of those techniques; the need for the profession (of museologist) to qualify its own specialists in marketing, people that would be sensitive towards the sector´s specifications, able to help in fulfilling the mission, knowing at the same time how to respect it.

The conference Economics and theatre: challenges in times of crisis, that took place last Thursday at the D.Maria II National Theatre, made me think again about all this. I couldn´t go to the conference, so I just read a partial report about what was said in an article in the newspaper Público, entitled Managing a theatre is not like managing a company, quoting Miguel Lobo Antunes, one of the speakers of the panel “What should theatre directors know about economics?”.

The economics debate, that at times seems to be dominating everything and everyone, is a concern common to many cultural agents, probably the majority. Especially when economic indicators become the main performance indicators for our institutions. Nevertheless, when reading the article I felt that there were many analogies to the way a few years ago we were discussing marketing for the not-for-profit institutions.

Cultural activity is also an economic activity. And, just as I argued in the case of marketing, the sector can only benefit from the inclusion of professionals specialized in that area, that is, people who, apart from their knowledge in economics, understand the sector´s specificities and may contribute in fulfilling the its mission. The starting point for achieving this specialization is either the studies in economics with further specialization in cultural management or the studies in social and human sciences or the arts with further specialization in the economics of culture. In Portugal there are people qualified in this field and I don´t consider them a ‘threat’. On the contrary, those of us working in marketing and cultural communication recognize in them someone who speaks the same language.

This issue, though, takes us to another, which I don´t know whether it was discussed during the conference at D. Maria II National Theatre. Who is, or should be, the director of a theatre? The Artistic Director? A Manager? A General Director from the performing arts field with a knowledge of economics or a General Director from the economics field with a knowledge of the performing arts? Or maybe a bicephalous management?

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