Prof. Milena Dragićević Šešić: A collaborative, human and community engaging angle on cultural policy and management

Interviews | 30.05.2013. 00:00

Milena Dragićević Šešić is Professor of Cultural  Policy & Management, former President of University of Arts in Belgrade. She is Head of the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy and Management (interculturalism and mediation in the Balkans) at the University of Arts, Belgrade. She is a prominent researcher in international projects in the field of cultural studies and cultural policies.Prof. Dragicevic-Sesic has published 100 essays  and 15 books, among them: “Culture: management, animation, marketing”,” Neofolk culture”,  “Art and alternative”, “ Horizons of reading”, “ Art management in turbulent times”, “Intercultural  mediation in the Balkans”, translated in 16 languages.


1. What do you think are the main competences and traits which a young researcher in the field of cultural policy should obtain?

Methodological knowledge and skills – both for theoretical and empirical research, are of utmost importance – as in other research domains. At the same time, a cultural policy researcher has to have openness and abilities for interpretative and comparative analysis.

2. Considering your own experience, what would be your main advice to the young researchers who plan to pursue a career in the field of cultural policy?

I would advise young researchers to read a lot of different research and books from the “side fields” of cultural policy. Cultural policy is an interdisciplinary domain, therefore a researcher have to understand law, economy (both macro and microeconomic processes), sociology of culture, cultural studies, public policies, as well as cultural history, cultural management and contemporary art scene. This multidisciplinary knowledge is required so that researchers would be able to understand and elaborate new policy instruments. It is also important to constantly follow up what is new in many domains of science, and to read critical texts. This is not easy, but is the only way to enrich our own research work and give more “content”, as well as an adequate analytical background.

3. You have published many books and articles in diverse issues, related to cultural policy, and some of them are translated in several languages. What would be your advice to the young people to start publishing and making their work more visible internationally, both online and offline?

I would recommend (as I always do to my students) to young researchers to write a short text based on their empirical research – in order to bring some new and fresh ideas; then to send this text for reviews, first in their own country, and then abroad.  This would give them a better chance that colleagues might read it and respond – especially those with similar interests. Then a bigger collaborative, maybe trans-border research project could start…

Conferences and professional gatherings are also good platforms for developing collaboration and finding adequate reviews for publishing texts. It is important to go there prepared – with precise and focused research interests, with ready texts, with project ideas, etc.

4. What was the worst professional advice which someone might have given you throughout your career?

Not to link research with action! I am still getting those advices, that if I want to be a “real and objective” researcher, I should avoid being part of the policy-related working groups who define new policy models and instruments and contribute to changing cultural policies…

 I think that cultural policy is an applied discipline - it aims not only to discover and describe how things are, but how things MIGHT BE – for the sake of arts, artists and culture. Being involved in policy making, locally (in your city), nationally or internationally, might give different insights, new knowledge, fresh ideas and inspirations. This is the way how one could understand differently the practical needs, could also see the limits of the policy instruments, or the conflicting interest of different public policies. When you are only a cultural policy researcher, you could see the world only from one aspect. When you go down to real life, multiple perspectives start to open.

5. What are the main motivating factors for you to continue your work as a researcher and educator?

Combining research, education and policy-making provides an opportunity to change, to develop, and to understand contemporary cultural processes. Every new research opens to me new horizons, new approaches, and new views. Every generation of students brings something different to the class and to my research work, as well as teaching approach.  I am a curious person, so, it is difficult to stop researching and teaching.  Besides researching and analyzing European as well as Balkan cultural policies and practices since many years, I recently researched also cultural policies of the Arab world. Last year I explored theatre policies and practices in India….and I hope I will have time to follow-up these researches, to reflect in a critical manner and to share it with others.

6. For already 9 years, you lead the MA Programme in Cultural Policy and Management at the University of Arts, in cooperation with Universite de Lyon 2. What is the uniqueness of this program? What are its main goals?

The specificity of this program is that it is truly international: professors come from the region (Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, etc.), from Western Europe (Germany, France, Austria, Holland, etc.), as well as from overseas (Canada, USA). The students are also international, as the program is conducted in English and French. The main goal is to educate CULTURAL PROFESSIONALS, capable to do a research, to manage a festival, as well as to CONCEPTUALIZE a cultural program, to curate a cultural event, to create an intercultural mediation program, etc. It is up to student to define his/her future profession – would it be in the field of research, policy making, cultural administration, art production, cultural management, cultural mediation, etc.  Our former students find jobs in ministries of culture, in the city administrations, as producers of big cultural events, in theaters and museums. Many of them manage their own small-scale NGOs, cultural agencies, or act as mediators/educators in museums, archives, libraries, etc. So, we do not teach them how to become “successful” – in a sense to gain a lot of money, to become art dealers, or commercial producers (although there are some), or to become very famous and glamorous cultural producers surrounded by stars… We teach them how to be human, how to serve the communities, how to bring together artists and audiences, and especially - how to involve as well as engage potential audiences in cultural practices. And something else which is very important for our region – not just to look for a vacancy, but to create jobs using their creativity and inspiration, their own ideas and initiatives.

The same approach applies to research - one might enter an already established institution and get a research task, or could create his/her own “cultural observatory”, cultural consultancy or agency, and then conduct research in areas which are important and interesting.

7. On your opinion, are there any errors or weaknesses in the way we teach cultural policy subject in the programmes curricula across Europe? Do you see any changes and new trends in our methodological approaches?

The problem is that it is quite difficult to become a cultural policy researcher if you  study all educational levels (bachelor, master, PhD) in one and the same educational instituion. I think it is necessary to change.  In my own professional life, it was of utmost importance that I studied at an art school, than I did a Master Degree in the field of sociology in France (D.E.A.), and then I completed Ph.D at the Department of Cultural Studies in the University of Belgrade.  If I had an opportunity to do some postdoctoral studies in public policies, it would be also very beneficiary.  This is why when we  created the internationa Master Degree program (the UNESCO Chair), we decided to cooperate with different universities which do not have the same area of studies. We, as an art university, have entered partnership with the sociology and anthropology department of Lyon II university and with the Faculty of Political sciences in Grenoble. We enriched the program by engaging also professors in economics from the Faculty of Economy in Belgrade. As I already mentioned – we do that, because cultural policy and cultural management subjects are truly interdisciplinary.

8. In brief, what are your professional plans for the year 2011?

I intend to finish my book about Culture of Dissent (last 20 years in the Western Balkans). I plan also to finish my research about Memory policies as part of cultural policies (focusing on monument building practices) – this research will be part of a book - to be published by Culturelink, Zagreb (edited by Nada Švob Djokić and Aldo Milohnić). I will also work with Branimir Stojković on the 6th edition of our book “Culture, management, marketing”.

Colleagues from Finland, Jyvaskyla with many partner universities from other countries (mine included) had successfully developed COST project (culture within sustainable development). Our real collaboration will begin this year.

The highlight for this year will be in October 2011 when the Department for the Management and Production in Theatre, Culture and Media of Faculty of Drama Arts, University of Arts in Belgrade will celebrate 50 years of its existence. We think that we are the oldest Cultural management department in Europe. For this occasion I am preparing a book, dealing with the history of the Department, and the future of our discipline. Part of this book will be devoted to the first Yugoslavian meeting of professors of cultural policy, organized in 1988 in Zagreb. It would be pity to send this event to oblivion, as Yugoslavia was in those years one of the few countries worldwide with developed cultural policy research, as well as cultural policy teaching as an academic discipline. The “Belgrade and Zagreb schools of cultural policy research” have produced a lot of research, but unfortunately not in English, and therefore – it still stays unknown and not acknowledged internationally.

( - Lidia Varbanova)