This Fall I had the honor to be an ARAD microgrant recipient for professional development. The grant helped me travel to Mexico where I presented in the Third Cultural Policies Forum organized by the Arts and Culture Observatory sponsored by my alma mater Universidad Iberoamericana and the Spanish Embassy in Mexico.
Participating in this professional development opportunity helped me further my thinking and connect with professionals in Mexico, while honing in on my public speaking skills. The experience was very important for me on many levels. First, a personal goal of mine is to bring back my experiences abroad and to broaden our ways of thinking about the arts and culture. Second, it is important to me to stay in touch with like-minded people in Mexico and get to know what others are thinking about to have a better idea of where the trends are heading. I find that academics and professionals in the field are the structuring agents of the sector and its demands to the government; this makes networking with people and hearing their experiences a main takeaway from this experience. Third, as a professional trying to propose and bring change into the sector I wanted to get a sense of people’s willingness to change and learn of their perspectives on where this change is most needed. It is important to note that contrary to the United States, in Mexico the central agent administering arts and culture is the government; while there are private endeavors, such as galleries, auction houses, art fairs, private collections and museums, the largest responsible agent is the government.
Above: Ulrike Figueroa discussing Mexico’s cultural policy model according to Chartrand and McCaughey’s four models of public cultural support.
I shared the panel with five brilliant and dedicated professionals in the sector who spoke about artists’ conditions in Acapulco, Guerrero (one of the most violent and poor states in Mexico), the art market and auction houses (predominantly a monopoly of one auction house), international theater companies, and the precarious labor conditions of the sector. For the panel “Artists and workers of the cultural sector: labor conditions of the sector,” I prepared a presentation focusing on the non-profit model of the United States proposing it as a viable alternative to rigid cultural policies in Mexico. Drawing from a paper that I wrote for the Cultural Policy class with Dr. Jennifer Lena, I established a link between Chartrand and McCaughey’s four models of public cultural support, the arms-length principle, and the Law of Public Administration that ultimately dictates the administration of cultural institutions in Mexico. Looking at the far-reaching arm of public administration and the President at the head, I proposed finding new funding sources to invigorate the arts and cultural sector and develop spaces where workers and artists could pursue their professional aspirations. Here I established a link to the American non-profit model, lessons on the organizational structure with New York’s CIGs as the main focus, the possibilities to give independence to cultural organizations, and how it has professionalized the sector, leading to programs like our own in Arts Administration.
I was honored to be the last person presenting and close providing a new vision for participants, who agreed with the need to open new possibilities for the sector in the country. Personally, I found their presentations and perspectives on the arts and cultural sector in Mexico very enlightening. My peer panelists made me further understand the very different ways in which Mexicans conceive culture and realize how there are opposing views that have generated a complex cultural instrument around the sector. It confirmed part of my way of thinking about the rigidity of the sector, but opened my mind to the possibility that this might be a result of attempting to include everyone’s perspective. However, while legislating and attempting to make policy for everyone, the government has crippled the development of the sector and tightened the area of action for artists and workers, mostly at the expense of the art itself.
Above right: Ulrike presenting applicable takeaways from the non-profit model.
The Forum was filled with accomplished professionals and researchers in the field, who are looking at cultural policies, and studying their effects on arts and culture from multiple perspectives. I feel honored to have been part of such a talented pool of participants and to have been able to bring something new to the table. Across panels, I heard the word “change” many times and I also heard suggestions on legislation around the sector, something I would be eager to be a part of in the future. Most importantly, I learned how my academic knowledge from the ARAD program could enrich and fit into this demand for change – even how it has prepared me to become a leader in the field. I am thankful to the ARAD program for believing in my project for this microgrant and their support to allow me to fully take advantage of this opportunity. This experience will be one of the highlights of my personal and professional growth in this program. It will remind me that the most important part in leading the arts and cultural sector is listening and learning from people, being curious about them and having passion for the arts.
Above: At the conclusion of the panel, Ulrike with wonderful peer speakers.
Thank you ARAD program for being a major part of my professional development!