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Cultural home-coming in Senegal

January 5, 2011 by Diane Morgan   Comments (0)

As CLP Project Manager, one of the programme strands I oversee is Powerbrokers - leadership development opportunities for Black and Minority Ethnic leaders. 

 

PILP

Since 2008 CLP, in partnership with Maureen Salmon, has delivered Powerbrokers International Leadership Placements. Our most recent placements took place from October 2010 to January 2011 in Delhi and Dakar.  I accompanied Maureen on a visit to Dakar to meet with Lynda Rosenoir, Business Development Associate at the Association of Arts Presenters and Festivals of Senegal (ADAFEST) and Beverley Sterling, Creative Development Associate at the Biennial of Contemporary African Art Senegal and Saint Louis 350.  Also accompanying me on this trip was Nike Jonah, Decibel Project Manager and a CLP Woman to Watch.

 

Journeys & Discoveries

 

Senegal – A former French colony with a rich history and culture, is considered to have one of the most stable political democracies in West Africa.  Its’ most famous artistic exponent - Youssou N'Dour - is the musician/singer whose collaborations with artists like Peter Gabriel, Neneh Cherry (‘Seven Seconds’) and Branford Marsalis have increased his status to International Musical Icon.  Dakar, the musical heart of the country, comes alive at night (the daytime market scene is strictly for the fearless), beats out its’ potent global rhythms and is rightfully regarded as the most vibrant African city for its incredible music scene. This, I was prepared for.  What I experienced was much more; a beautiful (still relatively tourist-free) tropical landscape; monuments for remembrance and celebration of Africa’s past and future; arts and culture woven into the lives of its’ residents; an exciting and thriving contemporary art scene; empowered women cultural leaders; and nothing short of a ‘home-coming’ feeling during this visit, my first to West Africa.

This blog documents my eight days in Dakar in December 2010; meeting with the associates and host organisations to discuss the nature and value of the placements; learning about the leadership culture in Senegal; and my experience of attending some of the truly inspirational World Festival of Black Arts. 

 

Thursday 9th December

So it’s goodbye to the ‘cold snap’ (understatement of the year) and after leaving London at 5.30 pm on Wednesday, we arrive (exhausted) in Dakar (via Casablanca, Morocco) at 6.30am on Thursday ( I have no idea of the 48 hour hell that would be bestowed onto me on my return to Heathrow - save that for later....)

 

First impressions

The (anticipated) hoard of unofficial baggage carriers & taxi drivers descend on us as we leave the airport and the use of the English language is non-existent.  Wolof is the most widely spoken African language although French is the official language here. The Hotel Novotel Dakar is an affordable, sleek and modern hotel with minimalist design and efficient staff. It could easily be a European hotel if it wasn’t for the scattering of large wooden carvings and the inclusion of Tiebou Dienn (cheb-oo-jen) Senegal’s national dish on the hotel menu, which as soon as I try and being a lover of fish, becomes a staple meal during my stay. 

First on the agenda is a few hours sleep (although I confess to getting distracted by the TV channel with the melodramatic ‘Nollywood-style’ drama in my hotel room), followed by the purchase of a local sim card, currency, food, and a two-hour long heavy-weight fee negotiation with Ahmed, an English speaking thirty-year old year old MBA graduate, currently seeking work, who has agreed to be our driver (cheaper, safer & no language barriers).  Senegal is a majority Muslim, tolerant country but for some, women walking about on their own is viewed with suspicion (and women smoking in public – well that’s another story). 

 

It’s early evening and I bump into Lynda, one of the PILP associates, sitting by the pool, working on her masters’ dissertation (wouldn’t you?).  Although I’ve caught up on her progress via her reports, it’s wonderful to hear first-hand how much she’s benefiting from the placement – she is visibly more confident than the woman I met a few months ago, buzzing with motivation and glowing from the experience of working in Senegal.  It’s a wonderful introduction and I’m so pleased to be here (and secretly hoping Senegal will hit me with a dose of her energy and spirit).  Before sleep takes hold, Nike, Maureen and I meet to go through our itinery of meetings and visits, ensuring space for evening festival events (and a little weekend downtime - a.k.a. shopping).  The festival programme is incredibly world-class, full and eclectic but little talked about back in the UK. We will be attending the opening ceremony as special guests tomorrow evening. How exciting!

 

Friday 10th December

My first full day begins with an introduction to Dakar life.  The streets are noisy and bustling with cars and traders on foot. You cannot walk without being approached by a man with or without goods to sell. Here, It is not polite to talk to someone before enquiring about their health, their day and their family members. We soon learn though that in the centre of Dakar, talk isn’t cheap and seemingly friendly new acquaintances require payment for acting as a ‘guide’ and pointing out the route to your destination.   We head out to the Gallerie Arte Dakar, driven by Ahmed, who quite casually scrapes the side of parked cars, cyclists and the odd crossing pedestrian.  He appears  amused by our objections.  The gallery is owned by Joelle Le Bussy, she has a larger gallery in St Louis, a designer-maker herself and a director of St Louis 305, one of our host organisations.  An all-round formidable woman - who leads with grace, humility and quiet confidence.  Large mixed media paintings cover the walls, cabinets display crafts, jewellery, carvings and other delightful treasures and we peruse intently before heading off to her house for lunch and conversation.

 

 

Teranga

Senegalese are legendary for their teranga (hospitality) and while I modestly offer my gift of English shortbread, Joelle’s housekeeper lays on a delicious feast made from of fresh local seafood, chicken vegetables and rice – seasoned to perfection. The house is how I’d imagined, with expansive but homely inside and outdoor spaces and a showcase for her favourite pieces of art and objects.  At the end of the garden (past the patio and pool) two men are industrially manipulating wood in her outdoor workshop.

 

The World Festival of Black Arts

or Fesman (Festival Mondial Des Arts Negres) as it locally known.

The first Fesman was held in Dakar in 1966, to highlight the struggle and persistence of black people in the face of colonisation. The second in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977 and now, three decades later, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade brought it back to Dakar- in it's new context: Africa as free, proud, creative, and optimistic.  Free concerts, plays, exhibitions, dance performances, film screenings and seminars. Reasons to celebrate yes? Not for all.

Although Joelle is one of the few Senegalese artists showing her work in the festival, with a cultural event of this scale it is inevitable that there will be critics.  The festival, funded by the African Union has reputedly cost £50m and was given as a ‘pet project’ to the president’s daughter who (it is said) focused on rallying her international contacts at the exclusion of cultural leaders and practitioners in Senegal (bar the most famous names). With no local or fringe activities being promoted, Senegalese artists are frustrated and insulted that the profile and programming has reached and benefited African nations and across the Diaspora but left no legacy for them.  The expense is also under-fire considering that the host country is in need of much development and many still live in poverty.  Finally (which was our observation also) the programme was announced just over a week before the festival commenced and promotion has not been well organised given the scale and potential impact of a cultural event of this magnitude.

It’s difficult not to be affected by what I’ve heard but after more glowing reports about her placement from PILP Associate Beverley Sterling and our VIP tickets to the opening ceremony in hand– we look forward to our evening.

 

A Night To Remember

 

40/50,000(?) people filled the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium for launch of the festival – greeted by fireworks and a lone kora player in the centre of the field.  What followed was an extraordinary spectacle to behold. Hundreds of dancers lined up around the field before performing beautifully choreographed and synchronised routines, powerful movement and full-on dance. Billowing fabric shapes, stilt walkers, video projections and music perfectly combined in this feast of vision and sound – the scale of which could be compared to an Olympic games opening ceremony.  The meaning was a bit lost on me, but I have read that the video screen behind the field showed minnows and sharks - a warning to  young people not to make the dangerous trip over the ocean to seek work in Europe.

 

The speeches were not translated but (again thanks to other reports) President Wade spoke of his vision of creating the United States of Africa by 2017 whereby there would be free movement across borders, one currency, and all African presidents would become governors. He rallied young people to dedicate themselves to building the African Renaissance and led a call and response-- “Work, work again, always work”. The finale was the singing of the anthem of the African Renaissance – composed by Wade.  The presidents of Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Equatorial Guinea also made their remarks.   At that point we left the stadium, due to the lack of translation and regrettably missed performances by Youssou N’Dour and Baaba Maal.   We did however bump into Kwame Kwei Armah in a restaurant later that night – the very exhausted and visionary Artistic Director of the festival, the opening ceremony and (equally important) a CLP Women to Watch Judge – had a lot to be proud of.

 

BBC Video clip of the festival

World Festival of Black Arts: a once in a decade event: How Britain's Kwame Kwei-Armah amassed 6,000 artists for a festival that has only happened three times in 40 years

 

Culture Sector Governance - Fit for Purpose or Fit for Change? NCVO Conference Oct 2010 - Extract

October 18, 2010 by Hilary Carty   Comments (0)

One of the challenges of organisations working in the arts and cultural sector is that we can sometimes work in a culture silo, not taking full advantage of the links with the wider voluntary sector.   A missed opportunity, I think, to share, learn and connect with sectors that legally, practically and ethically work in very similar ways to us.   

 

Whilst my basic response to the question leans more to the ‘fit for change’ side of things, my overarching point is that diversity and complexity must always be acknowledged.  One size does not fit all.  Good governance is vital.  But running a creative organisation also requires you to probe, take risks, extend and explore.  We, therefore, need models and approaches that allow organisations to ‘breathe’, to innovate, to refresh and to renew – as well as deliver accountability and fiscal responsibility.

 

In 2009 CLP commissioned a series of essays looking at the issues and challenges of governance and the overall finding was that

 

The charitable model in itself is not the source of conservatism or instability...  Rather the problems of governance ... stem from incongruent values, dysfunctional organisational culture, and incompatible personalities’[1]

 

i.e. - the structures are fit for purpose, but the mindsets are fit for change!

 

Devlin and Thorold found that the charitable model does not need to restrict the organisation operating creatively and accountably, even entrepreneurially.  What was more damaging was the incongruence in the operation of the Boards of Trustees, such as

 

·         Informal contracting – so the role of the Trustee is not clearly articulated at the outset and not under-pinned by induction and on-going good practice (and, whilst this is done with the best of intentions, it could lead to legal or compliance problems later on)

 

·         Micro-management on the part of Trustees – having a clear take on the supervisory role (and inhibiting the ‘experienced professionals’) but not fully engaging with the strategic role: that of driving forward long term visioning, planning and delivery

 

·         Having an imbalanced membership – often demonstrated in small organisations through a level of inexperience amongst Board members.  In larger organisations this was, conversely, evidenced by the representation of ‘experts’ from other sectors, who do not necessarily appreciate the values of the cultural organisation and who try to ‘eliminate’ rather than ‘manage’ risk;  not recognising the fact that ‘risk’, in a creative organisation, is the lifeblood of its existence. 

 

Should we consider paying Trustees?  For me, the central issue is about finding flexibility.  There will be some organisations for which payment of Trustees is not only counter-cultural, but counter–productive and an organisational misfit.  The key lies in an organisation creating a business model that is clear about its mission and its parameters – achieving the best structure for the job.  And in some instances, payment may well be appropriate and sustainable.

 

One note of caution.  When I call for flexibility, I certainly do not mean a ‘free-for-all’ – strong regulatory control based on principles rather than bureaucracy is important.  We’ve seen where the banking sector got with its loose regulation and the voluntary sector is not, I think, so well prized nationally and internationally that the government will apply some quantitative easing to save us from collapse and meltdown. 

 

I think it is also important that we acknowledge the potential impact of losing the public’s trust in the prudence of the system.  We are working with public resources and the ethical contract that underpins the good work delivered across the sector must be prized, protected and supported.


[1] http://www.culturalleadership.org.uk/uploads/tx_rtgfiles/Governance_Now.pdf  Devlin & Thorold, Could cultural organisations deliver better if they were not charities?

Future Engineering

July 23, 2010 by Hilary Carty   Comments (3)

With long knifes out to slash spending in the public sector one wonders if ‘tightening the belt’ is going to be enough?  How quickly can an organisation bounce back from a 10% - 30% cut to the budget?  And does the investment in leadership or workforce development have to be the first in line for the chop?

 

I think now more than ever, we have to combine the challenge of the present with ‘the long view’ and mix emergency survival measures with strategic thinking.  It’s a critical time to invest in the leaders of our industries, as without good leadership and strategic planning, our organisations will struggle to withstand the challenges ahead.

 

I’m keen to create a pool of practical ideas that support strong leadership and organisational strength in times of adversity.  Here are 5 to start the ball rolling - why not add your ideas and see how many we can share?

 

1     Partnerships & Alliances:  Partnerships are essential in today’s climate.  They encourage the sharing of expertise, create new perspectives, build and facilitate knowledge transfer and ensure that new work is relevant to more than one audience.  They also ‘spread the load’ (financial and operational) and enable resources to be better deployed. 

 

2     Feminine Leadership: not male/female, but masculine/feminine.  This distinction is important as it recognises that those traits can be present in both males and females.  The Guardian recently descried masculine leadership cultures as involving buccaneering, financial engineering and reckless, short-sighted decision making; whereas feminine leadership culture is characterised by balance, transparency, fairness, social responsibility, accountability and sustainability – long term thinking.  We have seen where the masculine approach has taken us – look at the banking sector.  Can we now place more value on the ‘feminine’ approaches?

 

3     Better Talent Management: properly supporting individuals to grow through secondments, work shadowing, coaching mentoring etc., which can often be negotiated for little or no costs.  In tough economic times you have to invest in developing talent, because it is your leaders who will create the environment in which people will innovate’.  Sian Thomas ‘Public’.   

 

4     Maximise organisational memory:  watching the make up of teams to ensure that youth and experience are well balanced.  There is a big focus on engaging ‘youth’ right now – but it is also important to draw lessens from people who have been ‘around the block’.  Look at the contribution of Vince Cable MP to the recession debates and analysis; he offered the voice of experience.  Who is your Vince Cable?  How are you supporting them?  How can you ensure systems to transfer knowledge before that experience is lost? 

 

5     Structural Change:  the old macho leadership models no longer work for women in leadership roles – nor do they work for men!  Since we have to change and adjust – now is the time to look at what leadership really requires and affirm new norms about work-life-balance; flexible working and the routes to career progression.  Why not break the mould rather than tinker at the margins?

 

In grasping opportunity from the challenging times ahead, it will be essential to ‘imagine it differently’, make choices and safeguard the things we most value.  What would you add to the mix?