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Managing arts projects with Societal Impact (MAPSI)

Posted on Jan 10, 2015 by in issue #03 |



A joint learning and research network developed by the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, the Estonian Business School, the University of Arts Helsinki-Sibelius Academy, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, and the University of the Basque Country, Funded by the Lifelong-Learning Programme of the European Union


/Case Analysis

Managing arts projects with Societal Impact



The premise of MAPSI is that any artistic or cultural project is susceptible to have outcomes and results that will impact the society in one way or another, and that the artist or cultural manager has a responsibility towards society. The distinction between intrinsic and instrumental values of cultural projects is a distinction that has gained popularity, but is hard to assess when designing and implementing them. We believe that the design and management of the manifold impacts of a project have to be incorporated to it right from its initial conception, no matter if the planned results are artistic or aesthetic, or if the project is intended to promote social inclusion, to enhance the economic activity of the place, or to foster creativity and innovation in the industry. Further, it has to be done in a professional way, requiring new skills and new procedures. It is just too risky (probably, not effective and, certainly, inefficient) to design a program according to some aims with no consideration of the intended results and impact derived from the activity, and with no anticipation of the expected impact in other dimensions. Of course, as any other human and social activity, there will be changes in the environment and unexpected consequences of the plans that can be hardly accounted for. But, apart from this, the operational timeline of the project may not necessarily coincide with the period in which the results will have an impact, and, if well designed, the project could create the favorable conditions to ensure the sustainability and long term effects of its actions.

MAPSI considers the questions of responsibility of artists towards society and audience

The need to consider and to deal appropriately with the impact of artistic projects is a way to create value for the cultural organizations and for the public programs that often finance cultural programs. How can this be achieved? The design and implementation for art project with societal impact will require dialogue, planning, and accounting for mechanisms to track and evaluate how the value chain of the project evolves.

“The toolbox that an artist or a cultural manager should have to ensure the societal impact of cultural programs would probably contain planning, communication and analytical skills”.

There are a number of specificities in the consideration of societal impact of cultural and artistic projects. First, this involves an extension of number of stakeholders, and will certainly imply a process of dialogue. Second, the design, assessment and evaluation of societal impact require analytical tools that have to be acquired. Last, the figure of who is to lead this process in arts organizations is to be determined, and new professional profiles will emerge as a consequence. From this brief description, it seems reasonable to think that the toolbox that an artist or a cultural manager should have to ensure the societal impact of cultural programs would probably contain planning, communication and analytical skills.

How good are current cultural administrators and creative workers in these matters? Despite the increasing popularity of master degree programs that have proven their quality, a specialization on managing art & society activities would be an efficient way to respond to the identified demand, and still, these projects and activities are often managed by artists or social workers with hardly any managerial knowledge. The current art and cultural management programs, on the other hand, mainly concentrate on providing skills to engage in “art for art’s sake” projects. Last, lifelong learning of cultural managers is still not well grounded in the European universities and training centers, and there is continuous need to acquire new competences and skills.

What is MAPSI about?

Managing Arts Projects with Societal Impact (MAPSI) refers to a specialization in management of artistic projects with societal impact, and aims to create an international network focusing on educating cultural managers and facilitators to manage and mediate artistic and cultural projects with societal impact. MAPSI will integrate the transnational and interdisciplinary fields of art, management and societal impact by developing a novel understanding on the interaction between art and society and increasing the skills and competences of future cultural managers to foster the valuable interface. The project has the financial support of the Lifelong-Learning Programme of the European Commission for the period 2013-2016 (30 months). We hope to foster a community to share ideas, outlines, handouts and teaching materials. The specialization derived from the project will have some degree of modularity, will combine online learning processes with internships and study visits, and will make use of a rich catalogue of case studies that are been written by the research institutions involved in the consortium.

At this point, the two main landmarks of the development of the project have been the MAPSI Summer School (Helsinki, August 2014), and the launch of an international conference on Insights and Tools to manage arts projects with societal impact (to be celebrated in Tallinn, July 2015). The call for papers and proposals for the conference is open till 28th February 2015. The internships modules are to be implemented in a pilot to be done during 2015. We expect that the internship experiences will also contribute to the creation of research and learning material, derived from the critical interpretation and to the know-how accumulated by MAPSI students in the development of their projects in their hosts cultural institutions. Research material will be useful to start describing the new job profiles of cultural managers with specialization on art projects with societal impact. By the end of 2015, the research team will edit a handbook.


All the programmed activities have been informed under two important principles of the MAPSI project: the importance of learning-by-developing, and a multidisciplinary, transnacional and transboundary approach.

The learning-by-developing (LbD) model is built on a development project that is genuinely rooted in the working life, which aims to produce new practises and whose progress requires collaboration between lecturers, students and working life experts. LbD, as successfully implemented by Laurea, melds together the two main functions of universities of applied sciences: professional education (learning) and teaching based on research (developing). This has some advantages for the students, as active learning processes open critical thinking, and enhance an autonomous attitude to acquire new skills in a changing world. But it has also the advantage that it brings many cultural actors and institutions to the center of the project, creating an interesting area for dialogue and for updating the teaching process. Last, teaching is based on research and on the development of new learning environments and materials.

The multidisciplinary, international and transboundary approach is needed for the acquisition and development of skills in many areas. Far from being a catalogue of topics derived from canonical disciplines, such as economics, sociology, social work, art history, educational sciences, etc,… the needs of designing and implementing arts projects with societal impact requires something new that exceeds the mere addition or combination of topics. To ensure impact in any dimension of cultural projects, new specific and transboundary knowledge and competences are required. One of the still unsolved challenges for the professionals of the design and management of cultural projects is how to acquire skills that come from different grounds. In today’s reality, apart from traditional management and artistic skills, transversal skills related to information technologies and to new tools to analyze quantitative and qualitative information are required to ensure the effectiveness of cultural programs.



MAPSI deals with responsibility to create social value and with the skills to implement a complex process that starts with creativity and dialogue. Creativity is required for new ideas, new cultural goods, new experiences and new ways to manage and to communicate those experiences. Dialogue is required to engage audiences, to understand and to give a voice to the people whose lives are going to be affected by cultural intervention, to interact with other social agents that are implementing other types of actions that have an impact in the society. New tools and skills are to be developed in the next years to provide cultural managers with a new way to understand and to address that responsibility.


Credits of the MAPSI images: María Álvarez González