AAAE Board President Ximena Varela Addresses 2020 ENCATC Congress

by Lee Ann Adams

Remarks prepared for the 2020 ENCATC Congress November 3, 2020

Ximena Varela

Thank you Gianna Lia for your very kind introduction. Thank you Francesca and Jan for your very warm welcome tothis congress.

Mr. Morikawa, Madame Verheyen, I am so honored to be sharing this panel with you. Hello everyone joining ustoday, hello friends.

I am so grateful for the invitation to be here, and for the opportunity to say a few words at the beginning of this very importantgathering. Given the isolation we have been enduring for these many months, opportunities to come together and share ideasand fellowship are particularly precious.

My name is Ximena Varela, and I am the Program Director of the Master’s in Arts Management at American University inWashington, DC. I am here in my role as President of the Association of Arts Administration Educators, also known as AAAE, based in the United States but with members around the globe, representing the world’s leading arts administration programs, all training and equipping students in arts leadership, management, entrepreneurship, cultural policy, and more. Our close relationship as ENCATC partners has allowed us to build bridges across Europe, and to expand ourunderstanding of what arts and cultural management mean in and to the world.

And it is about this that I would like to speak to you today: the fundamental role of cultural management as a the engine thatdrives the possibility of connection between artist and artist, between artists and audiences, and between all people. Thestory of arts management is the story of connection, creativity, and constancy – it is the story of overcoming difference, resisting darkness, building the present and the future.


Not too long ago I had the opportunity to visit a school to tell children about cultural management. I asked the children,who were all between 10 and 11 years old, to think about creating a play together. I asked them to raise their hands if they likedto draw. I chose a few and told them they would be in charge of creating the sets and costumes for our fictional play. I then askedwho in the class were musicians, and told those children they would be in charge of the music for this fictional play. Then I askedwho the actors and dancers were, and did the same with them. I gave them all few minutes to think about what kind of showthey would put on.

While they were discussing this, I asked the rest of the children, about half of the class, what we could do to make sure that peoplewould come to see this fictional play. How would we get the word out? How would we be able to pay for the paint and thecostumes and the work? Where would they find or raise the money? What kinds of rules were in place about the kinds of plays they could put on stage and where? The children grasped very quickly that these functions known to us marketing,fundraising, cultural policy analysis were fundamental in order to make the play possible in the first place, and then toconnect it to an audience.

“You,” I told them, “are the cultural managers. And without you, the art your classmates create is going to stay in a very, very limited circle, if it can exist at all.” You can imagine how important they all felt.

I am pleased to say that when I left that classroom there were far more exited incipient arts managers than there were artists,although those will always be there. More on that in a moment.

Cultural managers connect. They connect artists to audiences, resources to artists, projects to supporters, donors to causes.They are at the hub of a constantly rotating wheel between civil society, business, governments, and ideas. Cultural managershave eyes open to opportunity, they are practical and imaginative, they are both dreamers and doers. Cultural managementis rarely a peaceful endeavor, but its rhythms and reinventions make many of our connections to peace and to beautypossible.

Which brings me to….


One of the themes of this congress is “navigating uncertainty,” and there is no question that right now so many of us are flyingblind AND also building the airplane while we fly it. But as Victor Hugo once said, Le bonheur est parfois caché dansl’inconnu – happiness is sometimes hidden within the unknown.

During this pandemic museums, theatres, musicians, dancers, artists of all kinds around the world have seen theirlivelihoods threatened or taken away, and we have witnessed how cultural managers have innovated in thinking about theways that the arts are supported, and how the arts and artists connect to audiences. The digital revolution that had eludedmany organizations has now become an undeniable necessity, bringing them suddenly and without mercy into a post-digital 21st century world.

Together with profound acts of compassion we have seen, and are continuing to see, fascinating instances ofcooperation and innovation, as the world’s cultural managers begin to create their own new rules within the vacuum left byuncertainty. It is thus not only the artists, but the cultural managers (many of whom are artists in their own rights) who find in this moment both the opportunity and the necessity to innovate as they face multiple existential threats. And they arerising to the challenge, again and again.

Which brings me to a third feature of cultural management, which is…


I suspect we are going to hear many times during this congress that we live in extraordinary times. We do. But extraordinarytimes are not necessarily unique times. You see, we have been here before: social inequality, the devastating effects ofclimate change, a pandemic raging out of control or near enough to, anti-Semitism and intolerance on the rise, sharplydiverging public attitudes towards solidarity, suffering and darkness on a massive scale: this is where we were nearly 700 yearsago, as the Black Death ravaged Europe. This is also where we were 500 years ago, as disease, genocide and white supremacycame close to destroying the New World almost as soon as it was imagined. And we have encountered other horrors and otherdevastation in our much more recent shared histories.

But here is the thing: in all of these darkest of moments, what has persisted, what would not die, what kept finding its way andits language and its space, over and over and over, were arts and culture. From the York Mystery Plays in Northern England, tothe syncretized Baroque cathedrals of Brazil, arts and culture, and cultural expression, would not, could not, did not stop.

Today is election day in the United States, quite possibly one of the most important elections in this country’s modern history; anelection whose repercussions will be felt around the world.

No matter what the outcome, artists and cultural managers will be constant in their work to connect, to create, to endure and change the world. On behalf of my colleagues at the Association of Arts Administration Educators, I extend aninvitation to connect, to be constant, and to create together.

I leave you with the words of James Elroy Flecker, who wrote the lovely “To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence.” Flecker knewthat no matter what, art, and poetry, and music, and the people who make them would endure:


Since I can never see your face

And never shake you by the hand

I send my words through time and space

To greet you – you will understand.


Thank you.

Ximena Varela

President, Association of Arts Administration Educators

Associate Professor and Program Director of Arts Management – American University [email protected]