ACE is a new AFAC special program in partnership with Drosos Foundation, and supported by the German Federal Foreign Office. It fosters a collective space for reflection on sustainability and is designed to inspire, invigorate and strengthen small and medium cultural institutions, based and working in the Arab region, and whose initiatives engage with communities. Twenty-four arts and culture institutions will benefit from three cycles during the period 2018-2021, i.e. eight per cycle. ACE comprises entrepreneurship training and mentoring components, as well as an incentive grant for the participating institutions to implement an innovation activity aimed at improving their institutional resilience. The novelty of ACE is that it is experimental, far-reaching and encourages learning from other sectors. It focuses on inspirational case studies, and intends to share best practices and experiences mainly South-South, and to share findings using an on-line interactive platform that benefits many other institutions not directly participating in the program. The program provides an opportunity for these institutions to re-examine their mission in light of a rapidly-changing globalized world; re-assess their relevance to their audiences and stakeholders; get inspired by peer institutions in other sectors and geographies facing the same challenges and opportunities; and finally to acquire new skills and capacities to improve their long-term sustainability.
The program is conceived as an experiment in “learning and doing” crafted and delivered by a group of specialists from the culture sector and beyond, that will continue to evolve in content throughout its planned three-year duration. ACE workshops’ modules include strategy, communications and fundraising; learning from leaders in microfinance, social media and entrepreneurship; case studies from peer institutions in Africa, the Indian sub-continent and South America; as well as reflections on global themes of inequality, technology and ethics. Each cycle spans one year and benefits eight arts and culture institutions. The director and deputy director of the respective institutions participate in the 12-month program that includes three workshops as well as mentorship and follow-up in-between. Participants will additionally be supported with a grant of $25,000 to fund a specific innovation activity, inspired by the program, to strengthen the organization’s sustainability.
Arts and culture institutions in the Arab region operate in an increasingly challenging environment. Dependency on any one type of support be it state, corporation, foundations or individuals, comes with potential pressure and risks. In cases where regulations are strict on institutions, many cannot make ends meet, let alone achieve their full potential. Few have opportunities to take time to reflect on their development and to re-invent themselves, further undermining their sustainability. With funding for arts and culture generally decreasing in this sector, and with the inevitable changes in the funding landscape, arts and culture institutions need to continuously adapt by thinking out of the box and diversifying their sources of funding.
One of the recommendations that came out of the ten years’ study in 2017 on AFAC was to consider supporting institutional resilience of cultural organisations. With its own track record in supporting arts and culture and identifying innovative sustainability approaches, AFAC is committed to take the lead on supporting a community of practitioners in their quest to revisit their raison d'être in order to remain relevant to the communities they address, and to develop more sustained operations that generate artistic and public value, and to be able to effectively communicate the impact of their initiatives.
As arts and culture institutions, we are public benefit entities with much to be proud of and with a profusion of questions that keep us on our toes. What is the value we generate? What is the social impact we create and for whom? How can we remain relevant and connected to our communities? How is what we do locally linked to global efforts for sustainable development? What can we learn from practitioners in different contexts and sectors? What kind of stories do we tell of our work and with what tools? How do we mobilize individuals, corporations and institutions in innovative ways to invest in arts and culture in our region? What are ethical considerations related to sources of funding? How adaptive is our leadership to espouse an entrepreneurial spirit? How do we inspire ourselves to innovate and what are our priorities? How can we work with a public and non-profit sector that aims to be as efficient as the private sector, and a private sector that tries to be socially-minded? What other aspects should we be busy with?
These are some of the queries that the Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship (ACE) program will unravel.
Selection Process and Criteria
ACE is a curated program and the process of application is through nomination. For the first cycle, 29 nominators were involved, both individual and institutions, with wide knowledge of arts and culture institutions in the Arab region. AFAC received 82 nominations, out of which 7 were recommended more than once, so there were in total 73 distinct institutions nominated. Out of those that AFAC contacted to apply to ACE, 48 institutions expressed interest and a total of 39 effectively submitted their applications. The jury selected 8 final candidates.
The three jury members who deliberated on the final selection for this first cycle of ACE were Khadija El Bennaoui (Morocco), Ahmed El Attar (Egypt) and Mokhtar Kokache (Lebanon/Syria). Rich discussions among the jurors reflected their focus on prioritizing those institutions that stood the highest chance to benefit from the opportunity that ACE offered and have existing or the potential for wider social impact. The two key criteria for selection were:
role or potential role they play within the arts and culture sector;
community engagement and reputation;
how internal reflections on challenges and priorities are linked to the ACE program in terms of modules and spirit;
the extent to which the institution will benefit from the program; and
experience and stage of development;
calibre of the management team;
their willingness to think outside the box;
how motivated and able they are to experiment with new tools and entrepreneurial approaches.
ACE Cycle 3 First Workshop | Virtual |8 February - 1 March 2021
The first workshop of the third ACE cycle occurred virtually in a relaxed schedule between 8 February and 1 March, 2021. In this introductory series of sessions, participants presented their organizations and their work, exchanged and reflected about their contexts, narratives, successes and challenges. Accompanied by specialists and mentors as well as by experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences from Egypt, Kenya, India, the United States and Lebanon, participants were exposed to a plethora of ideas, such as design thinking practices, techniques of storytelling, the design of effective communications strategies, and the basics of financial resilience. Additionally, they explored important questions related to the positioning and value of their work, and learned about organization-specific and country-wide approaches to cultural sustainability and independence.
ACE Workshop 1 – Presentations and Reference Material
The Context – Oussama Rifahi
COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill. Not only are the health and lives of populations in danger; the sharply reduced economic activity is also threatening livelihoods and exacerbating inequalities between countries and social classes. The news headlines both regionally and internationally unfurl one outrageous story after another, but buried between cataclysmic events are wonderful stories of solidarity, the promise of more conscious communities and a resurgence of visionary thought leaders. What are the major forces shaping our world today and tomorrow? Are the principles and values that we believe in personally and that are at the core of the work of our institutions, unchanged? Are we still relevant to our communities and audiences as cultural actors, in times where our outreach is confined to the digital? Where do we allocate the diminished resources at our disposal to foster the mission of our institutions? What are the skills and attitudes needed for the cultural leaders of the future?
Design Thinking – Nadia Roumani
This session, the first in a series of three to be delivered throughout the program’s duration, aims to guide participants on how to apply human-centered design methods, mindsets and behaviors, to a program they are looking to launch or redesign in the coming year. It also includes a number of case studies to answer the following questions: who are we specifically designing for? What need are we addressing, or emotion are we trying to illicit? How might we generate several exciting ways to achieve that goal?
Positioning and Value – Moukhtar Kocache
In an increasingly discordant and competitive cultural and civil society landscape, how can arts and culture organizations better position themselves and describe their missions? How can that process help them be more strategic about their energies, to secure increased social and financial stability? For a variety of reasons, both intrinsic and extrinsic, the arts and cultural sector falls short of proving its value in a way that can be understood by funders, recipients and the public at large. What are some of the categories, strategies and methodologies that can help artists and cultural leaders better outline their contributions and value to the “public good”? What are the misconceptions, opportunities and pitfalls of increased specificity, measurement, evaluation and classifications in the arts and culture sector?
Storytelling – Rob Burnet
The world we live in is constituted of stories. The stories we tell define our history. They illustrate how we make sense of the present, and they have the power to determine our future. Storytelling is the oldest art-form, and when used carefully, it can change the world. We will discover the 6 Essential Stories that will help us change the world, and find out what is the science behind them. We will create the 6 essential stories that every mission-driven individual and organization need for success – to organize clearly their thinking and their mission, so they can readily and concisely present the key essence of their work. Participants will each define their own stories, refining and testing them with the group. Moreover, to illustrate the process, and unpack the power of their essential stories, we will learn about a story from East Africa that is reaching and transforming the lives of 10 million young people; how it is created and how science and data have merged with creativity and insight to generate positive change at a huge scale.
Communications 1 | Positioning – Hatem Imam / Studio Safar
The first in a series of three sessions focusing on communications, this session explores the main principles and tools that are at the heart of a solid and successful communications strategy, and how this helps improve performance and outreach. It also focuses on the importance of “positioning” and why it is crucial to define it at the early stages of a strategy. The session aims to formulate a positioning statement for organizations and reflect on audiences and goals as an integral part of the positioning process.
Gearing Towards Financial Resilience – Amany Alhadka
In times like these, financial resilience is critical to organizations’ sustainability and stability. Organizations with greater financial resilience are able to pivot and respond to the crises while creating a space for future looking and conducting scenario planning. How can we become more financially resilient as an organization? What are the building blocks and elements that need to be in place in order to achieve this? In this session, we will cover some of the core elements of strategic finance, including the concept of true program cost and core mission support; we will learn how a strategic budgeting approach can strengthen the organization’s financial management capacities and enable it to develop different scenarios. We will also cover income diversification and learn more about its pre-requisites, different sources of financial inflows and some of the new trends in financing organizations. We will also explore how and by whom this is conducted within organizations’ teams and governance.
India at the Edge: Building Solidarities and Mobilizing Resources – Arundhati Ghosh
This session will take you through the context within which the arts and culture community in India survives and thrives. Over the past decade, there have been many shifts in the country – economic, political, social and technological. The session will attempt to analyze the impact of these changes on the environment, and the ways in which arts and culture practitioners, as individuals and collectives, are building solidarities and sustainability. Through examples from a diverse range of artistic practices, it will also raise the questions, concerns and challenges that the sector is encountering in the current milieu, and how cultural practices are disrupting oppressive powers. We will also learn about the work of the India Foundation for the Arts, and the dynamics of resourcing the arts and culture sector in the country.
How to Build, While We Work – Lina Attalah
In this workshop, we will listen to the story of Mada Masr, and learn about the two aspects of retention they are focusing on: talent retention through some of their Human Resources approaches (including some newly crafted thoughts on work in light of the pandemic) and audience retention through audience building mechanisms. What type of content - including cultural work - do they offer, and how do they strategize for it every year - with the past exceptional year as particular backdrop?
We will also discover how they connect these two aspects of retention to their sustainability model, engaging on what they should not take for granted in the developmental funding arena, and on possible ways to generate income.