It was about time to have a local learning platform for those interested in cultural management. Known mostly for his advertising background, Stefan Voloaca created LəRN, an educational program for cultural managers, but also for those who are interested in arts. How is this going to work in a country where the arts sector is under-financed and the mecena concept appears not to exist? Business Review talked to Stefan Voloaca to find out more.
By Oana Vasiliu
Why the professional switch to educational programs?
In a way, education was always something that interested me, both conceptually and in applied matters. I come from a background that is more concerned with passing the knowledge to others that any other field of study: most of my colleagues from the Faculty of Philosophy are teaching (or working in advertising, like I did!). Philosophy means literally “love of wisdom”, so we were bound by duty to share it, like in the famous cave story of Plato.
But, that was only the theoretical part. I’ve worked many years in advertising. In the early nineties (and still now, even if in different ways), what we were putting on air, in the TV spots, had an impact on millions of people. You have a sledgehammer in your hand and you could use it to tear down some ideological walls but also you can damage things. You can educate people or you can press the worst buttons, only to sell some detergent.
In recent years, I’ve been more involved in strategy and experiential marketing, I’ve been working as a consultant with Spiru Haret University before so, when the opportunity to build something together presented itself, I was pretty excited to do it.
What is LəRN? How did you come up with the idea for the program?
LəRN is an Advanced Education Platform that aims to bring people from different fields and enable them to share their knowledge. We believe that learning should be a mutual exchange between teacher and student, an open conversation, a process by which skills are passed on. It is an idea that emerged from a group of professionals, with various backgrounds: teaching, entrepreneurship, communication, social innovation and culture. LəRN brings creative learning methods, interactivity, applied study and a direct approach. Our concept (and communication tagline) is Ideas Meeting People.
One of the current global trends is an increasing demand for the professional and personal development courses. From IT security certification courses to social media management workshops, there is a wide range of skills ignored by academic teaching programs, yet unavoidable in today’s working environment or personal life.
The Platform has multiple elements and is structured in modules that build up in synergy. The core and the main drive of LəRN is the ensemble of post-university Training Programs, also known as “short-MBA’s”. We launch this October, with 3 Training Programs: Cultural Management, Social Innovation and Coaching. These are 3 custom-designed programs, meeting the commercial needs of the market, built with highly-qualified teams and in partnerships with foreign universities. Complementing the courses, LəRN will produce video and audio materials, articles and books, with emphasis on digital content: films, lectures, conferences and other dedicated events.
The “announcing” event, the Spring Conferences are designed as a practical and creative introduction to cultural management, by means of a series of meetings with top professionals, both international and local, operating in the field of cultural management, cultural tourism, as well as local entrepreneurs.
Why a private program dedicated to cultural management in Romania?
Because culture is the only way to shift the barriers and move the society forward. There is a lot of talk about the need to change. It’s true and it’s necessary. We believe that everything trickles down from cultural development. And we are not alone. The cultural sector in Romania is thriving, with initiatives from small organisations up to significant involvements from major companies. People start to realise that a society without culture is a society without soul.
LəRN brings a fresh approach to the professional training of managers and leaders from thriving areas of the job market, in an ever-changing world, and one of these areas that need competent managers is culture. It’s not enough to create beautiful ideas, someone has to nurture and steer them towards success. We all love artistic expression, but few of us know about the nuts and bolts that make it possible.
On the local cultural scene, it seems that the connections seem to grow naturally rather than strategically. Agree or disagree? Why?
Everybody knows each other on the local cultural scene!
It’s neither natural, nor strategic … it’s not strategic because there are a few people that really play a part in what’s happening and, however talented and well-meaning they are, that’s not very sustainable on the long term; it’s not natural because we need more “fresh blood”, culture evolves through experiment, innovations and bold statements. It’s like genetics, evolution comes from mixing up DNA. That means more independent players, underground trends, new concepts. Using marketing slang, the cultural scene needs more “push and pull”: the leaders should use their position of power to “pull” up and coming cultural acts; the underground/ independent players should “push” more and look for new ways to reach a broader audience.
I truly believe that the most important connection is not between the cultural actors but it’s the dialogue between a creator and his/her public. If you have something to say, people will listen. And the job of a cultural manager is to facilitate this dialogue.
More and more international art publications mention that the cultural manager should be a global citizen. Is it appropriate for the cultural manager to be a global citizen?
Global citizen, digital nomad, cultural jet-setter, those are just fancy words to express something simple and as old as time: the more you know about the world, the more you can achieve. Roman emperors brought sculptors and architects from Greece, popes scouted painters all over the Christian lands (and not only!). We should learn from each other and we should be open to the “otherness” of different cultures. That being said, it is obvious that the information overload brought upon us by the advent of internet, social media and the poisonous blessing of digital influencers has reached a global scale that makes less and less relevant the geographical location and, to a certain degree, even the local identities. And that is not a very comforting thought for me.
Everyone talks about the problems that the cultural sector has in Romania, both public and private sectors. Which are the greatest/coolest three positive cultural initiatives worth mentioning in the past year?
I will choose to say something that extends beyond the past year. First, a huge boost was given to the cultural area, through the process of selecting the European Capital of Culture. Congratulations to Timișoara 2021, the team really deserves our praise. Furthermore, all the candidate cities had the chance and tools to design a cultural strategy and most of them are committed to implement the programs created. This is why, we involved in our Cultural Management Training Program and Conferences key people from all the four finalist cities, as guests, speakers or even project managers.
2018 was the European Year of Cultural Heritage and I would like to take this opportunity to praise what’s happening in Transylvania, from Viscri to Rimetea, in terms of preserving and bringing the cultural traditions into the spotlight. More and more, the social fabric of the communities becomes stronger and celebrated by locals and tourist from all over the world.
Finally, there is much to be said about the rise of small, independent galleries, in recent years. Through sheer inventiveness, perseverance and quality programming they succeeded in bringing younger, edgier, hungrier artists to an ever growing number of spectators. This is what should drive culture forward in Romania in coming years.
The first module of the program starts on May 11-12 and May 18-19 and it’s organised as a two-weekend event where the classical notion of ‘conference’ is extended to an interaction between lecturer and listener, face-to-face communication, visits to museums, presentation and exploration of some independent cultural spaces and last but not least, pop-up brunches and other meetings with Romanian and foreign guests in social spaces in Bucharest. The event will be followed by a Summer Camp and more follow-up meetings for the attendees.