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October 12 2016


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As part of Arterial Network’s role to bring together and showcase the work of cultural practitioners in our network, we have launched a new interview portion of our monthly newsletter. This month, we spoke to Jean-Luc Gbati Sonhaye, the principal trainer for Arterial Network's Cultural Management programme in Togo.

ARTERIAL NETWORK: Please tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you come to work in the Arts and Cultural sector?

Jean-Luc Gbati Sonhaye: I joined the arts and cultural sector through a series of fortunate circumstances. After my experience working in a law firm and after two unsuccessful attempts at the entrance exam to the Professional Lawyer's Certificate (CAPA), I offered my services as a Legal Adviser to a German-Togolese cultural organisation based in Lomé, and, as the saying goes, the appetite comes with eating. Over the years, I discovered that I had a passion for the arts and cultural game. My first real entry into the arts and cultural sector came through Mr. AGBO Komlan, the current Director of Heritage in the UEMOA, who believed in my potential and motives early on, and helped me to get a scholarship for a specialisation in Management in Cultural Industries at the University of Senghor in Alexandria, Egypt. Since then, my perspective as a business lawyer on the artistic and cultural world has allowed me to have a particular understanding of the sector and a special position vis-à-vis different situations inherent in cultural management. Now, I am a director of several cultural institutions in Lomé (Togo) and an active member in several cultural networks, both nationally and internationally.

Can you tell our readers a bit more about the Cultural Management programme pilot in Togo? How did you come to be one of Arterial Network's trainers in Togo?

The Cultural Management programme is the most ambitious and most practical programme ever undertaken in Togo by Arterial Network. Inspired by the vision of Arterial Network, the aim is to contribute to the professionalisation of African players in the cultural and creative sector through training in a practical, efficient, fast and focused methodology, looking at specific skills of cultural management. For 2016, Arterial Network Togo chose to develop the Cultural Management programme around the work of the project management-focused Aid Fund for Culture (FAC) in Togo. Arterial Network Togo has been able to train twenty participants, and then support and follow them through individualised coaching to enable them to develop good projects and submit them in a good condition to the FCC to maximise the chances of being funded.

For my part, I became a trainer for this programme in order to share my expertise and to propose my candidature for the national Steering Committee of Arterial Network Togo. I have pretty solid experience in research of technical training and financing responses to calls for proposals (fundraising), with a specialty in training for professionals in the arts and cultural sector. To this end, I have the opportunity to combine theory and practical experience, both personally and professionally as a specialist practitioner in fundraising. This is expertise that I gladly share with several cultural companies and organisations in Togo and Africa.

What are some of the participants' main weaknesses that you've identified? How do you feel the Cultural Management programme has helped?

The main weaknesses identified in the participants have been, among others:
- a low academic level. As part of the cultural management programme 2016, we selected, among other criteria, the minimum level of a high school certificate. But unfortunately, of the hundred applications we received, only 35% fulfilled this condition. In this case, a minimum academic level is required to enable the cultural operator to understand and master the principles and discourse pertaining to the arts and cultural sector;
- an insufficient or complete lack of professional training in cultural and artistic material. Indeed, few participants had actually received professional training in the arts and culture so they are sorely lacking the basic prerequisites;
- a lack of control when it comes to cultural art projects (editing techniques, responses to calls for projects, research funding etc) is the biggest weakness of the majority of participants.

The greatest feature of the Cultural Management programme has been to take into account these identified weaknesses and try to propose a training model based around them. The programme, as developed in Togo, is based on self-knowledge, practice and interactivity.

The methodology based on practice in real-time has enabled each participant to register the skills in his or her own professional environment to get the best results in terms of motivation and responsiveness. The interactivity also allowed each participant to share their own personal experiences and feel like a contributor to the overall success of the workshop.

What advice or tips would you give to Cultural Management trainers in other countries who are looking to strengthen their skills? And what tips or advice would you give to trainees?

When it comes to the work of the trainer in the Cultural Management programme, they should mainly base their instruction on the real problems experienced by the trainees in order to really focus the discussions around professional realities. This requires that the trainer should have a solid working knowledge of the arts and culture sector in Africa in general (stemming from a comfortable level of experience in the field to be used as a reference), as well as specific areas of expertise that can assist the trainees. The content of the workshops must not waste too much time on theory because the arts and culture is mainly a practical area. If exploring mostly theory, the trainee is more likely to become bored and nothing is more disastrous than a bored artist. Accordingly, the training workshops should stick to the basic rule of thumb: 30% theory (mainly applied theory) and 70% practical (based on case studies and sharing of professional experiences).

With regards to the trainees themselves, it is imperative to remain malleable during training. This extends to giving as much as they receive during the workshop, and to not hesitate when it comes to sharing personal experiences, whether they be challenges, successes or failures.

What would you say is the added value of Arterial Network within African arts and cultural sectors?

It is no longer a doubt that Arterial Network is currently the largest and most dynamic network of cultural practitioners in Africa. This unique position confers certain privileges, although it also comes with huge logistical challenges. In practice, Arterial Network ensures that African professionals in the creative sector have a united representative within the continent and internationally.

Interviewer: Marie-Louise Rouget, Arterial Network

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