Accelerator Today Podcast – Guest Ruxandra Miuți: About art, cultural mediation and innovation – a visionary talk about feasible solutions for the cultural field.

October 15, 2023

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Ruxandra Miuți has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, an MBA and specialisations in marketing, monitoring smart specialisation strategies and circular economy.  She has been involved as an expert or consultant in projects in various fields, from digital technologies to creative and cultural industries, having contributed to the adoption of innovation in cultural project concepts. In ACCELERATOR project, she carried out the study UNVEILING PERSPECTIVES: EXPLORING THE BOUNDARIES OF CONTEMPORARY VISUAL ART, a survey of artistic practices in European visual arts. Currently, Ruxandra is Innovation Manager at Green Digital Innovation Hub.

Andrei Breahnă: Tell us a few things about yourself. How did the encounter with cultural projects happen?

Ruxandra Miuți: My meeting with cultural projects was random, but followed by love at first sight. I am a technically trained person, but I am a humanist as structure and I have always been attracted by cultural projects. Given that I started my career in a different area, I was very happy when I came across cultural projects and I was able to use my knowledge from the other field to support them. For me, it is always a joy to see that, although I was not the main character, the actor on the stage, things happened because I contributed to them.

Andrei Breahnă: However, apart from the fact that there is not much funding in this public arena, we, in the cultural field, do not receive direct subsidies from the state, so practically all the funding we have obtained has been based on competitions which, in general, have a lot of participants. At least people in the arts know about AFCN – the most important institution in Romania that provides funding for the visual arts. In our field, the funding through the EEA Grants, implemented through the Project Management Unit at the Ministry of Culture – and we take advantage of this occasion to greet them, was a game-changer that gave us a whole new dimension. That is being able to implement a 24 months’ project takes you out of this, let’s say, precariousness state, because, in fact, to roll-out a continuous activity you need adequate funding. As far as Accelerator is concerned, it was a fantastic opportunity for us, because we created a scalable project. For those of you listening who are from outside the cultural field, you should know that, in general, cultural projects, exhibitions or other projects in the visual arts are not scalable. Most of the time they are projects that start, end and then you basically have to start again from scratch. This creates a certain difficulty in running continuously. With the Accelerator project, we can already say that we got two more grants and I’m interested to know how you saw the project and how you see its impact?

Ruxandra Miuți: This is one of the hardest projects I have ever been involved in, because although, if we talk about the cultural projects arena, it got a lot of funding compared to the amounts that are generally granted, it was an ambitious project that also set out to achieve results on multiple layers and, in truth, the budget it had was not that generous for the previously-set ambitions, therefore a lot of human effort had to step in. Now, we are almost at the end of the project and I am glad that pretty much all the milestones have been achieved.

Apart from the fact that the project generated two other projects, it generated cultural products. I think that’s a very important thing, because we know what it means to be in a very volatile market, where it is hard to shape a cultural product. Accelerator project has done that. Cultural products are what validate a team’s effort – in the market. I say that from a marketing perspective, and cultural products are what secure the next funding for the organisation.

In Accelerator and in the open call for funding, one focal point was on innovation, but we have difficulties in defining innovation. Innovation comes hand in hand with digital transformation, which is still not very well understood. I mentioned this because you said that cultural organisations have access to a smaller number of funding open calls. If they also moved towards digitisation, it would expand the projects they can apply for because there is European funding that focuses on culture in the context of digitisation and which is very little known in our country.

Andrei Breahnă: Indeed, during the pandemic, there was a strong effort from everyone to be present and survive, to do online exhibitions or other online events. After the pandemic, we went back to a business as usual mindset and then, indeed, this innovative process was not carried through. Maybe it is indeed a missed opportunity. Or maybe it’s also a very big inertia in the industry.
The CEO of one of the world’s leading galleries, Pace Gallery, which is already a corporation, said that in the next ten years the art market and the art ecosystem will not look like the current art ecosystem, which, for the most part, looks like it has for the last 100 years, and that we will go to other models. We don’t know what those models are yet, but clearly we need to explore other funding opportunities to be able to move out of the traditional focus.

Ruxandra Miuți: Beyond funding, there is also the need to position ourselves and we can say that we don’t know what the direction is. This is an advantage, because we can create this direction. The world is open and I would say maybe we are back to what we knew before the pandemic. But I think that, somewhere in our mind, it has stayed with us that it was easier for us to do certain things or that we reached a wider audience using certain tools; and, beyond the excitement of being able to go back to our old life, there will come a time when we remember that certain tools make our lives easier and, why not, they can even intervene in the creative process. In the case of our project, we will immediately enter the sustainability stage And the capability to invest in keeping certain products in the public eye will be visibly eased if we use digital for that.

Andrei Breahnă: I would like to come back and challenge you, as an art consumer, and ask you what you think the role of contemporary art is in society? Why exactly should stakeholders fund this field, in terms of impact, let’s say?

Ruxandra Miuți: I did a study at one point, also in the area of innovation. At that time, I was doing a research to discover something called “areas of smart specialization in Bucharest” and I discovered a very interesting thing that answers your question. I identified an interesting trait of cities, in Bucharest and now Cluj, Timisoara, Iasi, Brasov are catching up. We know very well that, in the last decades, the economy of the city has been developing on services and this brings with it a development of the creative and cultural industries, especially the artistic field. Because in the city, there are people who, after leaving their jobs, where they do the services they do, need to do something else with their lives. A compensation. And this audience is a consumer of culture and arts. So there’s a pattern of cities where services develop. From the latter comes art and I think Bucharest is still just beginning to feel what that means. We are already seeing festivals at the same time, we are seeing more and more private exhibitions, we are seeing that the public is starting not only to understand, but to seek artistic experiences, interaction with art. I mean, go to a museum, or looking at a painting is no longer enough.

Andrei Breahnă: This brings us to the issue of cultural mediation. In our project we focused a lot on cultural mediation. How do you think the cultural field, which otherwise seems to be quite closed, should reach the public? What could be the mechanisms to reach this audience, which you say exists?

Ruxandra Miuți: Cultural mediation is very little known and widespread in our country. And we, in the project, have made efforts to explain what we do through the mediation process and why it is necessary. There is an emphasis everywhere on storytelling, and storytelling is a tool. Someone is using storytelling. Who does this stuff? The cultural mediator does that. Cultural mediators are the bridge between the creative process and the art consumer. Even though we don’t have a school at the moment, they can be people from other professions, who can come with a specialisation in a certain field and they can do that, they just have to want to and understand that it’s a very rewarding job, because it’s a profession.

Andrei Breahnă: Last year I went to a biennial called Manifesta in Pristina, Kosovo, where I had the opportunity to meet the curator of this biennial who gave me her business card and it didn’t say curator, it said creative cultural mediator. I was very interested in this because the identity of curator is very strong in the art system and it worked as a very strong leverage and power. I say this in relation to how the discourse, the narrative of the art phenomenon has evolved. The role of biennials is to activate the city in which they take place. I asked her why she wrote that and she clearly explained that her role was not only about choosing artists, but, at the same time, about looking at places, seeing what communities are there and how exactly art and communities can be connected.

Ruxandra Miuți: When the market is moving in a certain direction, automatically the right decisions will be made in academia as well. Two things I have to add to what you have told. You once used the term activation. Activation is exactly what I was saying is happening in cities that are developing on services – so activating communities and engaging those communities in arts and culture. That’s what happens under the umbrella of the term activation. And related to what you were saying on that business card: there’s a concept that also comes from the technology area, first used by Apple’s founders, that we experimented with in another project and it worked very well. It’s about using Design-Thinking methodology in the creation of cultural product. It’s quite difficult to put this process into a project that is proposed for funding, because the application requires a concreteness that is hard to achieve from the beginning, but it is something that can be done successfully.

What is Design-Thinking? It means that when you set out, you don’t necessarily know what you will end up with at the end of the project. But it always results in something that exceeds expectations.

Andrei Breahnă: I suggest we talk about impact and results. You have a wide experience, including in the area of project evaluation and you saw a lot of projects before we started working together. How should we look at in terms of a project outcome? What would be the learning from a project like Accelerator?

Ruxandra Miuți: You asked me several questions in one, because if I were to answer from the perspective of someone who has evaluated projects, the evaluator looks for round projects that open and close with something tangible. We know that when we define cultural products, often we have to have a physical product to consider that we have achieved that requirement.

I’m coming out of this area and saying that in implementation things don’t look like that. As you said, the results start to show after a while. There’s that impact that maybe is hard to monetize at the time of writing, in T Zero, when you’re writing the initial draft, but the snowball effect is showing up, and that’s confirmed in what you said, in a higher number of applications in the open call for artists. I think what we lack – and here I’m talking in general about people involved in cultural projects – is the patience to see results and that comes with the desire to solve all the problems of the field in one project. I have seen projects in countries other than Romania and I think it is good to learn from what others are doing well. We too should learn and be more patient, not run and walk in more measured steps.