Cultural Engineering Group

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A review of Cultural engineering / 1

Many questions we are asked from out of France in this blog are about defining cultural engineering. In order to bring you the most accurate description and analysis of this concept, we have asked Sacha Kagan*, one of our new members, to allow us to post a text he has published in 2004 : A review of Claude Mollard’s ‘Cultural engineering’, based on L’ingénierie culturelle, 2e édition corrigée, Presses Universitaires de France, 1999 (1st edition in 1994) {128 p.} and Profession ingénieur culturel, Manifeste pour une nouvelle manière de penser l’action culturelle ou ABCD, deux ans après, 2e édition augmentée, Editions Charles Le Bouil, 1989 (1st edition in 1987) {176 p.}.

Sacha Kagan gives an exciting panorama of the concept’s origins and we are delighted and honoured to publish it on Cultural Engineering Group’s Blog.

Introduction: how to situate cultural engineering

As will be seen in details below, Mollard’s cultural engineering is an authentic personal concept of its author, freely moving between arts administration and arts management, ambiguously combining notions of cultural policy, of artistic programming and of technical realisation… and continuously intertwining the arts and cultural industries in his analysis.

Mollard is very consistent in one thing across his books: the definition of cultural engineering. “Cultural engineering is the ability to bring optimal solutions, in terms of quality, costs and delays, to the demand from partners in cultural life: [demand] in terms of goalsetting, programming, fund-raising and technical realization of projects.”

Cultural engineering is compatible with the concept of cultural management, if cultural management is not defined as ‘gestion’ (the administration of things, a mere technique), but as “the art of directing projects from the original concept to its final realization.”

After having flown over the work of Mollard, we will come back to this issue of the relationship between cultural engineering and the traditional concept of arts management…  in the conclusion of this review.

First, we will explore Mollard’s view of the cultural field (and especially his praise of the cultural market), which draws the frame and determines the orientation of his cultural engineering. This will allow, in a second step, to gain a closer understanding of the discipline of cultural engineering. Finally, we will see how cultural engineering contributes to the cultural market.[1]

But before all that, the birth of ‘cultural engineering’ needs to be put back in its French context:

Between 1971 and 1973, Jacques Duhamel is Minister of Culture (coming from the ministry of Finance). Even before, in 1969 was created the FIC (Fonds d’intervention culturelle) – of which Mollard claims to have written the concept himself. He claims having been the first to use the words of ‘cultural management’ in a French official policy-document.

The FIC and the Centre Pompidou [2] were original and autonomous laboratories for social and cultural experiments around the concepts of ‘the transversal’, ‘the inter-disciplinary’, “participation, transparency, innovation, local action, decentralisation”, ‘associative action’ (NPOs, the 3rd sector/sphere), “technological innovation, democratisation, social-educative action, sensitization” of the public and ‘integrated facilities’. This reform movement marked a clear contrast to the former institutional, sector-related and patrimonial cultural policy.

The main innovation of the FIC was to institutionalize systematic cross-financing. It also “expressed a new type of behavior [around] the spirit of project management”. The employees of the FIC were recruited on the basis of de-partitioning (unlike regular civil servants). Some were historians, sociologists or economists.

In 1981, Mollard created the FRAC (fonds régionaux d’art contemporain), FRAM (fonds régionaux d’achats des musées) and FIACRE (fonds d’incitation a la création), new funds which according to him “allowed to attenuate the principle of rigid funding of determined purposes”, with thus a more flexible management process, more compatible with the needs of the cultural sector and going across the vertical divisions of the ministry of culture.

The Jack Lang era had an enormous impact on the French cultural sector: Investment effect: Doubling the budget of the ministry of culture (in 10 years) pushed forward local levels of government to multiply their cultural budgets by 3 and brought about a need for more stringent budgetary control, goal-setting and control of results. Bandwagon effect: around the ‘grands projets’ and their regional equivalents, examples which fostered the creation of other cultural facilities. “More diversified, the cultural field becomes more entrepreneurial too”.

Decentralization effect: efforts to palliate the heavy concentration of cultural infrastructures in Paris (conventions between the State and regions/cities [3]). ‘Médiatisation’ effect: The so-called Lang method consisted in engaging contracts primarily with motivated partners [4]. “The stress is put on initiative, communication and feast [with] cultural communication as a tool for the global development of a city or a region”. The policy is oriented on offer rather than demand.

In 1986, Mollard leaves the ministry of Culture, creates the private cultural agency ABCD together with a private school of arts management (Institut Supérieur du Management Culturel) and creates the concept of cultural engineering.

1.The cultural field in Mollard’s view

A. The cultural system

The author quotes the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur: “Society as a network of institutions is primarily a large goods-distribution system.” In the system of arts and culture, the artist is at the heart. But what are his role and his power ? To understand this context, Mollard explores the properties of the “cultural system”…

A game of 4 families: a power-game is played between the artist and his/her partners: publics, decisionmakers, mediators (the State being present among both decision-makers and mediators). [see figure 2 from Mollard 1999] This game is structured by two axes: artists and publics play together; decision-makers and mediators come into play upon that first axis…

Artistic system and cultural system: the artistic system: there is no artist without an audience, and there would not be much cultural activities without artistic production. Yet in the context of large modern societies, this axis is integrated into a market. The cultural system: It intervenes upon the previous one, in the context of modern market societies. Mediators are a kind of privileged public passing judgment on artists and shaping legitimate taste and interpretations for art. Decision-makers hold political and financial power and give a social dimension to artistic creation. It is on this axis that cultural policy and ‘cultural development’ [5] are based. Through these inter-relations, the cultural field expands and involves new professions, such as cultural engineering.

The rules of the cultural system: [see figure 3 from Molard 1999] : The cultural hyperbole: The growth in sheer numbers of the publics of culture pushes towards the commoditization and hyper-communication of artistic creations: the public is both client (this fosters reproduction and profitability), voter (for whom the cultural policy organizes both seduction and education and tries to create unanimity), and target for communication (to foster adhesion to values and mere fashions).

The sanction of demand on offer: The public can refuse an artistic production and drive it into financial, political and image deficit.

From artistic creation to cultural production: the process is more and more collective, involving many different actors. Creation becomes an act of enterprise. The share of the creator is reduced to an author’s right (this loss is compensated by the exaggerate ‘médiatisation[6]’ of the artist).

Dialectic creation: There are 2 radical reactions to this market, exaggerated massproduction or entrenched elite-practices. To escape from commoditization, the artist creates new, ever more esoteric art, striving for distinction (à la Bourdieu) in a dialectic process that both fosters artistic renewal and the acculturation of the public.

The accumulation of heritage: The cultural system transforms creation into memory. It gives heritage a central place (through devoting budgets and referencing constantly to it) and vests established values through it.

The most successful players are often those who establish themselves in more than one of the four families. Those who remain isolated from the 3 other families and ignore or mistake the rules governing the relationships between the 4 families, are doomed to marginality.

The publics are structured in a diamond shape [see figure 7 from Mollard 1999]: about 10% of the population has regular and diversified cultural practices, while at the other end about 50% of the population have no cultural practices apart from some consumption of mass-products of the cultural industries (mainly television, and to a lesser extent music and cinema).

B. The cultural market

The cultural system is characterized by a mixed economy: it is a tempered market (public operators keep non-profitable cultural productions running; Mollard mentions the Baumol cost-disease; besides, public policy compensates for the effects of the concentration of cultural industries) [see figure 9 from Mollard 1999: a pyramid of public spending per art-form, including some cultural industries]. It is an expanding market (positive perspectives with the development of higher education, improvement of life-standards and increasing proportion of household spending on cultural consumptions, increased leisure-time), yet mostly absorbed by audiovisual cultural industries and still marked by strong inequalities in cultural practices and generationphenomena of path dependence. Nevertheless, the increased home-consumption of culture does not lead to a decline of outdoor cultural activities.

It is a fragile market: On one side, mass-production of cultural products fostered by an acceleration of reproducibility and the development of new technologies. On the other side, unique artistic products radically different from the first, with very elastic prices and vivid speculation. Besides, some cultural services will never be profitable and thus could not be abandoned by the State, being unable to survive their commoditization.

It hosts new markets: First, with new audiovisual technologies [Mollard includes digital technologies in here!] which widen cultural offer, make it more accessible and foster new practices (virtual museums, music downloading). “The screen culture provokes a profound modification of the relationship between the individual and the work of art.”

Secondly, design and industrial aesthetics contribute to the making of taste and illustrate the renewed importance of aesthetics in everyday life. “The mass-development of industrial design encourages a real democratization of cultural practices.” A third market lies in the development of scenography for various events (animation of monuments, organization of multimedia performances, etc.).

It is an original market where offer of cultural products and services is both uncertain (subjected to unpredictable innovations and to the twists and turns of fashion) and directional (creating demand rather than responding to it), while demand is increasing (yet less than expected) and mobile (being highly subjective and affective).

The cultural system is served by the cultural market: ff the cultural market can fail, especially in terms of cultural services, it does function quite well in terms of cultural goods (art-works, goods of the cultural industries). Mollard believes that the development of an engineering of cultural services will improve the market for cultural service provision. More basically, the market should not be conceived as the margin of public intervention (as is often the case in France), but as the primary natural domain of cultural action. Public intervention must effectively be restrained in order to only correct market-failures and maintain non-profitable activities only when clearly in the defence of ‘general interest’.

The cultural market in France (and continental Europe) is under-developed, because of the excessive presence of the State, of a lack of transparency (opacity, partitioning, heterogeneity of the sector, and lack of knowledge of the market apart from the studies of a few public research institutes) and of a lack of professionalism (decision-makers relying on their own amateur tastes, and a lack of arts managers). “The small size of cultural enterprises is partly explained by amateurism.” All-State provision of arts and culture is not a golden path to freedom of creation. The problem is not one of ‘too-much State’[7], but rather one of the perverting procedures of the State: Its intervention is unilateral (administrative rules do rule out flexible contracts and therefore isolates cultural actors, reinforcing their individualism), monolithic (the ministry of culture sets the tone, and is overwhelmed by demands) and formalist (its subsidy-criteria are pretexts for the new fashions of those in power).

Bureaucracy has perverted cultural administration. The worst for the cultural market is that public administration ignores the cost of time (e.g. it pays its suppliers and gives subsidies with months of delay). The lack of organization of the market is fostered by a strong individualism and a desire for veiled transactions [8] (because the market of cultural services is not recognized as a market, and because cultural goods are still considered as luxury goods, driving for example art-collectors to hide their activities). This is the case for the visual art, design, private theatre and orchestras and patronage of the arts (‘mécénat’), but not for cinema, publishing and music industries where the market is well-organized.

Offer and demand do not meet easily, which brings about a group of ‘culturally frustrated’ on the demand-side (including the low level of ‘mécénat’ art-sponsorship).

Mollard believes we have entered an “era of cultural commoditization” to which the cultural market must adapt. Offer is lagging behind a vivid demand, in his vision. Cultural institutions lack the entrepreneurship and the necessary will to “sell their know-how”. For Mollard, cultural engineering needs to “make more room for the consumer”.

The home market (for French culture) is too small, international markets must be conquered and the windows of the market must be opened. The cultural market is increasingly international. Cultural policy should not stop at national borders, nor should cultural protectionism be too obstructive. Nor should cultural producers be hampered by the “complex of the prototype”, preventing them from making series and shaping long-term strategies. The mission of a cultural facility should integrate the goal of reproducing itself, in France or abroad. International expansion strategies should be developed by small innovative companies supported by the State and focusing on selected artists and targeted markets in specific countries. These efforts would benefit from the support of cultural industries, which have access to international markets. They would also benefit from more diversity and more competition among local/regional public authorities in their international cultural actions. An efficient cultural market is an international cultural market. Therefore, cultural engineering should also be international and at the service of the cultural market.

End of part 1. Go to part 2. Go to part 3.

*Sacha Kagan is :

  • Research associate at the Leuphana University Lueneburg, Institute for Theory and Research on Culture and the Arts (IKKK) – Since 2005
  • Founding Coordinator of Cultura21 International – Cultural Fieldworks for Sustainability: a network gathering artists, scientists and other cultural practitioners engaged for cultures of sustainability – Since 2007
  • Founding member of Cultura21 Germany (Verein Institut Cultura21 e.V.) –Since 2006
  • Member of the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) –Since 2009
  • Member of the expert commission on the role of culture in the transition to an ecological age, commissioned by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) alongside COP15
  • Listed in Marquis Who’s Who in the World, 27th edition, 2010

A review of Claude Mollard’s ‘Cultural engineering’ in its full version can be downloaded here and you can also find it in the « Ressources » files of our Box. For Sacha Kagan’s complete bibliography, please visit this webpage.


[1] In the following lines, I will follow the views of the author, trying not to interfere too much with my own doubts about the validity of his sometimes bold proclamations. I felt a chance must be given for Mollard’s perspective to be offered, unhampered by my own disagreements. But let the reader be warned: I personally do not support all that will be stated below…

[2] The Centre Pompidou [which Mollard headed in the 1970’s] expressed a move toward de-partitioning of the cultural sector, as it mixed art productions and art education, modern art, design, urbanism, reading, theatre and music. It also included shared spaces, forums for these different activities. Unfortunately, it became more partitioned as the years passed by.

[3] e.g. 1981= 5 contemporary art museums in ‘regions’ (outside the Paris area) à 1993= more than 20, in completed by 25 FRACs.

[4] Which did not foster an even distribution of investments on the French territory…

[5] In the French tradition, cultural ‘development’ is broader than cultural policy (it encompasses all créative industries in the largest sense, and culture in its ethnological definition).

[6] ‘Médiatisation’ is the turning of something or someone into a media event.

[7] In Mollard 1989, the author claims that the French State only represents 20% of the financing of culture, while financing 90% of education, 71% of healthcare and 63% of sports. The problem therefore does not lie in the financial mass of State intervention, in Mollard’s eyes.

[8] Here Mollard and Abbing’s “veiled economy” get together.

Filed under: Analyses, Gouvernances, Ingénieries, Outils, Politiques culturelles, Ressources, , , , , ,

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