Cultural Engineering Group

Services & Ressources en ingénierie culturelle

A review of Cultural engineering / 2

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. This second part  will allow to gain a closer understaing of the discipline of cultural engineering.

2. The intervention of cultural engineering in the cultural field

A. Method

The method of cultural engineering includes successively knowledge (as a preliminary step), use of specific instruments and the intervention of the operators of cultural engineering.

Knowledge of cultural data:


  • of different levels of government (national, regional, municipal): highest in big cities in France (more than 100 000 inhabitants = 14% of budget; 25% for Bordeaux and Nancy _Mollard 1999). Municipal spendings focus on music and art éducation (20%), performing arts (20%); 80% of direct spending and 20% in subsidies.
  • of private companies (Maecenas, sponsoring, purchases), still poorly evaluated in France.
  • of households: the biggest spender… given that Mollard takes cultural industries into account.


The publics of culture are well-known in France, thanks to a huge research programme with data-collection every 8 years since 1973. The public of the arts remains obviously the cultivated elite described by Bourdieu. Increases in public come from a demographic increase of these categories in the general population. Social status and level of education remain good predictors of behaviour. The public becomes more and more eclectic in its tastes (therefore diversified cultural services experience more success). Amateur arts practices doubled in France from 1973 to 1997. According to the art-form, there are different degrees of involvement of the public in the art production (from theatre integrating the public through speech, to the museum with a public that remains exterior to the object). The treatment of the public by cultural organizations evolves between the two extremes of ‘allmarket’ (the public as consumer, no risk-taking creation) and ‘all-to-the-creator’ (lump-sum subsidies allow to focus on creation so far as to forget the public _whereas the official idéaltype of public funding is that of ‘public as citizen’). The “diffusion of culture is and will remain elitist” but targeted corrective action will be more effective than a general discourse on democratization.

Cultural policies:

Public research bodies [9] and ‘cultural engineering agencies’ can audit local cultural policies. “The role of cultural engineering is to correct” the classical perspective of these policies by introducing cultural industries in the picture, “introducing statistical data belonging to the private cultural market”, to give a wider account of cultural activities (in fields such as literature and music).

Cultural employment:

Mollard includes employment in private sectors related to cultural industries (going as far as mentioning the production of equipment such as cameras and VCRs). Mollard puts this diverse phenomenon into the following categories: scientific employment (e.g. in museums; essentially public sector and trained in specialized schools), conceptual employment (e.g. curators, architects, editors; highly creative, public and private sectors, diversity of schools and trainings), technical employment (hands-on technical experience, training in technical schools), commercial employment (merely selling), assistant employment (under the direction of scientific or conceptual coordinator; high-qualification but young and poorly paid; introduced by cooptation; considered as in a training-phase), réception employment (e.g. museum-keepers and guides; less stringent qualification standards), communication employment (marketing, PR; more and more specialists from specialized schools) and production employment (mixes conceptual, technical, financial and craft-like skills). Generally, cultural employment is characterized by high-qualification for low income, dual expertise in arts and management, and more and more higher-education training (with more than 20 MAs specialized in some area of arts management in 1998 in France). What is lacking in the knowledge of cultural data: geographic distribution of cultural investments, social and economic impact of cultural investments, systematic analysis of cultural spending of private companies, systematic typology of cultural employment.

The instruments of cultural engineering:

“The engineer combines what is ingenious in an analysis and what is genius in an invention or a creation.” Cultural engineering “symbolizes the appearance of professionalism in cultural and para-cultural fields”. It also applies to domains close to culture such as “tourism, communication, environment and humanitarian matters.” As a method, cultural engineering “is first of all a set of operational instruments.

Seeking optimal solutions:

The problems are of all kinds (for creators to find diffusion and recognition; for publics to receive an answer to some longings; for mediators to set ranks and values). The first step is a systematic analysis of the cultural environment of the project, which can be either an evaluation from within the organization or an audit from an outsider. It applies to artistic programming, budgets, organization and to needs and levels of satisfaction of partners. The techniques are surveys and qualitative interviews with publics, interviews with personalities who are “representative of different cultural families concerned by the project”. (Mollard evokes ‘needs studies’ which seem similar to market studies.) The second step is to formulate a concept in a ‘project definition study’, around 2 questions: What ? (situation diagnosis +what actions to consider) For whom ? (For which publics, which markets, on which geographic zone). This will lead to a cost-benefit study, with focus on fulfilling 3 imperatives: quality, deadlines and costs. The third step is a feasibility study, answering the questions where, when, how and how much?

Cost control:

Cost considerations must not be placed behind care for quality and service. Costs study must stress several distinctions: …Investment costs vs. operating costs: Too often, the evaluation of operating costs is left out when a new cultural investment is realized; this results in deficit-plagued under-used facilities. One must set as goals either ‘grand équilibre’ (earned income should cover costs and debt-reimbursement) for private cultural organizations, or ‘petit équilibre’ (earned income should cover exploitation costs while investments are financed by public authorities) for public and subsidized cultural organizations. Sometimes in public/subsidized organizations, the latter may not be attained, thanks to ‘equilibrium/balancing subsidies’. But the conditions of financial balance should always be set a priori. …Fixed costs vs. variable costs: In cultural organizations, the growth of fixed costs hinders the development of variable costs (which have an artistic character). Such situations are absurd for organizations that ought to develop artistic production. Besides, ‘star-system’ costs reduce the margins of artistic budgets.

Balance vs. deficit:

For private cultural organizations, a balanced budget is a necessity, whereas for the public/subsidized ones structural deficit is common… but even then, less and less accepted by public authorities. One of the goals of cultural engineering is to reduce the uncertainties of costs increases. Given the weight of labour costs, special attention must be given to time (delays) management.

Meeting deadlines:

This is important on the market (to be the first, relative to competitors, and to be able to cover investments soon enough). This is a political necessity for public/subsidized organizations: Launching a new project takes time, yet the political deadlines of elections must be considered : Cultural spending is not well-perceived by voters if the project is not realized before the election, whereas an achieved project will be promoted and justified. Therefore projects should be launched in the first year of office of a mayor, to have them achieved before the end of his mandate. Cultural engineering proposes a général project-agenda in this perspective to decision-makers.


Goals must be stated as clearly as possible. They are balanced differently in the public vs. the private sector, but in both cases they are expressed in terms of returns on sorts-of-investments: Profitability effect (can be expected if clearly expressed from the start and supported by thorough calculations). Radiance [10] effect, to increase the influence of the investing organization (the radiance effect of culture being very strong and pervasive).

Communication effect:

Culture is a very powerful image-carrier (more lasting image-building than advertising). Democratization effect (relevant to public authorities) will affect the type of cultural investment. Goal-setting is a difficult task because decision-makers are not willing to abandon their usual ambiguity. The aim of cultural engineering is to help them understand that clear goal-setting is in their own interest.

Programme realization:

Programmes must be developed prior to realization of investments and events. Concerning investment, architectural programming is fundamental, and follows a method assessing goals, physical scales and visitors demand. Concerning events, artistic programming must establish a coherence and a clear positioning around a precisely defined concept (instead of following the heterogeneous solicitations of diverse artists).

Fund raising:

The previously described instruments ensure the coherence of the project, which is a prerequisite to fund-raising. Relevant distinctions are: Public/private: Public financing is cross-financing; this implies long delays and complex procedures. Private financing is also complex because investors fear the high-risk of cultural production. Immediate/delayed (immediate financing is the initial investment allowing to launch a project; delayed financing is the income coming from the exploitation of the project). Simple/multiple: Simple financing is faster. Multiple financing is more complex, but offers more independence and sustainability for the project, and allows the initiating funding-body to ‘share the burden’with others.

The technical realization of projects:

For facilities, most important is organization and distribution of responsibilities. For events, most important are the artistic director’s skills in associating (to the project) contributions with high-quality. In this filed, cultural engineering has an advisory and supporting role.

The operators:

The worth of the techniques of cultural engineering depends a lot on the worth of its operators.

The cultural engineers:

They can be integrated to the cultural organization or exterior to it. They develop special skills. These are different from the amateur competence claimed by politicians. These are rather a diversified know-how, diplomacy, artistic culture, knowledge of processes and stakes in the cultural field. Being a cultural engineer requires strong personality but also accepting to work for others and believe in a project before detaching oneself from it once it’s on wheels, leaving it to a regular manager [11]. Finally, a cultural engineer must have a strong deontology (independence towards financers, authority towards clients, criticism towards project-conceivers) and an interest for new projects and innovative cultural practices.

The cultural engineering agency:

It is independent and able to mix its clients and products. Its clients are mainly public bodies (70% in the case of ABCD _which still means 30% of truly private clients), with thus a role to help public bodies approach the cultural market. Its products are mainly preparatory studies for cultural facilities and the organization of events (and also some auditing). The cultural sectors it reaches are diversified (including 25% of ‘multi-sector’ projects for ABCD), but either concentrated around visual arts (the case of ABCD) or around performing arts. Its activities are half studies, and half organization of projects: This is what maintains its know-how, which distinguishes it from university research institutes [12].

B Fields of application

Piloting of cultural enterprise:

The cultural enterprise: [Mollard includes cultural industries in the picture here too.]

The ‘spirit of enterprise’ (French equivalent of ‘entrepreneurship’) means having objectives of financial results + innovative and artistic creation + strong image-building (in communication, radiance and diffusion) and an independent identity + a conquered clientele. The cultural enterprise has a dual leadership: artistic + management (with a “cultural management, which can be defined as the ability to lead from conception to realisation, permanent or temporary cultural projects”).


Management conceives the organization of leadership differently according to the  size of the enterprise: in individual enterprise, the artist’s charisma is essential. In middle-sized enterprise (theatre), the creator is given priority over the administrator. In largesize enterprise (large museums, large cultural industries), leadership belongs more to administrators than to creators (which are often outsiders invited in the enterprise) and bears more similarities with regular industries and services. The conception of the products/services: Production definition has to do with market-positioning, and especially with the choice of collaborating artists, given that “success goes to the most exacting quality”. Intuition and imagination are essential, especially in finding a new potential market. The realisation of the products/services: The entrepreneur must take care, that non-artistic costs doe not leave too little for creative costs, in order to avoid losing the ability to innovate and create. Also, high quality of realisation must be monitored all along the process, especially if the organization unfortunately has to sub-contract some activities (subcontracting raises the risk of quality-loss). In a context of high uncertainty, the reunion of offer and demand is risky (e.g. risk that offer “anticipates too much” [13]). Essential instruments for piloting are: an ‘enterprise project’ building solidarity among members of the organization, results assessment (financial results in private sector; audience’s fidelity and lasting reputation in public sector) and human resources management.

Engineering of cultural facilities:

“An important part of cultural engineering deals with defining, studying, making and managing cultural facilities, which are the living matter of cultural policy. […] A cultural facility is an institution, generally non-profit, relating the works of artists to publics, in order to facilitate the conservation of heritage, artistic creation and training, and more generally the diffusion of the products of the art and of the mind, in a building or a set of buildings specially adapted to its missions.” Cultural facilities are “the privileged space of the encounter between creators and publics outside the private market of culture”.

Classifying cultural facilities: according to… Size: measured through budget-size (investment budget between 1 million euros for small local facilities and 1 billion euros for ‘grands projets’; operating budget between 200 000 euros yearly for small local facilities and 200 million euros for ‘grands projets’), attendance figures (more than 1 million visitors yearly for big facilities [14], between 10 000 and 100 000 for most facilities) and surface area (300 000m2 for the BNF [15], 65 000 for Pompidou, between 1 and 10 000 for middle-sized facilities, less than 1000 m2 for small projects). …according to… Fame: depends on the quality of invited artists, the events organized and the international audience. …according to… Functions: conservation (reserves, preservation spaces, consultation spaces), diffusion (performing arts live, recorded performances, exhibitions), creation (direct support, indirect incitement) and training (specialized, professional, general/amateur).

The diversity of cultural facilities: They are named ‘museums’ if a permanent collection is made accessible; ‘historical monuments’ if recognized so by authorities and opened to the public (with an appropriate scenography); ‘theatres’, often short-lived facilities (can be open to music, dance, opera); ‘auditoria’ with special acoustic qualities and fit for professional recordings; ‘libraries’ centred on book-collections but open to sound and image (then called ‘médiathèques’ _media libraries); ‘art centres’ which are spaces for temporary exhibitions; ‘art/music schools’ for professional education; ‘county/municipal archives’; ‘cinemas’ also if the programming is labelled as artistic (‘art et essai’). ‘Multipurpose cultural facilities’ are very diverse (such as cultural centres, and integrated structures which are getting rare) around cross-financing (mainly by the State, Region, County and City). Operating budget is mainly supported by the local level of public authorities (most often the municipality supporting 90 to 100% of it). Most of the time, the facilities are under a regime of stewardship, meaning that the directors are not financially responsible because own income is poured back into the general income of the municipality. The people: Leaders can be either contractors or civil servants, while the administrative supervision is held by the State (Ministry of Culture) or municipality.

The users: Associating them to the management of the facility (in the case of NPONGO-owned facilities) fosters their fidelity but can bring conflicts with decision-organs. Associating them indirectly, through “friends of x”-like-NGO-NPOs, prevents conflicts while allowing their contributions and financial gifts.

Engineering of cultural events:

Cultural events make up the ultimate form of cultural projects and they realize the mediation between works of art and publics. In the last 30 years, the distinction between cultural facilities holding permanent activities and those holding temporary events has disappeared, so that today even the archives realize temporary exhibitions. The existence of an artistic director is the answer to this need for projects.

The scenography and ‘muséographie’ of cultural events: Theatre-directors, as well as Museum curators, have gained a higher status as ‘artists’. Both use, in their own way, scenography, answering the needs of audiences whom have become less tolerant to static, didactic and irksome presentations.

There are four different types of cultural events: The performance: Taking place more and more in open space, public space, and with increasing use of medias (e.g. for broadcasting). The exhibition: Its space is standardized (after the model of New York galleries, ‘Blanc de Blanc’ [16]), it conquers unused (often industrial) buildings and open space and opens itself to new areas and themes. The festival: After a booming period, festivals raise questions on 4 levels: identity (a desire for fame by municipalities à multiplication of the number of festivals and their standardization à a rat-race for originality ignoring declining public interest à the concept of festival loses its identity), financing (increasingly High financial burden, while returns are not obvious and self-financing is hardly possible), attendance (some festivals having only 1000 visitors or even less, increasing their deficit), reception spaces (most often amateurish structures and in open air, thus under the threat of weather conditions …a need for more professionalism), seasonality (questioning the concentration of festivals on the summer-time) and insertion of the festival in its cultural environment (often festivals are felt as parachuted on a city, disconnected from local cultural institutions; they should be better integrated and valorize the local institutions). Finally, festivals should be better integrated in the tourist, economic and cultural policy of municipalities, and should involve more the local population. ‘Salons’ and fairs: While traditional ‘salons’ have almost disappeared, they found a new life in the form of fairs (visual art fairs as the FIAC in Paris, music, architecture and even comics [17] fairs), in which the role of the market is acknowledged.

Cultural communication: A synthetic strategy should be designed early enough, well before the event takes place. It should answer the 4 following questions: Why? To develop the fame of the facility. To foster the participation of future publics to the projects (upstream communication fosters demand, offering a clear and strong image). To support the quality of the proposed artistic production (with the help of the media). To help the cultural project play a steering role in local development (the image of a city, its force of attraction and job- mediators (critics should be associated to, or at least aware of, artistic choices), partners (to the project _public and private), publics (foster the fidelity of specialized publics and build networks of information for accustomed publics, and aim advertisement at potential publics) and public opinion (difficult to reach because very large). How? There are 3 types of stratégies (which can be combined): the radiance strategy (local radiance to the population, national or international radiance to art circles), the event strategy (if there are events being organized often enough), the public-fidelity strategy (grounded in marketing and in fostering an attachment to the global policy including the regular service and the temporary event, and dependent on a network). What communication-plan? Adequate means are necessary: people (pedagogic personnel especially, and a common language spoken by all personnel) and budget (20 to 30% of the total cost of the event _less for a large event; and looking for additional funding from private Maecenas).

End of part 2. Go to part 1, 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.


[9] Such as the ‘observatoire des politiques culturelles’ in Grenoble.

[10] The French mean a pervasive and powerful kind of influence by the metaphor of ‘radiance’…

[11] Mollard implicitly makes a difference between the engineer who designs a project and the manager who keeps the old house (but this distinction is not consistently maintained throughout any of the 2 books).

[12] And Mollard is also proud to mention that his agency ABCD is called in cases of crises.

[13] Mollard recycles the popular idea of the artist “ahead of his time”.

[14] 9 million visitors yearly in the case of Centre Pompidou.

[15] Bibliothèque nationale de France.

[16] ‘white of white’ or ‘white on white’.

[17] in Angoulême in the case of France.

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

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