Cultural Engineering Group

Services & Ressources en ingénierie culturelle

A review of Cultural engineering / 3

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 third and last part  shows how cultural engineering contributes to the cultural market.

3. The contribution of cultural engineering agencies to the cultural market

A. How to valorize cultural know-how?

The enterprise of cultural engineering is an enterprise of valorisation and mobilization of the know-how described in the previous section. It is compelled to obey both the rules of the market and goals of ‘general interest’. Swinging between the public and the private, the enterprise of cultural engineering has to make clear choices between alternatives:

Pyramid or network:

The pyramid organization of large companies and administrations is absolutely not relevant to cultural engineering. The development of cultural service implies an especially important involvement of the individual and a multiplicity of competences. It thus requires network organization, contracts between partners. Cultural engineering realizes the synergy of scattered forces. The enterprise of cultural engineering therefore has to be at the nexus of networks, animate them and not substitute itself to them.

Know-how or How-do-I-know [18]:

Communication and diffusion to the media, for their own sake, are meaningless. Cultural competence is sentenced to death if not made known and open to the eyes of others. Therefore cultural engineering must always link the two. This mobilisation takes the following steps: know (…the cultural market and the multiple factors affecting projects), do (concrete action based on goals), make do (the ability to delegate and to have a new organization for each project, to invent flexible, mobile and temporary organizations) and tell around about this know-how (the ‘how-do-I-know’ element, implying that cultural engineering always must be ‘médiatique’).

Public or private financing:

Cultural engineering agencies work on contracts signed with public and private financing bodies, and often with both together. But to prevent being involved in unfair competition, they have to avoid being subsidized by public authorities apart from precise projects (therefore, no structural subsidy for such agencies !).

Relationship with the State: Of course, cultural engineering agencies will work with the State, how could it be otherwise? The State could even subcontract tasks to thèse professionals. But the relationships between the two parties should in all instances be clearly stated and written down through mutually agreed-upon conventions.

B. Which provisions for which clients ?

Cultural engineering agencies have to respond to the demands of the market, Mollard insists. The basic principles of its provisions to the market are the following :


A large variety of interventions is to be proposed (from a simple audit to the management of a project from a to z). The repetition of successful operations should not be missed; not every project needs to be a prototype anew. The variations to accommodate specificities should not be unreasonable.


Cultural projects must be taken seriously. The services of cultural engineering will only be highly valued if they are paid for, and paid enough to be profitable for the cultural engineer. The spirit of contract places the contractor (the cultural engineer) in a position where no complacency is needed, and where the cost of time is rightly evaluated. That way, and with more clarity, more rationality and more rigor, Mollard hopes to attract more private corporate funding for arts projects, because the private sector will then recognize culture as an economic sector of its own.


Competition between several cultural engineering agencies is desirable, both to maintain a healthy competitive market and to push for a continuously increasing professionalism in cultural enterprise.


Mollard means here that the agencies should be able to work with experts, wherever they are, and even if they are civil servants from the Ministry. It would also be good for those civil servants to alternate working for the public and private sector, as they do in the US (according to Mollard).


De-partitioning the market of culture is not enough. Cultural engineering must also improve the education of people, and especially training in ‘cultural management’ all the actors of the cultural market. “The step of management must be crossed. Our credibility is at stake”, says Mollard.


Cultural engineering and the fundamentals of arts management Mollard supports a number of ‘original’ ideas which differ sometimes from what I heard up to now in terms of arts management. He proposes the reproduction of prototypes, blending arts and cultural industries by creating objects (one can think of the case of muséum shops where the two indeed blend together), commercializing products and, even more original, reproducing and commercializing (even exporting if possible) successful arts projects (selling the specific know-how as a brand that would be franchised [19]).

Mollard is clearly a supporter of more market mechanisms to balance State intervention in France (and in continental Western Europe) and views this as an essential mission of cultural engineering, being part of a counter-power to the State in the cultural field.

But Mollard shows some incoherence on the issue of profit as a goal. Profit should be a goal for cultural engineering agencies and for private cultural organizations (not surprising in the case of cultural industries, which Mollard blends with the arts in his analysis, and in his practice). But the author is well-aware that it cannot be a goal in all cases, and especially not for a number of arts forms. Therefore, some ambiguity to say the most, or some balancing to say the least, is visible in Mollard’s position towards profitability.

The author is more classical in other respects. He is a proponent of project management and of de-partitioning of the cultural sector (as are the authors in Evrard et al. and as is Hagoort). Besides, Mollard’s search for ‘optimal solutions’ and other elements of his method sound a lot like strategic management.

In terms of the metaphors of Morgan about organization theory, Mollard combines a strong machine metaphor (heightened by the vocabulary of engineering) with the use of elements of the metaphor of the decision-making unit: his understanding of the cultural field is halfway towards a systemic understanding, thanks notably to his knowledge and expérience of the French political system.

Apart from mentioning Bourdieu and the usual tributes to French intellectuals and policy-makers in general (especially a number of Parisian essay-writers in a critical tradition, and a number of experts from the Ministry of Culture and of historians of French cultural policies), Mollard refers often to cultural economics (Farchy, Sagot-Duvauroux, Herscovici, Dupuis, Rouet, Frey and Pommerehne) and sometimes to arts management (mainly Evrard et al. 1993, but ignoring non-French authors in arts management). The obsession with the French case hinders the development of a theoretical framework in Mollard’s 2 books.

He mentions his own experience very often, as well as he claims using his own social theory of culture (for which he refers to his earlier book Le mythe de Babel, essai sur l’artiste et le système, 1984, which I did not have the opportunity to read). Finally, although he doesn’t mention it, it is clear that his perspective could be inspired by network analysis and the literature on network structures in companies.

If there was only one theorem which Mollard puts to the front, it is that of the eclectic leader: the ideal manager of culture according to him has to be both a quasi-artist and a strategic entrepreneur. This high demand maybe reflects the high self-esteem Mollard vests in himself as a cultural engineer.

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

*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


[18] The French play on words of Mollard is : “Savoir-faire ou faire-savoir”, the latter one meaning speaking about what one does and can do (ensuring a high media coverage, communication and difusion).

[19] By the way, both are what the Kunstfabriek is doing in Amsterdam right now (yet if the end-result is of the low aesthetic quality of the Kunstfabriek, in my opinion it could be a dangerous option for the arts).

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

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