The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Gorgun Taner

Experiencing Istanbul Through the Innovative Cultural Productions of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts:

In Conversation with Gӧrgün Taner, General Director

Gӧrgün Taner has been the General Director of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts since 2002, and with the foundation in various roles since 1983. As such, he has seen the foundation and the cultural scene in Istanbul evolve over many years. Gӧrgün is also a member of the MMIAM International Advisory Committee. Laura Adlers recently interviewed him to find out more about his work and this very interesting organizational model.

The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts is a very interesting model as an organization. Can you tell us what your foundation does?

The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization. Since 1973, the Foundation continues its efforts to enrich Istanbul’s cultural and artistic life. İKSV regularly organizes the Istanbul Festivals of Music, Film, Theatre and Jazz, the Istanbul Biennial, the Istanbul Design Biennial, Leyla Gencer Voice Competition, autumn film week Filmekimi and produces one-off events throughout the year. The Foundation hosts cultural and artistic events from various disciplines at its performance venue Salon, located at the Nejat Eczacıbaşı Building. İKSV also organizes the Pavilion of Turkey at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia. Furthermore, İKSV conducts studies and drafts reports with the aim of contributing to cultural policy development. The Foundation also supports artistic and cultural production through presenting awards at its festivals, commissioning works, taking part in international and local co-productions, and coordinating artist residency programmes. We also provide annual encouragement awards in the fields of classical music, theatre, and literary translation.

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

With a professional education in arts management, people who would like to work in this field are equipped with the necessary skills to act as a bridge between audiences, artists, and the art world. In addition to their expertise in content, arts managers also have to be skilled in marketing and finance as well as fundraising and project management. They have to be able to work with volunteers, coordinate operations, carry out negotiations and develop innovative ideas at the same time. People who would like to work in this field could also build expertise on the job. Actually, arts management being a professional study field is a new phenomenon for us. I have been working in this field for more than 30 years, and I’m originally a history graduate. But now there are many institutions providing degrees in this field, and this is an invaluable opportunity for those who would like to work in the cultural sector. The academic study of arts management has in fact proven to be very crucial in establishing arts management as a profession.

Salon - DJ Ozoyo (credit: Onur Dogman)
Salon – DJ Ozoyo (credit: Onur Dogman)

What qualities and qualifications do you look for when you are hiring an arts manager for your foundation?

A good arts manager would have to follow both local and international agenda in the field. They would be able to think in interdisciplinary terms and address issues with innovative, creative approaches. You have to be an expert in the field that you work in, but you also have to be a very good manager. You have to be able to find creative solutions to unexpected problems. You have to keep track of the developments in the world of arts and culture, but also of economics and politics. You have to have a brilliance in figuring out which venue would be perfect for each event, how you could finance the event in a creative way, how you could draw the attention of the public. I am proud to say that all the managers working in our Foundation have all of these qualities.

What innovative ideas have you observed in the cultural sector in Turkey which are leading the new wave in arts management?

One of the most important issues in the cultural sector in Turkey is financial sustainability. Since public support for this field is insufficient, we always have to invent creative ways of financing our activities. Lack of appropriate venues for cultural and artistic activities has also played a part in encouraging the cultural actors of Turkey to be creative and innovative. The weakness of the cultural infrastructure in Turkey has always been encouraging us to use alternative venues, and we managed to turn this into an opportunity. At İKSV, we use historical venues frequently for classical music concerts, and even sometimes for the Jazz Festival and the Istanbul Biennial. Hagia Eirene Museum, which is an ancient church, has been one of the main venues of the Istanbul Music Festival since its beginning in 1973. We use venues that are not usually open to the public, such as closed churches, or gardens of different consulate buildings, and we also make use of experimental venues such as shipyards, empty factories, or even ferries that travel through the Bosphorus. This way, we make sure that our activities also invite their audiences to experience the city in a different way.

We also try to always present unique content in our festivals and biennials. For the festivals, we give the outmost importance to commissioning works and hosting premieres, we try to include special projects in the programmes, and we allocate funds to supporting artistic production. And in the biennials, we always encourage site-specific installations.

I believe, in the near future, cultural institutions will be focusing more and more on digitalization and data management. Also, just like their international colleagues, arts managers in Turkey are also focusing on audience building, as well as increasing public engagement, accessibility and inclusiveness.

38 Istanbul Film Festival Poster (credit: Sebastian Bieniek)
38 Istanbul Film Festival Poster (credit: Sebastian Bieniek)