Leadership down to a fine art

The highlight of the Maastricht art scene is TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair), the annual March event that draws hundreds of high-end dealers and collectors and thousands of visitors to the city from all over the world. This year, the same week saw another – smaller – group of international visitors break new ground: the first cohort of the Executive Master in Cultural Leadership.

Rachel Pownall, João Correia, Susanna Serlachius and Anna Dempster

Pownall and Dempster were pleased with how much the participants contributed to the discussions. “It’s a really diverse group from four continents, most of them with more than ten years’ experience in different fields – which makes for very sophisticated conversations.” Besides leadership and management skills, EMCL seeks to cultivate new perspectives. In Dempster’s view, Maastricht, as a regional cultural centre and counterpoint to metropolitan London, provides the ideal environment “to breathe, to explore and to think.”

Owning history

Compared to London, Dempster says, “Maastricht is a lot more tranquil and serene. There’s art everywhere but also lots of green. That and the ecclesiastical architecture invite contemplation.” The students shared that feeling. “It’s beautiful, and I was amazed by how welcoming everyone was. It felt like home”, says João Correia, who flies in for the modules from Brazil.

An adviser in the cultural sector, Correia works with artists, collectors, museums and educators. In his native São Paolo, he advises a charity that works with more than 6,000 art teachers every year. “Brazil has an amazing arts scene but it’s deficient on the business side. In this programme, I get insights from arts, museology, collection management, education and more, so I can go back and make a difference.”

Correia enjoyed the novel perspectives of his fellow students and the speakers. “For example, professor Sir Charles Saumarez Smith said that, when taking over the directorship of a museum, he writes a book about it to learn about it and take ownership of its history – that really surprised me.”

São Paolo to Helsinki

The notion of owning the history of a museum also appeals to fellow participant Susanna Serlachius. She is the chair of Serlachius Museums, which house a formidable fine arts collection her family has built up over five generations. After a successful corporate career, she now wants to establish the collection on the international scene.

Serlachius particularly appreciated the in-depth conversations with industry leaders as well as students: “So many different backgrounds, from artists to bankers, and so many different ways of approaching things. I can’t wait for the next modules.”

As the artists, collectors and aficionados of TEFAF return home and hotel prices return to normal, the first cohort of EMCL students are also leaving town – and taking with them new knowledge, skills, perspectives and connections.

Original text by: Florian Raith, Paul van der Veer (photography)