The Intercultural Challenge: A Disruptive Approach


The disruption that we are seeing in many industries such as energy, transportation, health care, and media is often attributed to how people adapt and incorporate new technologies into their daily lives. However, technology use is also frequently influenced by culture, as is seen, for instance, in technology adoption patterns among so-called minorities. There is a clear synergy in the changing demographics of our society and the marketplace disruption we’re experiencing. In response, a spectrum of entities —from private sector to government and non-profit agencies — are launching diversity initiatives to stay ahead of these disruptive changes.

Cultural institutions in particular are trying to respond to this evolution and remain relevant by rebranding themselves, or completely altering the makeup of their senior staff, as in the case of MOMA in NYC. Apparently the museum has been working on a turnover of its curatorial team since 2007, which it recently completed with the hire of three senior curators.

Creating diverse teams is one of the cornerstones of the change needed. It is a well-known fact that ethnically diverse teams are more effective because diversity improves the communication process. When we don’t automatically assume that the other person understands us, we make an extra effort to be clear and confirm what is meant. This is reinforced in the recent October 2014 issue of Scientific American dedicated to explaining from a scientific perspective how diversity makes us smarter.

Cultural institutions face the dual challenge of diversifying both their audiences and their collections/programs. To effectively address society’s rapidly evolving demographics, it is not enough to just bring in diverse audiences. These institutions must provide a perspective that goes beyond the static ‘multicultural’ view of co-existing cultures to show how those cultures actually interact and influence each other. In a “multicultural” view of the world, cultures exist side by side without acting upon each other (or at least pretending not to), whereas in an “intercultural” society, all cultures influence one and other while maintaining their own identities, creating a new reality that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Nina Simon recently touched upon this in her post “From Multicultural to Intercultural“, asking poignant questions about what an intercultural approach might look like in how museums approach and present their collections.

Diverse audiences want to see themselves represented in cultural institutions. They want to not only see staff and board members that share their ethnic identity, but also programs, exhibits, and events that recognize their culture and their intercultural reality. Acknowledging the interdependent relationship among audiences, programs, and stakeholders is a critical step in creating the intercultural approach our society demands.


Note: A modified version of this article was published by Multicultural Marketing Resources, Inc. 

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