Interculturalisation: An integrated, transverse and structural approach

(c) Anni Roenka

For art organisations, interculturalisation is not a goal in itself, but a process of change. An integral, transverse and structural approach is crucial here. What do we mean?

  • Integral: interculturalisation is a process that impacts your entire organisation. We often tend to focus on external actions – think of your artistic or cultural programme – rather than looking at our internal organisation (Ben Yakoub & Hillaert, 2018; Van Puyenbroeck, 2013). An integrated approach examines all aspects of the organisation: the public, programme, personnel and governance, partners, and place. We call these dimensions the five Ps.
  • Transverse: interculturalisation demands cooperation between the parties involved at diverse levels. Art organisations cannot achieve interculturalisation of the arts sector on their own: the entire sector needs to join forces. This means (continuing to) put interculturalisation on the map together, jointly developing an approach, taking action together and, where necessary, entering into cross-sectoral collaborations.
  • Structural: given that interculturalisation must take place integrally and transversely, a structural effort is required. Employees of your organisation, but also colleagues in the sector or those active in other art organisations, must be involved for a longer period. We often see that interculturalisation is done ad hoc and in a fragmented way (temporary and short-term). An organisation often places the responsibility in isolation with one person or team, or temporary use is made of an external worker without proper embedding in the organisation (see also Ben Yakoub & Hillaert, 2018; Matheusen, Krols, de Graef, Simons, & De Troy, 2011; Van Puyenbroeck, 2013). 

Zooming in on an integrated approach

An integrated approach to interculturalisation examines different aspects of the organisation. We examine the composition of administrative bodies and staff, the artistic content, and the public outreach. A simple focal point that we like to refer to are the so-called ‘five Ps’: Public, Programme, Personnel and governance, Partners, and Place.

Often a vision and mission are added to this. In short: the 5 Ps are a tool to help your thinking process not lose sight of these different dimensions. Feel free to think about aspects of your organisation that are not yet included in these Ps and supplement where necessary.

This text has been composed on the basis of various background texts, such as the diversity and inclusion code, the predecessor cultural diversity code, the culture breakers podcasts, ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ and the experiences gained in the sCan & Do programme in collaboration with the Performing Arts Social Fund, the Minorities Forum and Juntar.


For many organisations, the intrinsic motivation to work on interculturalisation is to attract a more culturally diverse audience. From management’s point of view, attracting a more diverse audience is often equated with higher audience numbers, but this is not necessarily the case.

Nevertheless, it is good to consider who is – and is not – in the audience, and then to also consider whether, why and how we want to build a more culturally diverse audience base. A handy and freely available tool to support the thinking process about your ‘future audience’ are the target group reflection exercises in the ‘cultural education toolkit’. The tools in ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ can also help here. In addition, it is useful to see whether and how your activities connect with this audience, and whether and how you involve this audience in your activities.

Public outreach plays an important role in this. Public outreach workers map out the surroundings and the various stakeholders (organisations, groups, communities) that are located in the vicinity of the operation. This proximity can be physical, but also in terms of network or type of operation. Ideally a public outreach worker does not just look at various formats to lead an audience to a programme, but also involves the audience in the process. One way to connect with different audiences is to let your artistic decisions partly also be determined by them, or by giving them a substantive say in the matter. This close contact not only ensures a better connection with a culturally diverse audience, but also strengthens contacts.

Communication is also important: language use as well as visual material influence your image, the perception of your organisation and who does or does not feel spoken to. Checking whether all can identify with the visual material used, who is or is not represented, the words we use to describe something, how we communicate the programme, and which (implicit) codes of conduct apply are all important. A conversation with your (desired) audience can be valuable here. It is important to listen sincerely and ask questions, give examples… Appreciate the information that is shared with you, and give something in return (compensation, space in your public outreach activities, reception with a dinner…). Be sure to check out the publication Redistributing Power by Citylab and Demos, and Words Matter to examine your organisation’s language register and images.

Although the focus of organisations is often on the public, it is equally important to examine the other Ps: public outreach that puts interculturality high on the agenda, but otherwise takes no intercultural actions, will soon be seen as inauthentic, or possibly (temporarily) reach other audiences, but lose them again because the image the organisation is putting forward does not correspond with its practice. 


Your artistic content communicates many (implicit) messages about your art organisation. What is programmed, made, developed or supported, how this is done, and how it is communicated: it all matters. Below we discuss the P for “programme”, seen broadly: so not only what organisations present, but also what they produce, develop and/or support.

Programming choices. Each art organisation has one or more specific artistic path(s) that it takes, which make visible the organisation’s artistic focus or niche. However, this artistic focus does not have to stand in the way of interculturalisation: cultural diversity is also possible within a specific artistic focus. Looking at ‘who’ makes artistic-substantive choices, and from which frame of reference, gives insight into possible blind spots. A number of critical questions you can ask are: How does your artistic programme come about? Who are your discussion partners, and how and when do you involve them? How does this relate to the final choices? Which performances, concerts, exhibitions … does your team attend? How do these affect the programming? What does this say about the frame of reference of the artistic team? And what are possible blind spots?

Variety and representativeness. when programming it is also important to examine the diversity within your programme: Are different perspectives present? Does this ensure that you are reflecting current cultural diversity in society? Can people identify with this? To what extent is this an integral part of your operation, or is it more of a project? An artistic team with different frames of reference helps strengthen this.

In addition, there are valuable alternative programming formats that can help ensure this, such as working structurally with guest curators who bring in other frames of reference, or programming via co-creation by for example involving the audience: What attracts the audience? What are they looking for (substantive, artistic format, communication). Structurally involving the audience as part of your artistic framework requires some preparatory work and consultation, but gives your programme more perspectives, representativeness and support.

Communication. In addition to the substantive and artistic choices, there is also the manner in which your programme is communicated. This includes visual material, textual information, but also the communication channels that you use. See also the ‘public’ section below.

From programme to participation: programming is one thing, but you also have to ensure that the programme is understandable, that people recognise themselves in the way it is communicated. Who will find their way to your art organisation? Have the rules of participation been made explicit, so that both your trusted public and a new audience feel welcome and good about their experience? 


Art organisations are often tempted to focus on external actions that limit the number of actions related to the internal organisation (Ben Yakoub & Hillaert, 2018; Van Puyenbroeck, 2013). Yet this internal gaze is indispensable in the context of interculturalism specifically and inclusion in general. 

Staff composition lays bare the frames of reference and relationships within your organisation. It’s not just about ‘how much’ cultural diversity is present within your organisation, but also which perspectives they encompass, what function and (hierarchical) position they hold within the organisation, and what decision-making power they have. Insight into the inflow, advancement and outflow of staff is valuable in this regard. In addition to salaried and freelance employees, administrative bodies, internship programmes and volunteer work are invariably matters that deserve a closer look.

The excuse book by Netwerk CS bundles the frequently used excuses for not having to think further about the internal composition of the organisation – i.e. ‘we are unable to find them’ and ‘we only care about quality’ – as well as practical tips and strategies for overcoming these and thus taking further steps towards a more culturally diverse internal composition. The culture change toolkit by Arts Council England offers tools to examine personnel composition, administrative composition and recruitment procedures. In addition, the publication Redistributing Power by Citylab and Demos is an important source for facilitating reflection on positions of power within your organisation.

Viewed from the perspective of inclusivity (of which interculturality is only one aspect), you can also examine other aspects of internal operation such as organisational culture and organisational policy. Organisational policy comprises among others recruitment policy (what competencies are you looking for and on what basis are they tested? How are people expected to apply? Who is on your recruitment committee and what are the selection criteria? How can “unconscious bias” play a role in the selection procedures and how can this be avoided?), language policy (how does the organisation view language diversity? Which language competencies are essential or optional for certain vacancies? What support measures does your organisation offer employees?), policy concerning leave and (religious) holidays (who may take holidays and when? Can religious holidays be freely taken or do the holidays coincide with Christian holidays?), anti-discrimination policy (what anti-discrimination provisions are included? What contact points are available if someone experiences discrimination, and what affinity do these contact points have with cultural diversity and have they received the training needed to do so? What actual measures are being taken?), as well as the explicit (shared) vision of the organisation on interculturality. There are various tools that help to map out and make explicit the organisational vision, such as this vision exercise by ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’.

In addition, there are the organisational culture and the unwritten rules and attitudes that live within the organisation. Examples include (different) visions and employee involvement in the area of cultural diversity, knowledge and skills with regard to inclusion and interculturality, informal networks and activities of the organisation, eating and drinking habits within the organisation (what food and drink are served when there are group meals? When do these take place?) Want to identify your organisation’s culture? The exercise ‘mapping your organisational culture’ by ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ offers tools for this.

In short: how do you ensure that your organisation not only undergoes a ‘cosmetic change’, but is/will become an organisation where all employees feel good and have a say? Two tools that can help you gain better insight into your internal functioning in this area are the inclusivity scan and the ‘Factors for success checklist’ by Open Up: Museums for everyone.


By partners we mean persons and organisations external to your organisation that you work with. Partnerships often remain within the same network: once you have a good network with trusted partnerships, the temptation is great to stick with what you know and what works well. It is a major undertaking to consciously and continuously look for renewal and broadening of your network and partnerships.

This involves examining your network (within which networks do your organisation and your employees operate?) and broadening it (which interesting individuals and organisations are not yet on your radar? Which (local)organisations and partnerships are interesting to involve in the operation? How do I deal with new partnerships? (e.g. temporary collaboration versus structural collaboration; unilateral consultation versus partnership)). 

Identifying and expanding this is useful in working on interculturality at various levels: a broader network brings you into contact with other frames of reference and visions – which in turn are valuable with regard to programming, audience, and personnel. One pitfall here is instrumentalisation, in which fleeting collaborations with artists, (art) organisations and art workers are entered into in order to reach a specific target (group). ‘Network analysis’ and ‘Choosing partnerships’ in the cultural education reflection toolkit and the ‘building new community partnerships guide’ in the manual by ‘Open Up: museums for Everyone’ provide a framework for mapping and broadening partnerships and networks. 


The last P we will discuss is the place or location. Art organisations are embedded in a specific environment. Despite the inherent connection with these surroundings, not every organisation is actively concerned with the relationship to this place, the reflection of the neighbourhood in your organisation’s activities, and the accessibility of the organisation within this space. How does our art organisation relate to the neighbourhood? Which local individuals and organisations do we involve? To what extent is our organisation accessible?

The latter concerns both visible accessibility such as physical accessibility and reachability, but also “invisible” accessibility such as mental barriers related to the building or the room in which the works are programmed as well as the physical workspace of the employees, the (implicit) rules of behaviour and of the game, and any other functions that the building houses, or the codes it radiates. In short: who is familiar with the place, who uses the place, who feels welcome there, and how does the place relate to the neighbourhood?


  • Arts Council England. n.d. “Culture change toolkit”.
  • Ben Yakoub, Joachim, and Hillaert, Wouter. 2018. “(Witte) Instellingen van congolisering naar dekolonisering” [(White) Institutions from congolisation to decolonisation]. Rekto:Verso, May, no. 79.
  • Citylab Pianofabriek and Demos. 2018. “Macht herverdelen” [Redistributing Power].
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  • Code diversiteit & inclusie. 2019. “Code Diversiteit en Inclusie” [Diversity and Inclusion Code].
  • Code diversiteit & inclusie. 2019-2020. Cultuurbrekers [Culture breakers].
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  • Department of Culture, Youth, Sports and Media.2014. “Toolkit cultuureducatie” [cultural education toolkit].
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  • Network CS. 2006. “Het smoezen: culturele diversiteit in het culturele bestuur” [The excuses: Cultural diversity in cultural governance].
  • Open Up! Museums for everyone’. n.d. 
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  • Van Puyenbroeck, Carmen. 2013. “Is (de ontwikkeling van) een analyse-instrument voor interculturele competentie in de cultuursector zinvol?” [Is (the development of) an analysis tool for intercultural competence in the cultural sector useful?] In CIMIC: handbook interculturele competenties. Brussels: Politeia.
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