What culture abroad teaches us about business and leadership

Examining the local cultural businesses in Florence provides insight into the different approaches to business models available in the arts and cultural sector.
What culture abroad teaches us about business and leadership

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A new course offered at the University of Melbourne provides international experience as an avenue to learn about the effectiveness of different business models in Florence directly from the entrepreneurs who use them.

Taught on location in Florence, Leaders, Business and Culture, is for students enrolled in the Executive Master of the Arts (EMA) and explores how successful cultural businesses are built and how we understand the business of art and culture both in a contemporary and historical sense.


The EMA – described as the equivalent of a Master of Business Administration (MBA) for the Arts – is designed to remove some of the boundaries that have been traditionally established between the arts and humanities, and business and entrepreneurship.

‘What we’re arguing in the design of Leaders, Business and Culture, and in fact the whole design of the EMA, is that culture is actually the natural resource on which all economic activity, and particularly successful economic activity, is built,’ explained Professor Mark Considine, Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

‘Culture creates the kind of trusted relationships that enable people to invest confidently and see a future beyond the meal they are scrambling to put on the table. Culture or cultural assets also enable people to look beyond their own experience and find imaginative ways of helping other people and drawing them into social enterprises. Cultural competence is a huge part of the success of great economies, whether we are talking about whole countries or, in this case, cities and regions.’ 

We often hear the economic argument for investment in arts and culture, less so a discussion of how arts and business models have developed alongside and in connection to one another. Florence, a region that emerged as an economic and political force during the Renaissance under the influence of the Medici family, provides an interesting opportunity to explore this historical dimension of business and leadership in the arts and cultural sectors.

‘The Medicis and other economic drivers of Renaissance Florence are often remembered as patrons of the arts, but they were also bankers, merchants and the creators of highly successful global businesses. Students have started to explore that and we will do a bit more when we get to Florence to understand the longer history of this business model,’ said Considine.

Students will then use this historical knowledge to understand contemporary drivers of economic performance in the commercial and industrial production in Florence today.

‘We’ll be visiting businesses in and around Florence and we will get briefings from the current leaders and key entrepreneurs, not only about what they are currently producing but also the backstory to that: where the ideas emerged from, how families and other networks in the local community built strength into that business idea through artistic practice, through training, through education, through networks and so forth.’

Visit Executive Master of Arts to find out more. 

Brooke Boland

Thursday 23 November, 2017

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.