Category Archives: Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship

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READ, READ, READ and ask WHY? WHY? WHY?

Yesterday was the first day proper of my Master year here in Rotterdam. Last year I successfully completed the Pre Master course which gave me a grounding in economics, social science research and statistics, amongst other things. Now the real work starts.

There are about sixty people in all, (it is hard to tell exactly as even the University is not one hundred percent sure who will turn up). About twenty of us did the Pre Master. We are the ones who know our way round, know most of the lecturers and how to use the EUR online services. We are the mostly European but span five continents. I am the only Brit.  I have included a list our home countries – sorry if I have missed anyone.

Where we are all from: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, China, Columbia, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, UK, Vietnam

Last week we had an introduction day when we went to visit an artist’s studio and a creative industry hive around Marconiplein in the west of the city. There were drinks at the city farm and a departmental party at a club on the river. On Saturday Guus and Dennis, two friends from the Pre Master course last year, organised another party with the aim of helping the old PMs and newbies to get to know each other better.

We have a course Facebook group which is really useful in terms of keeping on top of things. I seem to have adopted the role of updating the literature we have to read. At least this means that I am sure of knowing what we are supposed to be doing.  

Yesterday was the first day proper.  We had two, three hour lectures. The first was lead by the Department’s Professor – Arjo Klamer. Arjo is something of a celebrity here in The Netherlands as a frequent commentator in the press and on TV. He was the world’s first professor of Cultural Economics and has been fulfilling the role at Erasmus University for as long as most of my fellow students have been alive. He is leading a course on Cultural Organisations which will be strongly influenced by his own research on values. Over the course of the next eight weeks we will complete a group project and a number of essays. Why we organise and why cultural organisations organise as they do is really interesting to me. It was partly the subject of my thesis last year. Let’s see if my thoughts chine with Professor Klamer’s.

Our second was on Cultural Economics with Dr. Erwin Dekker. We didn’t meet Dr. Dekker last year as he spent a postdoctoral year in the USA. This course aims to strongly link  economic theories to art and culture. This course will be structured as a whole group lecture one week and smaller seminar groups, of about 20 the next. I don’t claim to be a natural economist but am looking forward to getting a bit of a better grip of the concepts. I think Dr. Dekker’s approach will suit me down to the ground. We have a number of essays to do here – the first two due in two weeks.

Our third course this term will be on Cultural Entrepreneurship. We start on Thursday. Starting in October we will undertake a series of research workshops. More on those to follow.

Two themes seem to be emerging Professor Klamer told us that we should not be asking HOW? but WHY? WHY? WHY? Dr. Dekker told us that we should READ, READ, READ and WRITE. I’d better get on with it.

 

Back by popular demand

Or I soon will be. My first year in Rotterdam was fantastic – I’ve loved almost every minute. Sorry for my absence from your screens. I have been duly reprimanded and will endeavour to try harder.

After a Summer break, back in the UK, August turns and I start to think about coming back to Pancake Street. I’ll be sharpening my pencils and filling my fountain pen in readiness for the MA proper. At the end of June the results were in – confirming that I had cleared the hurdle of passing the Pre-Master year.

My Pre-Master thesis was on the relationship between CEOs and boards of arts organisations. I got a good grade but gratefully take on board the feedback that I made it a bit too complicated. This is great learning for next year when the thesis element will be twice as long and worth a third of the grades for the year.

20160606_181421Since I last tapped a key on this site I have also completed courses in Academic Writing, International Arts Markets and Advanced Economics of the Cultural Industries. I feel academically well equipped and a little nervous about the year to come. Most of my Pre-Master friends will be returning with another thirty five or so new faces who will be coming straight onto the Master year. Lots of new friends to make and new people to learn from. I can confidently say that I have learned as much, if not more, from my fellow students as I have from the formal lectures and assignments – that is how Universities should be.

I will be flying back to Rotterdam in about ten days time. Sue is coming back with me for the weekend and I’ve got a few days to re-orientate myself before the learning begins in earnest. I fear that my limited Dutch has rusted over during the Summer and I will be a lot poorer as the pound has plummeted against the Euro but I look forward to settling back into life on Pancake Street.

End of term report

 

The campus bell tower in the November sunshine

The campus bell tower in the November sunshine

Remember when there used to be three terms a year punctuated by Christmas, Easter and the Summer? The world doesn’t work like that at Erasmus University. Here there are four terms in the year. Christmas and Easter are just inconvenient holidays that get in the way. All this means that half way through November I finished term one with two exams and an essay deadline. In term one I’d taken three courses. Introduction to Social Science Research, Introduction to Economic Theory and Creative Economy and Creative Organisations. I’m sure that you’ll be as relieved as I am that I managed to pass all three, including the exams, (which were ‘orrible).

But what have I learned that I can pass on? I thought I should try and sum up each course, that’s eight weeks, into one sentence. Here we go.

 

 

Social science research is about how we know about things, how we find information, how we ask questions and how we look at the world objectively.

Economic theory is about prices, supply, demand and a rather unrealistic assumption that we are all capable of making rational decisions and that we spend based on our rationalising.

The creative economy is driven by creative people and organisations who create, communicate, organise themselves and others, collaborate and socialise.

I found each course useful and interesting in their own ways. I better understand the principles of scientific research when it comes to society. I know that I want to further question the standard economists and challenge their view of how things work. I have also had chance to think about creativity, how it works and what it needs to have impact.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that my best marks came in Creative Economy and Creative Organisations. One, I’ve been helping run a creative organisation for a few years and two, there wasn’t an exam, (did I say that the exams were ‘orrible?). I particularly enjoyed writing an essay on Country House Opera, an area that I knew nothing about. It’s another world and it was fascinating applying the literature to it. (If anyone would like to read it, I’ll send you a link). I think my enjoyment must have shone through as I got a very good grade.

The grades here are not out of 100 but out of ten. Why does 78% sound better than 7.8? Is it just because of what we’re used to?

My results

Introduction to Social Science Research 8.1
Introduction to Economic Theory 6.6
Creative Economy and Creative Organisations 8.9

I’ve put these books to one side and am almost half way term two. We have a lovely course entitled an Introduction to Statistical Analysis*, another on the Values of Culture and a third on the Economic Geography of Creativity and Urban Development. So hard sums, values not costs and creative cities. All is going well.

 

*My German friends tell me that sarcasm is a very British trait.

The exam invigilator’s domain

Today I sat my first exam for many years. It was an infantalising experience.

We arrive at the imposing Van der Groot building on campus quite early. It’s a vast grey brutalist concrete structure. I like it. It’s imposing. it has a a rather fashionable retro aesthetic. It’s the building you see from the river, as you approach from the city centre. It’s on the prospectuses. The Erasmus signature logo looks down from the seventeenth concrete floor. This is a proud building – proud to be in Rotterdam, a city that increasingly defines itself by its buildings.

The interior is just as vast. This is the building with gigantic lecture halls that seat thousands. . It’s big enough to have staircases signposted ‘Oost’ and ‘West’.  This is where exams happen. Most of the ground floor consists of one giant room filled with thousands of  small desks separated by a meter of unfriendly space on each side. The desks are slightly dog eared from being relentlessly stacked and unstacked.  No one loves them: Caretakers who move them, cleaners who sweep between them, students who sit at them. Empty, this hanger of a space looks like the visiting hall of state penitentiary waiting for boilersuited convicts and weeping wives.

We wait outside. Monitors tell you where to sit based on your student number. Block 18 for me. We are allowed in. I find my allotted place.  Just before  13:30, a disembodied voice tells us, first in Dutch, then in accented English the rules. Phones off and out of the way. Watches removed – use the clocks. The toilets are scanned for mobile signals. Standard dictionaries, the only aid permitted.

The memories of the school hall so many years past flood back. As I turn over the paper it takes me the first five minutes to tune into the printed words. The instructions on  writing my name and student number feel baffling. The silence isn’t silence: the scratching of other people’s pencils; the heels of the invigilator; the shuffling in seats and the deafening noise that the paper makes as someone turns a page.

Block 18’s two invigilators are like minor tragi-comic characters from a Dickensian novel.  A man and woman in their mid sixties. She is in charge. She sits at the front directing him from student to student in loud whispers and exaggerated arm waving. He wanders around, head and shoulders low, checking our student cards, responding unenthusiastically to requests. They don’t smile. At one point a tea trolley arrives for them with paper cups and Viennese whirls, soft enough not to crunch.  She oversees proceedings and precisely peels and slices an apple while he checks and checks his lists.

We are watched but ignored. We are this afternoon’s cohort of lab rats. They are in charge – we are unimportant.

Once the words on the paper start to make sense I proceed with my multiple choices. D, C, A, B, B, B….. I start worrying if I see patterns in the answers and double check. Yes D, C, A, B, B, B….. It is hard to focus. I read the questions three or four times before I take them in.  They are not in the order of the lectures or book chapters. The cunning examiner has mixed them all up to confuse us. We have three hours for 32 Multiple choice questions and three short open questions. The first of the open questions stalls me. I know I’ve read all about it  – twice – but I’ve no idea what the examiner wants. I guess. The others are clearer. After fifty eight minutes the first candidate leaves. They are followed by a steady stream. at 15:00 I’ve done all I can so put up my hand. Mr invigilator comes and folds up my paper. He checks my student card again and walks away. As silently as possible I gather my pencils, sharpener and rubber and leave.

I have no idea how I’ve done. Being stalled by the first open question makes me feel that I must have failed but rationally it was worth three percent of the exam. It is highly unlikely of course but there is still the capacity for me to get 97%. I have to do it all over again on Friday.

 

Study

I’m very sorry, I’ve been far too quiet since I got here. I’ve been working hard.

I thought you’d like to know what I’ve been doing at university and how it’s going. We’re four weeks in, half way through term one. Erasmus University, (EUR), has four terms a year of eight weeks each. This term we have three courses. They are:

  1. Introduction to Economic Theory
  2. Introduction to Social Science Research
  3. Creative Economy and Creative Organisations

For Introduction to Economic Theory we have a three hour seminar each week and are ploughing through the weighty Krugman and Wells textbook. (there was some confusion over our text book). As I’ve said before I’ve done quite a bit of pre reading on economics but have concentrated on the different views and schools – who thinks what etc. Then weighty Krugman and Wells book is more technical. So far I’ve not come across a single reference to another economist. I’ve spent most of my time looking at supply and demand graphs and variants thereof. It’s not the most exciting book but I can see the logic of us going through it. Our lecturer, Paul helps bring it to together and valiantly tries to find cultural examples. Today we’ve been given out midterm assignment. I’ve got to prepare four arguments for a politician who is going to enter a debate arguing against public subsidy for the arts. A very interesting position for me to take given that my income over most of the past twenty odd years has come from public arts funding.  There will be an exam at the end of the course.

Introduction to Social Science Research is taught a bit differently. We are doing this course with a range of other students. Most of them are BA students in International media. We have another American textbook by Earl Babbie. We have weekly two hour lectures with Marc who does his best to animate what could otherwise be really tedious to what is a big audience. We’ve started to sit at the front to avoid the bachelor chit chat. We also have a three hour tutorial with Aldo – a charismatic Brazilian who has rapidly become all our favorite. He uses his own research to help us relate the general course to our area of interest. Last week we submitted part 1 of a three part assignment. In pairs, we’ve been developing research questions. Simone and I are looking at the differences and similarities between cinema and theatre audiences. Part 2 involve designing a quantitative survey and Part 3 some qualitative interview questions. There will also be an exam at the end of this course.

Thirdly we have Creative Economy and Creative Organisations. In a lot of ways this is the most interesting. We don’t have a set text book but are given three chapters or articles to read each week. We’re also encouraged to read around. We’ve been looking at things like creative motivation, organization and definitions. We are working with students who are doing electives or exchanges from other universities. We don’t have an exam in this course – phew! We are working on a ‘class assignment’ in groups. Our group are a fictional vlog, creatively reviewing content on Netflix. Each week we’re given questions to answer through the filter of our organisation. For our midterm assignment we’ve been given a range of statements. We need to choose two and argue for or against them using the set texts and additional reading where appropriate. We’ve only got a week to do this so I’d better get on with it.

My desk awaiting my creative input

My desk awaiting my creative input

The whole course is taught in English, I couldn’t be doing it otherwise. I’m really lucky, most of my fellow students are studying in their second languages. The disadvantage of this is that a lot of the texts we are get are written in and about the UK. I’m hoping that as time goes on I will get to learn more about the rest of the world. The course comes from a western perspective and I expected that but, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ve a lot of experience of the UK cultural scene.

I’m actually really enjoying it all at the moment. There is a lot of reading and some of it is either challenging, tedious or even badly written. I’m finding my way through and starting to make the connections between the courses. I’m enjoying someone else making my organisational arrangements: be in this lecture at 11:00; read that chapter by Wednesday; submit your assignment on line by the 7th… I’m working hard but keeping up and learning.

Economics: the learning begins

It’s less than a month until I start my course. I have the timetable more or less worked out now and have started investigating the reading list.

Since I applied for the course I’ve been trying to do a bit of reading around economics – this is an area I’ve never formally studied before. I’ve listened to quite a few audio books whilst out walking the dog. These are not necessarily the best way to take everything in but it’s amazing what stays their only to reappear as understanding later on.  I’ve read Economics for Dummies via Kindle and am half way through The Secret life of money. I also really enjoyed Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. Not strictly about economics but an incredibly readable expose of high frequency trading in the US and an illustration of how ‘the market’, so beloved of some economists, has gone feral.

In term one at Erasmus University, (September & October), I will be doing a course on Introduction to Economic Theory. Last year the standard text for this course was Economics by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells. I managed to get a second hand copy for £15 as a new one would have cost me £60/€85. I thought that even though it is no longer the set text, I’d get something from it. It arrived while I was away. Sue opened it and commented that she was concerned about my baggage allowance. It’s a weighty tome.

This year there is a new mandatory set text that I have swallowed up. I was a little nervous, wrongly it now seems, that Erasmus University might be a little conservative for me.

2015-08-05 18.07.30The set text is by a modern hero. South Korean, Cambridge Professor, Ha-Joon Chang. Economics: The Users Guide. It’s a Pelican book. I remember rows of Pelican books when my Mum was doing her MA. It’s a beautiful piece of design – simple, classic with embossed lettering on the front. It’s easy to hold and wonderful to read. It is by far the clearest of all the books I’ve consumed so far on the subject. Chang is no neoclassical economist. George Osborne will not be sending this book out as Christmas presents.

One thing that has become clear in all my reading is that it is unfair to judge, (most), historical economists with hindsight. Darling of the free market right, Adam Smith was writing in a very different time to the one we’re living in. sometimes history imposes a mishmash of scale onto a point of view.  We shall never know what Adam Smith’s view of economics would have been if he were writing today. Chang argues that perhaps Marxism, (as written by Karl Marx , not as practiced) is a clearer heir to Adam Smith than Neoclassicism. Even liberal economist, John Maynard Keynes, (who as well as being the twentieth century’s most important economist was also the founder of what became Arts Council England), came up with his theories in a different economic age. An age before computers, the Euro, investment bankers and traders going feral. He acknowledged the rate of technological innovation and that things should be revised each generation – indeed he felt that twelve years was a good generational turn over time for ideas.

I’ve swallowed Chang’s book, loved the clarity of the writing and agree with most of his points of view. That is not to say it hasn’t depressed me a bit. It has reinforced, with evidence, my view that the UK is firmly in the wrong economic groove.

I’ve not yet read the large Krugman & Wells tome though will dip in with interests. In Economics: The Users Guide, Chang describes Krugman as a left of centre Neoclassical Economist. I’ve still got to get my head round that one. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Economics but am really looking forward to the journey

Audio Books that I’ve listened to

What you need to know about Economics by George Buckley & Sumeet Desai

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (A famous classic primer but not from an economics school that I want to belong to. Incredibly patronising too)

Man vs. Markets: Economics Explained (Plain and Simple) by Paddy Hirsch

The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers by Mark Skousen (Really interesting stuff – again from an American writer with a Republican sensibility – but once you get over that, really engaging)

I am half way through

The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City By Elizabeth Currid (I’m struggling with the tone of the narrator. I also feel that Currid is trying to find a new way each chapter to make the same point. New York’s cultural economy is built on networking and socialising)

Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes by Richard Davenport -Hines I’m enjoying this. It is about the man, not economics though naturally they are intrinsically linked. It is also interesting to see Keynes portrayed in the excellent Current BBC Drama mini series about the Bloomsbury Group, Life in Squares

Enrolled and official

I’m going to Rotterdam to study and to learn.  Yesterday, my status at the University changed from ‘accepted to ‘enrolled’ . I am officially a student again. As the start time gets closer I get more and more nervous. Erasmus University in Rotterdam is a proper university. According to the Times World University Rankings it comes in at 72. It is only beaten by about half a dozen UK universities that I would never dream of applying to. I’m just a boy with a mediocre vocational design BA from a former Polytechnic. I can’t even find my alma mater in the rankings. The course that I am going to do is ranked second in the world for  “Arts and Cultural Management” according to www.best-masters.com.  This is serious stuff.20150717_121557_001

I’ve got a lot of experience in cultural management. I’ve been doing it for years but the academic rigour is going to be a challenge. It’s no good just knowing something. You need to know why and how. You also need to back it up with research and evidence. I will also need to get into the habit of academic writing. The thing I’m least looking forward to is all the reading. I want to learn, I want to gain the knowledge but I also know that some of the texts I need to absorb will be rather dry and not well written from a readers point of view.

Erasmus University, (EUR), is not ivy covered. It’s not actually very old. In University terms it’s just a baby having been formed a mere 102 year ago in 1913 as the Netherlands School of Commerce. It’s occupied its present site since 1973. As with the rest of Rotterdam there is a lot of concrete. There is also a major building programme going on with twenty first century architecture springing up along the new University Plaza. There is a separate Medical Centre and Erasmus University College, (across the road from my flat on Pannekoekstraat), in the city centre but the main Woudenstein campus on the edge of Kralingen is where I’ll be based. It’s about a fifteen minute cycle or short tram ride away.  EUR has about 21,000 students of which about a quarter are international. Its alumni include nobel prize winners and Dutch Prime Ministers.

I’m still waiting for my timetable. It would be handy to have it soon so that I can book flights back to the UK when they are cheapest. It looks like things are well organised and that all lectures are condensed into half a week. There are four terms and the timetable changes for each one. For the past two years Term One contact time, (lectures, seminars and work groups), has started as midday on a Tuesday and finished at midday on a Thursday.  British universities seem to start in October and finish at the end of November for Christmas.  EUR lectures start on August 31 and don’t finish ’till December 18.  My first exams will be at the end of Term One in November.

If you’re interested this is what I’ll be studying in my first year:

Study schedule per term

Term Courses
Term 1 Introduction to Economic Theory
Creative Economy and Creative Organizations
Introduction to Social Science Research
Term 2 Economic Geography of Creativity and Urban Development
Values of Culture
Introduction to Statistical Analysis
Term 3 International Art Markets
Academic writing 
Bachelor’s Thesis Class (gr. 4-E or 5-E) (4 weeks)
Term 4
Advanced Economic Aspects of Cultural Industries
Bachelor’s Thesis Class (continuing from term 3)
Bachelor’s Thesis