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Marko Brumen – why it’s worth working in Culture

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Marko Brumen talks about differences between art, culture and entertainment. He shares what it’s like to produce cultural events and what it means for him to be a part of a bigger culture focused organization. We end the conversation discussing opportunities in museum and culture space.

How do your coworkers introduce you?

They would say that I wear many hats. I take care of Vetrinjski dvor (public venue in an old castle) where I coordinate activities and make sure that artists and visitors can efficiently do their work. I also oversee the production of street theatre programmes that is part of the biggest Slovenian festival, Festival Lent. I scout for locations and when there is a festival I’m the one that coordinates and makes sure everyone and everything is at the right place at the right time. Part of that is also making sure that everyone feels welcome, can do their job, and that their work environment is a safe one. My official job title is a producer.

How does your role as a producer differ from a creative producer?

A creative producer deals with the creative content of the performance. They keep up with creative trends and topics that are alive in the artistic community. They work with artists to ensure that their work is aligned with a larger creative vision of the performance or a festival. As a producer I’m also part of the process but more from an implementation perspective. I’m focusing more on what kind of space, equipment, and other resources do these artists need to deliver their vision. 

How did you get into this role?

I studied marketing and always found it interesting. As a student, I was already working in a cultural space so I was getting familiar with how things work. After studies, I was thinking about what to do next and I wasn’t really interested in traditional marketing and advertising of household products. Culture is always full of very interesting people, very dynamic by nature and I could connect with this kind of creative energy.

Who do you think would do well in your field of culture work? 

Someone who cares a lot about substance, that artists can tell their stories and that people can hear them. It’s important to them that visitors can reflect on this work and that it leaves an impact on them. Not necessarily the same impact that the artist had in mind. It’s also a very social environment and very different from office work in a marketing agency.

There’s also a very big talent gap in our industry. It’s not as well paid as more commercial jobs and it also has bigger communication challenges. As such it’s a space where individuals can have an outsized impact compared to what they could do in a more corporate environment.

When I was comparing these potential paths, I was also looking at tradeoffs between having a ‘9-5’ job vs. having a ‘9-9’ job and what kind of life I would have. There is less separation of working and non-working hours, but the benefit is that you get to be around interesting people more, attend parties around events, and be immersed in all the creative energy that emerges.

Why is working in a culture so meaningful to you?

The feeling that comes with seeing tens or hundreds of people enjoy the event that you help bring to life. The fact that they’re leaving with new impressions, thoughts, and that they a good time being around their friends and other attendees. There are also all the creatives that you get to meet and empower to show their works of art. You also get to understand their message a bit better and it might open a completely new perspective to you.

After many years of doing this, I also noticed that some of our past events left an important imprint on the society around me. They changed the expectations of people from their cities, neighborhoods, and how to live their lives. What kind of events and activities they expect to be available and they would tell us that they miss them, if they’re not there anymore. When they talk about nostalgia around your past work it’s a real message on how much impact it had on them.

Some events also serve as an important bookmark in history. They opened important questions around society and how we live and they’re still not answered. As such people refer back to them when they’re revisiting these topics. Our audiences are the kind of people that are creating a change in different parts of society. 

All of this together creates the feeling that supporting all of this really matters. You don’t see it immediately, but with a longer time horizon, it becomes much more visible. It contributes to the collective consciousness of society. 

How is art different from entertainment?

Entertainment is primarily trying to entertain without trying to provide a critical perspective. Compared in such a way, art events have a fundamentally different type of audience and expected levels of participation. You’re also participating in them as a part of a large audience group that creates a sense of shared reality. It’s a catalyst for reflection that you can use to further discuss with your friends. Even a bad concert creates a space of comparison – what was bad about it and which similar concert was better. It forces you to think.

What’s the difference between art and culture?

The purpose of art is to either ask questions, offer answers, or both. It’s constantly interrogating society about the direction, purpose, and methods that it is using to get there.

Culture is everything around us. It has a strong connection to different identities: personal, national, or cultural. It’s a consequence of how we live our lives and not the cause of it. It is often an early reflection of what’s happening inside the society.

Where do museums fit into the story of culture?

They started as spaces where we store important artifacts of our time. In recent years their role has expanded to also interpret their collections. They’re also organizing events and creating spaces that provide additional context to their collections. They’re more proactive in communicating the purpose of their collections and how they still relate to modern society.

Historically they were just a space to store artifacts and offer access to researchers, scientists, and the public. This is not enough anymore. They need to be much more proactive in their work. They used different tactics to do this. Some are more Disneyesque while others are trying to go a more digital route. There’s often an undertone of creating space for reflection and critical thought. When people understand the context of how history was made it helps people understand where we are going.

Where do you see opportunities in the space of culture?

There’s a huge knowledge gap inside the industry. A lot of these institutions don’t know how to proactively engage with modern technologies and new ways of thinking. The problem goes beyond just technological developments. We need leaders that understand innovation, how to be present in modern society and how to organize workflows around it. All layers need support from different parts of the industry. The problem is also quite hard because a lot of institutions don’t have a clear vision about their new role, how they communicate it, and how do they plan to achieve it. It’s mostly funded through public money which makes it extra hard to retain high-quality people.

What I learned from talking with Marko

Type of organization heavily influences lifestyle of its employees. I need to consider what kind of lifestyle do I want and how does the organization support that.

Small building blocks of many one time events still lead to something greater. It’s hard to know in the moment if the work will have a lasting impact.

GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) world is going through a rethink of what their goal is and there are plenty of interesting problems that needs solving. Being a generalist from a different field is a plus in such environment.