Interview with Catherine Magnant, EC DG for Education and Culture

Interview with Catherine Magnant, EC DG for Education and Culture

Catherine Magnant, Deputy to the Director and Head of the cultural policies department in the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture, is the first person to be interviewed by CHARTER.

We had the pleasure to discuss Ms Magnant's earliest memories of culture, the importance of research and business-oriented skills to further professionalise cultural heritage as well as her advice to young CH professionals. According to Ms Magnant, the biggest challenge that CH professionals has to overcome is to be more adaptable and to be more open to changing their mindset in regard to - for instance - the digital transition and setting up interdisciplinarity working methods.

Do you remember the first time you were impacted by culture? Can you tell us what captured your attention?

What an interesting question! I do believe that everything is cultural – I certainly swallowed a bit of French culture with the first breath I took as a newborn – the way I was talked to, the sounds, the smells… I also remember clearly the first time I went to the theatre (there was a small circus on the stage! How magical) and to the cinema, both times with my Mum. I was 12. I can still see the huge faces of the actors of the film “l’argent de poche” by François Truffaut on the big screen. The audience laughing at one of the things the main character, a kid like me, said – only I did not laugh as I did not get why it was funny. Also, when I was 12, my first word of Russian, “potolok”, which I repeated over and over on my way home, in order to be able to tell it to my family. Why this word in particular? It means “ceiling’. I thought it sounded so nice, and so exciting. Far away cultures were not as accessible then as they are now. My fascination for inter-cultural dialogue and other cultures has not vanished over the years, on the contrary, it is as vivid as ever!

How did your professional journey through the cultural sector begin?

Like most jobs, it started with an ad and an application letter. A first interview during which I was very nervous; and a second one when all of a sudden, all went very well. But unlike most jobs, this is one where I enjoy (almost!) every minute, and where my personal and professional interest are closely intertwined. What a privilege! I also see how my past professional life and experience nourishes it, and how in a way every step and evolution led me where I am now. In the past 10 years I have seen a lot of progress in European cooperation on culture, many achievements as regards the integration of culture in other EU policy fields, from skills to the green deal and climate change. We still have a lot to do for Europe to fully harvest culture’s potential. You can count on me to give it my all.

Which is the biggest transformation that the cultural heritage sector has faced in terms of skills?

The diverse world of professionals, managers, and workers engaged in different ways with the activities undertaken by cultural heritage organisations, business and institutions, had to face common challenges in terms of skills over the latest years. In my opinion, the biggest transformation – which is still under way – has to do with the capacity to change their mindset, to adapt their understanding of how the sector should approach its communication with audiences and to adopt new business models. This implies dealing with many consequences related to the digital transition and with setting-up different working methods where interdisciplinarity, research analysis, evidence and data driven strategies have become crucial to either struggle for the sustainability of the sector or focus on new innovation potential.

Which skills do you think will be important in the future for the CH sector?

By consequence of the big transformation faced by the sector, I think that research skills and business-oriented skills are both at the centre of the needs to professionalise cultural heritage further, and to make it more equipped towards the needs of the job market in the future. Research skills include indeed the capacity to anticipate and analyse transformations as well as the use of data spaces and digital technologies applied to the sector or the need to increase the focus on digital content. In parallel, business-oriented skills encompass all the so called ‘transversal competences’ ranging from communication, social media management, fundraising, networking, to a number of cross-sectorial competences merging cultural, artistic or humanities driven backgrounds with technological and economic ones.

Essentially, cultural heritage is one of the sectors where a combination of hard and soft skills is crucial, and it needs to be pursued by all the institutions fostering skills-related policies and instruments.

In this respect, our work in DG EAC includes this effort among its priorities. Recent strategies such as the Pact for Skills, as well as the goal we achieved by launching the Blueprint Call on skills for the cultural heritage sector in Erasmus+, are important milestones at EU level. In this context, I am also happy to recall the initiative we took at the beginning of this year, organising a Workshop on complementary funds for cultural heritage, under the Council’s work-plan for culture 2019-2022 and with the involvement of member states and of key stakeholders gathered in our Cultural Heritage Expert Group at DG EAC.

Which message would you like to give young cultural heritage professionals?

Synergies and networking: these are the key words that, in my view, young cultural heritage professionals should have in mind as drivers of their work and engagement. These are also assets for the heritage sector, when it comes to being able to create synergies also in terms of intra-sectorial cooperation where innovative collaborations between cultural heritage professionals and cultural-creative industries are essential. They are useful indeed to leverage the second element, the networking capacity towards institutions by making the richness and the overall value of arts and culture more visible and more attractive to funders, both public and private. Young cultural heritage professionals should therefore focus very much on exploiting their own potential and the one of the sector by constantly revisiting ways to imagine and produce cultural content, cultural offer and heritage enhancement overall. One of the key synergies that are needed, for example, by heritage sites and cultural heritage institutions is to liaise with cultural tourism operators to make the best out of their heritage-related assets. This will be particularly important also for the recovery and for strengthening the connection between cultural heritage and the green deal, climate action and sustainable development.

Another very important driver for the young professionals should be to focus on quality. Quality is indeed increasingly required for the sustainability of cultural heritage as a common good, and for the long-term accountability of cultural heritage institutions and the planning of interventions having impact upon cultural heritage and sites.

In this context, I wish to raise attention on the publication issued by ICOMOS, in cooperation with DG EAC under the EYCH, on the “Quality principles for EU funded interventions with potential impact upon cultural heritage”

What expectations do you have for CHARTER?

My wish for CHARTER is that it will succeed in helping establish a true, visible and reliable alliance of key players in the sector across the EU.

Thanks to its wide, rich and diverse Consortium, in terms of competences, knowledge, geographical coverage and institutional balance, I expect CHARTER to truly reinforce the capacity of the sector to harmonise and coordinate its efforts towards building new curricula, as well as recognition tools for these new curricula and the emerging modules and models to address skills shortage and gaps. Furthermore, I strongly hope that the industrial side of the alliance, namely the employers as much as the institutions up to a certain extent, will adapt their ways and strategies to valorise the new professionals. Especially young cultural heritage professionals, that will need to have better employment horizons and wider perspectives, including to see their increased variety of competences rewarded, as to contribute to the professionalisation and relevance of the sector in Europe. Only by enhancing the value and recognition of the cultural heritage workforce, the sector – as well as the CHARTER project – will be able to make the difference in the future!


Ms Catherine Magnant is Deputy to the Director and Head of the cultural policies department in the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture. She was previously Head of the Commission Task Force of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, which took place in 37 countries.

She started her career in Moscow, where she set up the Press and Information section of the European Commission Delegation. Back in Brussels, she was part of the team preparing the EU enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe. She then joined the EU’s external relations service where she worked to promote human rights in third countries. She later turned to internal EU policies and was Deputy Head of Unit for cultural policy and innovation in the Directorate General for Education and Culture, working on the creative economy.

Catherine, a French citizen, is an alumnus of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud, Paris. She also graduated in international relations and Russian language from the Sorbonne University.

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