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The sound of the auctioneer’s gavel has been heard in the ninth arrondissement of Paris since 1852. Bargain-hunters flock here daily to view paintings, furniture and art objects of every era and budget, hopeful that their bid will be the one met with the word “adjugé” – sold!

Drouot is one of the oldest public auction houses in the world, and as many as 6,000 people come to its salerooms every day – private collectors, dealers, flea market brocanteurs, international buyers – and Laure Kraemer.

The worlds of art and business coexist uneasily, but Kraemer – now in charge of the marketing and commercial department at Drouot – is one of the growing number of people taking advantage of masters in management programmes that specialise in cultural activities.

“Culture and the arts is a fully fledged economic sector that requires specialist know-how and expertise,” she says. “After my studies in the history of art, I felt that enhancing my management and marketing skills would enable me to broaden my horizons and go a step further in my professional path. So I looked for a business school closely linked with cultural activities.”

The programme Kraemer chose was the Master in Management of Cultural and Artistic Activities at ESCP Europe, a one-year course in Paris and Venice that covers the core disciplines of marketing, management, finance and the law, but as they apply to culture and the arts. “We learned new ways of assessing the value of cultural products, the diversification of financing sources, new methods of increasing public appeal, and significantly, a heightened emphasis on budgetary priorities,” she says.

The ESCP programme is offered as a double degree with the Università Ca’Foscari Venezia. “Cultural activities are increasingly international, thanks for example to EU funding,” explains Kraemer. “Studying in both Paris and Venice provided me with an important international dimension.

“But I also valued the way we tackled the future of cultural activities, and not as something locked away in a box in the past. Online services offer lots of opportunities and I now handle that in my everyday professional life here with online auctions,” she adds.

Plenty of business schools would argue the irrelevancy of such a specialist masters: that management is management, whether you are a museum or manufacturer. Not so, contends Maria Koutsovoulou, academic dean at ESCP Europe, who used to work as a management consultant in the cultural and fashion sectors. “It’s not easy to manage creative people like a Tom Ford [the fashion designer], for example,” she explains. “Likewise, to be a management controller or auditor in the Louvre, or of a theatre or opera in Paris is not the same as working in a bank. We educate our students about necessary and rigorous processes and tools, but with awareness and respect for creativity.”

Aside from the creative talent that has to be managed on a daily basis, cultural organisations also differ in the way that they straddle non-profit and for-profit contexts, says Renaud Legoux, associate professor at HEC Montreal, which is launching a Master of Management of Cultural Organisations this autumn. “They are mostly small organisations that function in a highly networked fashion, with very little stability in terms of workforce,” he says. “Cultural organisations also have to handle deep relations with multiple stakeholders such as governments, patrons, private donors, foundations and firms.”

That said, the masters students at HEC Montreal – which has run a specialised graduate diploma in the management of cultural organisations since 1988 – will be required to attend classes that develop their capacity to compare and contrast managerial practices from other fields.

The location of these courses is important, in terms of giving students internship opportunities. Legoux says the HEC programme will build upon more than 20 years of collaboration with the arts organisations of Montreal, a vibrant cultural city that has developed expertise in arts management.

Similarly, Paris and Venice offer many openings for students keen to strengthen their CVs. At ESCP, the programme’s 30 students spend the first term in Venice, studying the history of art and culture, followed by a second, less academic but more applied term in Paris studying management. This is followed by a four-to-six month internship at organisations ranging from Christie’s, the auction house, to Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency, and the Venice Biennale art show. The course is completed with a professional thesis.

The programme is only five years old, but alumni already include the management controller at the Louvre and the vice-administrator of the Château de Versailles.

“Alumni grow their own networks, so now it’s much easier to source jobs and internships than it was in the first year,” admits Koutsovoulou.

According to ESCP, the appetite for its programme, which costs €11,800 for 2012-13, is such that it could easily double admissions. “But we want to be sure that graduates will find a job, which is why we limit the number of students to 30,” explains Koutsovoulou, who says that ESCP’s campus in Madrid has expressed an interest in running a similar programme.

“We are going to see if we can have a partnership with local institutions there. We would like to create a really strong field of cultural management on all our campuses. And since we are building this expertise in cultural management, we would like to create more double degrees too. We would also like to recruit more international students, particularly from eastern Europe, Latin America and China,” she says.

Copenhagen Business School (CBS) offers a double degree with Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan – a Master of Science in Economics and Management in Arts, Culture, Media and Entertainment and Master of Social Science with a concentration in Management of Creative Business Processes – although it is limited to just five student from each university a year.

The two-year masters includes a 10-week internship and industry partners include Egmont, the publishing company, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, IFPI Denmark, the music industry association, Italian fashion firms, Indian animation studios and Bollywood firms.

“The double-degree option is a challenging one, because it takes the student out of their environment at their home school and immerses them for a year at the partner university,” says Rene Barseghian, double-degree co-ordinator at CBS.

“They must quickly become accustomed to a different educational system, but it interests students who are eager for an ‘out of the box’ experience or international career,” she says.

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