Entrepreneurship in the Arts
Paper given at the opening of the Trans National Cultural Exchange Project Conference at Southampton Solent University by Ian Oliver, Head of Artistic Entrepreneurship on behalf of the Centre for Creative Practices on 7 October 2015.
Good afternoon I’d like to start by telling you a little bit about myself, my name is Ian Oliver and my passion is to work with artists of all disciplines, creative teams and organisations to enable them to elevate their thinking and strategy to achieve the sustainability they need and to help them to realise the true economic and social impact of Arts and Culture.
As Tony Robbins says,
“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”
I am not taking the notion that artists do not study their artistic practice, of course they do, otherwise we wouldn’t see the amazing art works presented in so many places.
What I am talking about here is the additional skills that help artists to have a fulfilling career. We’ve all heard other people say or wanted to be ourselves a rock star, we could play guitar, do vocals, drum but that doesn’t make one a rock star. To be a rock star it means we have to star at rock but also that we have to commit to it as to our profession. By making rock our career, we also need to be able to earn our living from it.
That sounds completely obvious, but is that really the case with the arts and many artistic professions?
It wasn’t always that obvious to me. I will give you a little background to explain it better. I have worked in the Arts for over 20 years as a freelancer, volunteer, some unpaid, some semi-paid until I got a position in the Irish Writers’ Centre on Dublin’s Parnell Square in 2003.
It’s December 2008, the director of the Centre, received a letter from the Arts Council, one that gave us our funding for the next year. This year however, the contents were shattering, next year our funding from the Arts Council of Ireland will go from €200,000 to zero – no debate, no recourse, no feedback.
Without this funding there was no chance for the IWC to continue its work. We did generate a bit of additional income ourselves but that bearded no relation to the costs we had to keep the programme and the services going. The three people employed in the Centre had to finish in February 2009. We just couldn’t afford to leave with no redundancy and as it was based on final salary, it left us with no choice but to leave while the Centre still had the ability to pay.
I was furious that an organisation which such a track record, respect and potential may have to close due to one source of funding drying out. Soon after this I have decided to try and to fail better. In September 2009 my partner Monika and myself opened the Centre for Creative Practices with an ambition to run an independent, not commercial arts centre that is sustainable. It did not work out the way we intended but we have learned a lot about sustainability or rather lack of it in the arts sector.
CFCP soon became known is the only arts organisation in Ireland dedicated to connecting, integrating and promoting migrant, experimental and emerging artists among the local arts scene and audiences.
We were winners of the Arthur Guinness Fund in 2012, named in the Purpose Economy 100 for Europe in 2014, awarded the Multicultural Company of the Year and Shortlisted as Dublin’s Gallery of the Year both in 2011. We have got financial support from the Arts Council of Ireland & Dublin City Council Arts Office and also by Dublin City Council’s Office of Integration.
We ran on average 15 events per month, with a total of over 700 multidisciplicary and intercultural events. We had engagement with over 1,500 artists and 16,000 audiences.
And it took us almost three years to dare to price our concert tickets at €10 and to increase our venue hire rent to extortionate €120 per day. Yes, we were afraid to realistically price our work.
Moreover, through our contact with over 1500 artists we realised that well over 90% of them suffer due to the same condition – lack of sustainability based on the widely held believe that we cannot expect our audiences or customers to pay realistic prices.
Soon we realized that most of the sector lacked the skills to run a successful artistic business or career, We all needed help, irrespective of where on the career path in the arts we were.
As Tim Knight says
“Everyone and every organisation is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.”
We need a new model, one that put the artists role and ability to make a living wage at the forefront of the arts. How do we get from where we are at the moment, to one where artists are making a living wage? But more importantly why is this important?
In a recent online survey we did as part of our online Debate on the Economic Contribution of Arts & Culture we asked artists and arts organisations “Can the arts be sustainable?” to which 56% responded negatively, however 54% thought it was crucial to make a living from your art, but when we asked “Do the general public see the economic contribution of Arts & Culture in Ireland?” a staggering 83% of respondents said NO.
In March 2000 at the European Council in Lisbon, EU Heads of State and Governments agreed upon an ambitious goal: making the EU by 2010 “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”.
Lisbon wanted to boost R&D spending by governments, universities and corporations in the belief that growth and employment will be achieved by investing in the flagship industries of the digital economy and boosting innovation.
The role of the cultural and creative sector within this context was still largely ignored. Indeed, the move to measure the socio-economic performance of the sector is a relatively recent trend.
However, the exercise is a contentious one. For many, the arts are a matter of enlightenment or entertainment. This leads to the perception that arts and culture are marginal in terms of economic contribution and should therefore be confined to the realms of public intervention.
Furthermore the Statement of Strategy 2011 – 2014 by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in Ireland outlined that “arts, culture and audiovisual content play a crucial role in the deployment of the knowledge society.”
To put some figures on this
- The combined arts, culture and creative sectors is globally one of the fastest growing sectors, representing 7% of global GDP and growing at 10% per annum.
- The European Commission indicates that the cultural and creative sectors generated a turnover of more than €654bn, contributed 2.6% to the overall level of European GDP and grew at a faster pace than the overall European economy;
- The latest UK Economic Statistics Bulletin indicates that the creative and cultural industries accounted for 6.4% of UK Gross Value Added (GVA), exported services of £16bn, equating to 4.3% of all goods and services exported and supporting just under 2 million jobs.
- In Germany, recent research highlighted the fact that the GVA achieved by the creative industries accounted for €58bn, approximately 2.6% of German GDP.
Imagine what we could do with greater resources / training and implementation? Europe could be at the forefront of this development in a Global context.
But lets take a look at the situation on the ground, taking data from Ireland, it is estimated that the number of professional artists in Ireland is 4,915 compared to an estimate from a 1979 study of 1,451 artists. This suggests an increase of more than three-fold in the number of professional artists.
Earnings of an average Irish worker in 2008 were more than 1.4 times those of the average artist, with the average earnings of managers, professionals and associated professionals 2.2 times. While artists may have similar levels of education to many of those in the managerial and professional group, their earnings are closer to, and actually below, workers in the clerical, sales and service sector category.
Comparisons available for income data for 1978 and 2008 suggest that artist incomes have fallen relative to other workers over this period. In 1979 artists earned 20% more than manufacturing workers but, by 2008, artists’ average incomes were 56% less.
Other statistics to come out of the study include
- 58% of artist households find it difficult to make ends meet and 9% have ‘great difficulty’ making ends meet.
- 23% were in arrears in relation to a utility bill compared to 8% of the wider population.
- 31% of artists have made provision for a pension compared to 54% of all workers. The principal reasons given was that artists can’t afford them and the unpredictability of their work patterns.
- More than half of all artists are self-employed, with only 13% paying tax on a PAYE basis.
- Relatively small proportions of artists are registered for VAT, at about 13%. The generally low level of VAT registration reflects the low income levels of many artists.
- 69% of artists have a third-level degree or higher and 83% a professional qualification, compared to only 24% of ‘all workers’.
But what do artists need for development? Well Four factors predominated these included most importantly lack of financial return from creative work and a lack of work opportunities the second.
In relation to developing or continuing their careers as artists, respondents were asked to identify their three main needs. Artists say their single biggest need in developing their careers is for more funding and resources.
The second most important need relates to the market for the work of artists. This incorporates a requirement for more opportunities for artists to show their art and to perform, including greater access to audiences, performance venues and exhibitions. It also includes more access to local and international markets and a need for more education of the public on their artform areas.
Another main factor was time, with artists who perhaps work in other jobs or have other commitments finding it difficult to create the space in their lives for artistic work.
The survey asked the artists if, in light of the positives and negatives in their careers, would they if they were starting over choose to work as artists, more than four out of five artists said yes. A key reason for this is the nature of their work, the fact that many feel drawn to it as a ‘vocation’, their work providing personal fulfillment.
But change is something we in the arts do not do well. When I say change I am talking about the adoption of business change not creative change as we are still the leading sector in that respect. No, treating art like a business is almost considered a taboo, although we hold up as some form of Demi gods those who have achieved commercial success, one thinks of the likes of U2, Pierce Brosnan, Graham Knuttle, The Pogues, Jim Sheridan etc and yet when asked to reach those or similar heights themselves most will reply that they feel as if they would be giving away their art, their creativity, their very soul.
But, “Art Cannot exist in a vacuum”
How can we change this? Well there does seem to be a small shift in recent years, a number of national and International funding organisations have taken a lead role in the promotion of professional development initiatives offering workshops and mentoring in topics as diverse as taxation, marketing, contracts and fundraising but the problem is that there is no overriding structure just diverse topics covered in a diverse manner. What we need is a concentrated development programme that outlines the aims, goals and outcomes of the scheme without taking away the core values of the individual participant bi not compromising their creativity or art but enhancing it, giving it greater impact.
Now Impact is an interesting concept. Art is defining, art is stimulating, art makes us think, its job is to entertain, enlighten, provoke and provide an overview of the world situation through a set of very specific set of eyes, namely that of the artist.
Surely then the greater the audience means the greater the impact, the greater the impact the greater society can change or understand its roles and the greater our roles in the world the more we understand each other.
So what do we in the arts sector do to increase our impact? One could argue not a lot, as throw it out there and see is almost perceived as sufficient practice.
The economic pressure to put bums on seats and the issues around public funding, or diminishing lack of, has lead to the need to engage with new stakeholders and new audiences. But are we really reaching the new or just the same old audience only new to us?
We need to ask ourselves why are we producing the impact that we should be? Do we engage our audiences? Do we influence society? Does society regard arts and culture as being important to defining our role in the world or is it more that arts and culture are tolerated, perceived as over funded and almost totally misunderstood by the populace. A populace that will go in droves to see certain cultural icons, Bowie in the V&A, U2 in Croke Park, Madonna, Lady Gaga, One Direction et al but put on a show in almost any gallery, theatre, alternative music venue and we all, without exception, tentatively ask the audience to attend whilst doing a great impression of a rabbit caught in a cars headlights.
Going back to the start of this, I think it would be a good idea to look at where we get the skills that enable us to engage with and ultimately impact upon our existing and new audiences. Talk to almost any artist or arts organisation about brand purpose, strategic planning, Net Promoter Scores etc let alone, how, what and most importantly WHY we do something. Most artists and arts organsiations will turn in the opposite direction or say, “That’s not what we do, this is not art!”
Well it’s about time we sat up and took notice. We are in the privileged position to look at which methods work and which methods we should avoid at all costs.
But as well as trying to regain the ground that we have lost we need to look at the methods of how they got there in the first place. There are skills that we need to learn, skills in how to run a successful business from operations to engagement. At present we have the vision, but not the skills or the leaders. By leaders I mean those who are prepared to put their heads up and engage with the new new, not those who are only engaging the existing audiences.
Look at the champions and influencers we have in positions of power, real power, the ones who can influence society, the powerhouses. We need to be honest, we have no representation on real influencers and again if you don’t agree look at the coverage art gets when compared to other activities that are after disposable income like sport and food, both of whom get far more coverage, debate and audiences than the arts generally do. Take out the 80,000 in Croke Park for U2 or the like and think about the day to day audience who engage with art.
To have impact you need to have influence, to have influence you need to be reaching the people, the people who will become champions and strangely enough we already know these people. We just need to have that conversation. Only we lack the the plan to engage them, we have not stated our purpose, our goals, our aims. We have the power to change, the power to adapt, we even have the most creative brains in the world that allows us to achieve it, so why don’t we just do it?
The ridiculous part of this is that steeped in the history of the arts are artists and organisations who have embraced entrepreneurial skills. Most of the great artists that we look back on today owed their success not to chance, but through some form of payment, sponsorship, exchange. It is also worth noting that the status of artists in society was far greater than it is today.
We are at the cusp of a new way in funding for the arts. For too long the duty for an artist to make a living has been ignored. Artists need to have the skills and understanding to make a living wage. However, the onus is not solely on the artist but on those who are the gatekeepers, the educators, the advisors, the mentors and the stakeholders. We need to make change and we need change to happen now!
One of the main ways in which we can effect change is through arts education. Art Colleges, like any university it serves two functions to act as both a store and repository of knowledge and skills and teaches people how to use those resources to prepare artists for their professional careers.
In the recently published novel “Submission” by Michel Huellebecq the main character, Literature professor at Sorbonne University, remarks about the value of academic studies of literature in a very sarcastic way: “The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature – it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 per cent of time.
Still it’s harmless, and can even have a certain marginal value. A young woman applying for a sales job at Céline or Hermès should naturally attend to her appearance above all, but a degree in literature can constitute a secondary asset, since it guarantees the employer, in the absence of any useful skills, a certain intellectual agility that could lead to professional development….”
It’s not all that doom and gloom, however it would be difficult to fully deny certain accuracy in this harsh critique.
Applying Huellebecq’s lens to the booming 3rd level Arts Education we will find a very similar situation. In the arts “the winner takes all” and in fact only small percentage of graduates actually make a career in their artistic profession with the remaining facing a life full of struggle and frustrations.
Does it really need to be like this or is there a feasible solution to change this situation and make the artistic career possible similarly to other professions obtained through studies?
We have in Europe these amazing Fine Art, Music, Acting and similar Academies perfectly preparing their students to produce/perform art work at the highest level. Unfortunately, many of their graduates end up having 3 jobs from which two are subsidising their vocation.
We can keep excusing this mass scale wasting of resources and human potential or we can try to better prepare young artists for their reality check and life as an artistic professional.
What about changing the perception and accepting seeing all artists who graduate or acquire their artistic skills in any other way as artistic professionals who during their education learn entrepreneurial skills they can apply to be the success, create the impact and survive in a way they want to be.
Having been to the Venture Capital Conference in Belfast back in February 2014 organised by Enterprise Ireland, the State and public perception of the arts became clear.
Imagine for one moment a time when there is no public finance or as is more likely a time when public finance is dispersed by large public bodies to only a select number of arts organisations.
Add to this that available funding will be decreased and will stipulate that it can only be used for artistic means and not core costs.
Arts organisations are great at what they do. But this service usually depends on a venue or building on which rent has to be paid and most importantly how to generate enough revenue to pay the 32,000 directly employed in the arts sector, the staff.
We should also take into consideration that over 99,000 people were indirectly employed in the arts sector and figures from the European Commission report suggest that over 5.8 million are employed in Europe.
Now this is a huge body of people whose whole life is at stake and also a huge number of people who contribute to the economy of the country through taxes, spending and savings.
So how will these core costs be met?
Arts organisations should at this stage should be looking at new ways of generating revenue to cover costs and to achieve this it can only look at a model that includes profit generation for certain projects or streams.
This might in fact encourage a more diverse arts programme rather than a reduction or amalgamation of the arts into a series of events directed towards popular culture. As a lot of organisations will be going for the same pot of disposable income each will have to find its unique selling point, that advantageous element that it has over the other and to capitalise on that rather than providing the same programme as its neighbour.
Now I know that the argument against will probably contain references to distracting from the independence of art but for certain projects and certain organisations this model makes a lot of sense.
Three of the speakers were from Enterprise Ireland, InvestNI and Intertrade Ireland, each of whom highlighted the amount of finance that they receive from central government, figures which dwarfed the amounts given to either Arts Council. Enterprise Ireland €380 million and InvestNI £190 million, compared to the €54 million the Arts Council and the £12 million that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland receives. You start to get an idea of the disproportionate amounts given towards the arts.
So maybe it is time for the arts sector to stop kidding itself that it is an important sector and that government takes a serious interest in the arts.
Further proof is the increase in investment by both governments in enterprise Ireland and InvestNI compared with the 33% cut that the arts council has had in the last three years.
Now a picture starts to emerge, if arts and culture were important and seen as an important part to boost the Irish economy, would we have such significant cuts?
Through our dealings with one of our main stakeholders in CFCP we have come into close contact with 14 other social & creative enterprises, another sector that faces the same financial difficulties as the arts sector.
Each of them at the outset stated that their position and engagement was with the social sphere that they deal in. It was the impact and not the finance that was important.
However, 2 years later 13 of them are now looking at generating other revenue streams, not as their main thrust but as a supplement, allowing them to continue to provide services but ultimately allowing them to offer increased services to a greater section of the society they impact.
To me this is the type of model that the arts sector should be looking at, an enhancement allowing growth rather than the only way to survive.
In the corporate world there are research and development units whose job it is to look and validate new sectors, new products, new methods.
This incurs huge cost and as the vast majority of these ideas never come to fruition the financial loss is great and needs to be made up by other revenue streams.
If we look at this model and impose our own notions on it we can see that the experimental event, the alternative performance, the group who meet to look at new ideas are in fact the arts sectors research and development unit.
We can afford these costs provided that we can cover these by other revenue streams but without loosing our focus on our aims and goals, the section of the arts sector we impact.
The sector needs to loose the affinity towards public funding and grant rounds.
We need to start looking at new models, models that at the end of the day will ensure that the sector survives.
At a Q&A in 2013 at the National College of Art & Design in Dublin, one of the fathers of the Internet, Professor Leonard Kleinrock was asked, what should fine art graduates do? He advocated them working closely with scientists, especially in the field of bioengineering.
Creativity has always been a great innovator and in the arts sector creativity is something we have an abundance of.
We want the Arts sector to be taken seriously but to achieve this we have to play our part to, we need to be disruptive.
I am totally convinced that the arts sector needs to look towards other funding models and that our reliance on public funding and generous donors has to come to an end.
What I would like to make clear is that I would not like to see a total abandonment of these forms of funding but to my mind these should be the icing on the cake and not the de-facto methods.
We need to have backing by state and private funds, we need their endorsement especially when we are talking to or looking to enter foreign markets, the Arts Council or Dublin City Council logo attached to your work speaks a thousands words and shows that the artistic quality that we provide is of the highest standard.
Anything that we can do to show them that we are able to look at and address other options to be financially secure, not only decreases the burden but also means that we can show that the sector is trying and succeeding in being financially secure.
I know that this does not sit well with the sector as a whole and current thought would be that if we showed ourselves able to survive without public money then public money would be cut completely.
However, if we look at the investment increase that has been afforded to Enterprise Ireland etc. it can be demonstrated that governments like to fund success, being blunt, it looks good for them if the sector thrives.
The set of skills and training which could help artistic professional better position themselves in the society I call “Artistic Entrepreneurship” and I see it as a great opportunity bridging artists with society to mutual benefit.
To This end we provide mentoring, consultancy, courses, resources. We have had over 500 artists, arts organisations and arts professionals going through the programme.
 M. Huellebecq, Submission, 2015, Penguin Random House, p.10
About the author
My imperative is to work with individuals, teams and organisations to enable them to elevate their thinking and strategy and to engage with them to look at the economic and social impact of Arts and Culture on Society.
Having over 15 years’ management and entrepreneurial experience in the Arts Sector, my experience includes teaching, mentoring, developing strategies and implementation, programming and experiences for audiences as well as artistic and corporate clients. I also teach and lecture on a number of the entrepreneurship courses under CFCP Artistic & Creative Entrepreneurship programme.
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