Arty Business Futures, Volunteers, and Perceptions of Success…

I have recently been taking my own advice and seeking to make money less from the business I run, in order to help it grow. It’s something I advise new acts I work with to do – get jobs, look for other revenue streams, pay bills, make money. Music is a very romantic game, and it’s tempting to throw everything behind your dream. I do understand this attitude and love the success stories but these are few and far between and I prefer a more pragmatic approach. There’s one “success” story here which is my point.

I love Sir Ken Robinson and his messages (one being that we can and should find what we love doing and do that), but I also love how this piece from The Onion is not so much funny, as pretty sound advice (OK it’s very funny but there’s decent enough advice in there too!).

I went to What Next‘s biggest event in London so far this Monday and came away pretty fired up and excited about a movement which could yet be a model for the way an arts council looks in this country in the future. It seemed less like something being led by a shadowy elite, and more like something which was growing organically. It was nice to feel like I had an open line with some of the finest arts organisations and leaders in the UK.

One of the most striking presentations was from a chap from Voluntary Arts. He made the point about how there are thousands of people who make art and form part of groups on a purely amateur basis and we had a chance briefly to discuss this afterwards. It reminded me of a book I own but have only half read – The Hidden Musicians, a study of folks who just make music for fun, and fulfil all their ambitions in so doing (ie not looking to “make it” – whatever that means). We are preoccupied by employment status in music and the arts (society as a whole?), and somewhat obsessed by notions of full and proper recompense for our/an artists work. What IS success?

I am very positive after listening to and taking part in the discussions of Monday last. I do feel however, that funding from government can dominate these discussions and as a result there is a danger that things become party political. I was heartened to hear more than once, a commitment to not leading this in the directions of party divisions. That said, I think there was still very much an expectation that MORE funding is necessary.

I want to suggest that arts leaders go to Maria Miller with a radical suggestion in response to her request that the Arts and Culture prove their economic value to her: Ask for LESS, and make up the difference by being smart, being entrepreneurial. Ask for a stronger bargaining position at the table next time round. I get the feeling that so many more successful business models were not at the event on Monday. From all sectors, tech as well as the arts, business, banking, insurance, property, whatever. Learning from other sectors is crucial. An awareness of how businesses can collaborate, and co-operate, using technology intelligently will serve the arts sector well. This was something of an exciting beginning I think, with the suggestion of an organic online “grid” particularly exciting, yet a good deal more needs to be done. I’ll be glad to help!

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