Look back at our Business Models events in Belfast and Dublin

On 5 and 6 December 2018, Creative Europe Desks UK - Northern Ireland and Creative Europe Desk Ireland delivered two events: one in Belfast, the other in Dublin, under the title: 'Building resilience and sustainability for the cultural and creative sectors: New Business Models in Practice’.

Why business models?

New business models is one of the priorities of the Cooperation Projects strand in the Culture sub-programme. And it’s a frequently discussed area at regional and national levels too: building reliance and financial sustainability is critical for the arts and culture sector to ensure long-term survival.

What did the event aim to achieve? 

  • The sharing of case studies from organisations who are employing innovative practises to enable them to grow and thrive in Northern Ireland, Ireland and across Europe. 
  • Networking and informal discussions. We were keen that attendees got plenty of time to ask questions and to discuss in small groups. 

Who spoke and what did they say?

Sandy Fitzgerald, our keynote, rooted us in a European context via the Creative Europe funded Cooperation Project Creative Lenses, in which his cultural agency OLIVEARTE is partner. 

There was lots of discussion in particular around values: that arts organisations exist primarily to create change, and not to make money, and therefore cannot be looked at solely from a business point of view. 

Some of Sandy’s headline conclusions from the Creative Lenses Project were: 

  • Business models are a support but not a reason to exist
  • Models are dangerous because visions are unique
  • Values are what drive development 
  • Arts funding can lead to a culture of dependence (sectoral complacency) 
  • Independence is directly linked to financial independence if the vision is clear
  • Funding is attracted, not raised (but strategy is key)
  • Passion can only get you so far (professionalism leads to success)
  • Success is often failure in the arts sector (resources must match development)
  • We are all experts (cooperation adds value)

The final conference of Creative Lenses is in Helsinki on 24 and 25 April 2019 and open to all. 

Guy Le Jeune is a writer, theatre maker and musician based in Donegal. He has just completed his third year as Theatre Artist in Residence for An Grianán Theatre, where he is in the throws of Cooperation Project Shaking the Walls, which also includes UK partner Parrabbola. Guy took us through his personal and professional experience of working across the border, which he says “you don’t really notice” – except for “the constant calculator in the head” and the challenges of thinking about fundraising. For example, when your audience is in the North but you’re rehearsing in the South, who raises the money? Guy left us with this quote from Henry David Thoreau: “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

Elaine Cronin is General Manager of An Táin Arts Centre, Dundalk, co-chair of Drogheda Arts Festival 2018 and 2019, and non-executive director of development education charity Development Perspectives. Elaine talked us through the work An Tain have been doing in understanding buying patterns of audiences. We heard about the value of engaging with Arts Council of Ireland’s fundraising capacity building programme ‘RAISE – the business of arts fundraising’, and gained insights into challenges for boards, asking: should boards be giving money? 

Deirdre Robb is Chief Executive of Belfast Exposed, Northern Ireland’s premier contemporary photography organisation. On joining the organisation Deirdre was struck by the accolades that the organisation had received for its work in the area of mental health, but hadn’t really communicated. As a result, she has pushed on the doors of a wide range of (non-arts-sector) partners to support and develop their work, and in particular promote the breadth of services that have the potential to generate income. 

Mark O’Brien is CEO/Artistic Director of axis, Ballymun – an arts centre and a resource for the community and it’s city. On appointment as CEO, the first phone call Mark received was about the boiler breaking down, and he told us: “The bits I used to hate (finance, operations…), are now the bits I love, because they make the art better.” Mark talked about the importance of expertise and professionalism and that we need to “confidently professionalise our practise” and the value of leadership, particularly leadership driven by ongoing, developmental relationships, dialogues and conversations, rather than who shouts the loudest. 

Patrick O’Reilly is Artistic Director at Tinderbox Theatre Company. Patrick talked us through the vision he has implemented around the methodology of play. This has resulted in the creation of contemporary performances, specialist training courses for emerging artists and the IN8 programme for communities and participants to discover and develop their creative potential.  We talked about value, about recognising expertise and charging accordingly, and about long-term vision. Patrick is working to a ten-year plan, and the importance of letting and enabling the idea to be the lead. 

Andrew Hetherington is Chief Executive of Business to Arts. Andrew talked us through a Business to Arts programme New Stream, which aims to strengthen the skills of the Irish cultural sector to generate new funding streams from non-public sources more effectively, and encouraged us all to read Michael Kaiser’s work The Cycle: A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organisations. Andrew was clear on investment in staff and organisations: “If you want to change the model, you need to invest in people. If you want to diversify revenue streams you need to invest in succession planning.” We discussed the “dirty word over the last ten years: reserves activity”, that it takes money to drive money, and the absolute importance of trying to build reserves. 

Thank you to Arts and Business NI for their support in delivering the Belfast event.