Top ten posts from the last two years

It’s been two years now since I started this blog in November 2009 and I’ve published over 100 posts during this period on a range of topics from arts funding and policy, to business models, audience engagement, leadership in the visual arts and being a working mum.

You can sign up to receive posts by email on the top right of this page – and apologies but to those of you who were subscribed I’m afraid WordPress accidentally lost your details during a recent catastrophic upgrade so you’ll need to sign-up again – but in case any slipped past you, I thought I’d share the top viewed posts from the past two years.

1. Well it is the $64million question  so I shouldn’t be surprised that my post what do resilient business models for arts and cultural organisations look like? is the most visited on my site – although I’d recommend looking at the series of posts I wrote about the findings  from that project – this post just sets out the research outline.

2. Quite a few of my posts, like this one From Social Media to Social Organisations, are reports from conferences or seminars. Writing about these events help me process my own learning from them, but also as I enjoy reading others’ accounts of events I’ve not managed to attend I like to share my experience in case it’s useful to anyone or their dog.

3. I also regularly blog about research projects – partly to seek input as I go along but also to test out hypotheses as they emerge. The third most read post is about my research into joint leadership models summarised the interim findings. You can also download the full report here or read the recent series of posts based on it.

4. Last year I published a provocation about how I think galleries and art museums need to change their relationships with audiences and this popular blog post is one of the many posts which muses on this issue. This one didn’t make your top ten – but it would have been in mine.

5. Much of my independent work (and in former roles at Arts Council and NCVO) has been about exploring ways in which arts and cultural organisations can diversity our income streams. This post Shopping or investing reflects on a shift in mindset about funding that I think we need to encourage.

6. I try and use the blog to share interesting articles or books I come across and US-based writer John Falk’s books about learning in museums have been the subject of two posts, including this one about the importance of learning for museum business models. More recently I also posted about some of the key findings about visitor experience in his latest book.

7. Readers also really like this post – outlining why I’m writing this blog. It was one of my first and has always been one of the most viewed. It’s a bit dated now and I’ve learned more about how I like to use blogging in the meantime so I plan to write a sequel soon.

8. Coincidentally, this post reflecting on my first year of blogging is also in the top ten. Perhaps some of you are interested in blogging per se, and not just what I blog about?

9. I confess, sometimes I use the blog to rant – usually about a lack of concern for audiences among some of my peers or about the trials of being a working mum. Over the past couple of years I’ve come to realise that being a working parent is actually a great asset, and I think some of my more recent posts express this more clearly than the early rant people read most!

10. Finally, in tenth position. One of my favourite ways to use the blog is to capture insights and observations – light bulb moments – and see whether the make any sense in black and white. Some clearly don’t, but judging by the number of readers of this post questioning our love affair with anything ‘international’ – others do.

So that’s your top ten most-read posts. Hopefully the list has introduced you to 1-2 you found useful or interesting – if you’d like to subscribe to receive the blog via your inbox then please sign up at the top right of the page. And if you have any reflections or comments then – as ever – I’m very happy to hear from you.

Shopping or investing?

One of the terms used by a lot of people at last week’s Culture Change  conference was ‘investment’: whether that was Joe Ludlow’s rallying cry about arts and cultural organisations needing to develop more of an ‘investment mindset’ or Andrew Barnett’s distinction between funders who simply ‘shop’ and those who really ‘invest’ in organisations, thereby building their future capacity rather than cherry-picking. The conference was videoed and those – and other – contributions will soon be available to view online and I’d highly recommend them (plus David Lan and Cat Harrison in particular).

In the workshops, I was also struck by how frequently people spoke about their assets – which included their brand (as Julia Twomlow’s contribution about The Leach Pottery demonstrated), as well as buildings, their wider IP (as used by Live Theatre to develop an online writing course) and most importantly their audience base. As part of the workshop I chaired – which was ostensibly about revising our approach to money – discussion very quickly turned to taking a fresh look at our assets, and how what audiences and users value in terms of our services and facilities are not necessarily the same things we might think of. For example, a Manchester music venue running courses and events for young people might appeal to the parents of those kids because of its connections with their own youth.

As part of the Capital Matters research, along with Holly Tebbut and Rohan Gunatillake, I undertook a series of in-depth interviews with 27 leading arts and cultural organisations and one of the main features we noticed that united many of them was a very strong focus on their audiences/ users/ participants. Many were using technology to achieve deeper connections with their audiences (either via social media or customer relationship management software), whereas others relied on the more traditional volunteering programmes and collaborative leadership approaches which sought to develop strong ownership of the organisation among its communities – geographic or special interest. Co-production or co-creation was an increasingly common feature of how they were working.

I was encouraged in my workshop by this emphasis on understanding audiences and seeing them as the key focus for ensuring ACOs are more resilient (as volunteers, advocates, customers, donors, members etc). In these terms, ‘investing’ in understanding and developing relationships makes sense as a business strategy.

Another example of this ‘investment mindset’ is the wedidthis crowdfunding platform, profiled at the conference, which seeks to develop a new kind of relationship between audiences and artists/ arts organisations. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m keenly interested in this model in which deeper engagement with audiences results in wider support for artists and arts organisations – both financially and as advocates.

It struck me that ‘investing’ might be a useful way to think about these new relationships which crowdfunding both enables and relies on. I made my first donation via wedidthis last week (BTW it was this project if you’d like to try) and was struck that the range of ‘benefits’ I was offered in return for my support included recognition but also access to the artistic process (through conversations about the work in progress, attending the private view, visiting the studio with a curator – depending on the level of donation).  Higher level fundraising has long used the lure of backstage or the studio to engage donors, keen for a peek into the mystique of the creative process. Crowd-funding is now seeding some new models for this opening up of opportunities to engage – which will result in increased donations but also increased understanding.

Some at the conference expressed reservation that crowd-funding meant giving up artistic control or would result in ‘popular’ (i.e. bad) lowest-common-dominator art. If we see low-level individual giving simply as a transaction then that’s a risk – is we force our audiences/customers to stay in ‘shopping’ mode. But if we think about that relationship in terms in ‘investing’ – and we invest in our audiences/ donors by opening up the creative process to them in return for their interest and support then I think we could really see some significant returns on our investment.

Answers to the 64 million dollar question

who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire-casting-call-audition

How can arts and cultural organisations thrive in the current context of cuts to public funding and with many also experiencing a reduction in earned and fundraised income as theatre-goers and gallery visitors alike start feeling the pinch and the endowments that fund grant-giving Trusts and Foundations shrivel on the stock market? It is the 64 million dollar question, and in fairness one which many were asking before the current economic downturn.

This was the central question of MMM’s Capital Matters programme, on which I had the privilege of working last year. We found a sector that is under-capitalised – lacking the financial resources and skills and expertise to develop new income generating activities. Our analysis revealed a lack of both working capital to provide liquidity and development capital to invest in future earning capacity: with very few organisations having any significant reserves on which they could draw (most in our survey had less than 3 months’ operating costs) and a tendency to see these reserves only as contingency funds in any case.

External sources of development capital are very limited: schemes such as ACE’s Sustain have provided one-off support for a small cohort, Esmee Fairbairn has been leading the Trust and Foundations sector in this area for some time and a handful of arts and cultural organisations (ACOs) have accessed finance – mainly from specialist social investors such as Venturesome.

Against this challenging backdrop, the report is peppered with examples (including six case studies) of how organisations have developed new income streams or become more effective in delivering their missions without growing through understanding their impact, working in partnership, smart use of technology etc. I’ve also posted a series about some of the research findings previously here it you’re looking for any background detail.

My post about the research I was doing (along with Holly Tebbutt and Rohan Gunatillake) for MMM’s Capital Matters programme has received over 500 hits, suggesting this is a question that many are concerned about. So, having completed our research and analysis, and launched the report with fanfare and a supportive Minister (you can read his speech here) last Friday I thought it was a good point to reflect on the solutions we came up with which are outlined in greater detail in the final report which is now available free from here.

There is no silver bullet – but then again, is there ever for a complex problem? But we did identify five key things that need to happen to facilitate greater resilience among arts and cultural organisations:

1. a shift in mindset by arts and cultural organisations

Away from thinking about an annual budget which breaks even, to a longer-term approach which emphasises becoming better capitalised – generating unrestricted surpluses for investing in the future capacity. We don’t underestimate that this is a difficult message in a period when income overall is falling – but reducing expenditure on activity to invest in capacity is essential for medium and longer-term growth. That means accepting ACOs need to do less better – in terms of activity. At the conference Joe Ludlow spoke in terms of this meaning ‘an investment mindset’ characterised by a willingness to take risks; capacity to measure and manage those risks (not least in finance skills) and clarity about purpose and what success looks like.

2. a shift in mindset by public and private funders

We need funders who understand that to sustain a vibrant arts and heritage ecology we need to invest in organisations, not simply ‘buy’ their products. At the Culture Change conference, where we launched the report, Andrew Barnett (Director Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation) put this in terms of funders who invests vs funders who shop (paraphrasing Julia Unwin’s influential work on funding).

3. an expansion in the range of capital available to arts and cultural organisations

Ideally ACOs will begin to generate their own reserves which they can use as development capital, but for those without access to reserves then grants and finance options (unsecured loans and quasi-equity or ‘profit-share’) are needed. We know that many ACOs struggle to secure finance because they either lack the financial skills to assess their ability to re-pay (via an investment appraisal), or because High St lenders lack confidence and are unfamiliar with non-profit structures requesting charity directors personally secure loans, for example. Social investors (like Venturesome, Charity Bank and Triodos) can help, but not all ACOs can demonstrate the social impact that these investors look for. Options for grants for organisational development were also sparse -although it was great to hear Andrew Barnett championing the role of private funders in this space – let’s hope that translates into more funds being available for this purpose. But the need for a dedicated development capital fund for arts and cultural sector which could provide R&D grants, loans of quasi-equity tools is sorely needed.

4. Better business and organisational development support for ACOs

Our research showed difficulties accessing advice to develop new ventures, with few mid-scale and smaller organisations able to have all the skills they need in-house. Boards were playing an important role in supplementing skills – as were informal peer support and networks – but a more systematic approach to the business support infrastructure for not-prtofit cultural organisations is needed.

5. a step-change in data and research about capital and performance of ACOs

As I can testify having undertaken the literature review of data about capital in the arts and cultural sector, we have very little robust and comparable information about the capital position and financial (or wider) performance of the arts and cultural sector. Improved comparable data against which organisations can benchmark themselves, and policy-makers and develop evidence-based interventions is essential. Sarah Thelwall’s Mycake is an example of the benchmarking approach required on a far wider basis.

So there we have it – 5 steps which together would make the world of difference. The Culture Change conference last week provoked some fascinating discussions around these recommendations that I’ll blog about in due course.

The ingredients of successful business models part 4: the role of technology

Arts Council’s England’s new 10 year strategy for the arts places great emphasis on how technology is changing the arts, and will continue to do so in the next decade – particularly in terms of production, presentation and distribution of artworks. The extent to which technology is already shaping how arts and cultural organisations (ACOs) was one of the questions we set out to explore in through interviews with 27 leading organisations in various artforms, as part of the MMM Capital Matters project. In this fourth in s series of posts based on that research project I outline what we discovered:

We’re doing a lot of work at the moment to explore how we can use technology – especially digital technology – to keep innovating.  But it’s not technology for technology’s sake or indeed innovation for innovation’s sake – while opportunity is a driver to some extent, to use our resources as well as possibly it also has to be about a clearly demonstrable need.’

In most cases of business model development we explored technology is important in enabling change, but is not the key driver. Use of technology  features in many areas of ACOs’ activities: from achieving back office efficiencies to influencing how work is presented and distributed. Our research suggests it has growing importance in enabling more effective engagement and communication with audiences. There are of course a growing number of organisations for whom technology is part of their DNA in terms of production, presentation and distribution – but among the more traditional models (producing theatres, exhibition galleries etc)  the impact of technology is currently more in terms of back office and audience engagement (e.g. social media) than providing alternative or additional distribution channels.

Areas where technology is having an impact Response
Improve understanding of audience need/behaviour/satisfaction 77%
Provide new opportunities for audience engagement (i.e. participation) 77%
Improving back office efficiency 58%
Offering flexibility to staff e.g. distance working 58%
Produce innovative programme content/ product 65%
Wider distribution of work 71%
E-commerce 41%

‘Technology has been important for efficiencies. Our audiences have gone up but the marketing costs have gone down in the same period. We attribute that partly to a combination of better intelligence about our audiences and greater ownership because we’re engaging more with our audiences. Another change we’ve made, using technology, is from programming the cinema by repertoire to using a ‘hold-overs’ model (we say what films are in the programme but the timings and frequencies of showing are determined only a short period ahead, in response to consumer behaviour). That’s made us more efficient.’

As an organisation that works across a wide geographical area, technology enables National Theatre of Wales (NTW) staff (and its partners and freelance project-staff) to communicate effectively. Investment in hardware (all staff have iPhones, laptops, cameras etc), software (Basecamp is used for sharing files externally) and training in using technology for staff has paid off in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of communications. The NTW community web (hosted as a Ning) has been critical in developing connections with the professional theatre community in Wales, and is now becoming a key way in which audiences can engage. The same is true for Salisbury International Art Festival which makes considerable use of technology to assist with a wide ranging programme of outreach across a  large rural region.

Several organisations we spoke to were leading development on digital content and distribution, including iShed, B3 Media and Sound and Music. For example, during the Norfolk and Norwich Festival Sound and Music is piloting an education programme with national reach which exploits white board technology and offer sound ‘segments’ for use within the curriculum.

In my next post I will begin to explore the some of the characteristics of successful arts and cultural organisations. In the meantime if you have any comments or views on these findings – and their implications – I look forward to hearing from you.

The ingredients of successful business models: part 3 - income generation

printing money: a creative solution?

printing money: a creative solution?

Where’s the (new) money coming from?

Given the immediate and pressing need for arts and cultural organisations to look beyond the public purse more than ever before, it’s no surprise that for many the key question around business models is where to develop alternative sources of income. That said, important to reiterate that for many organisations in our study developing new income streams was only was aspect of how they were developing more successful business models – and part 2 in my series of posts on the Capital Matters project explores this in more detail.

Another striking feature of the organisations we talked to was their emphatic focus on mission-related trading – to the degree that some considered themselves to be social enterprises, blending mission and trading completely – such as Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL). Others, such as Whitechapel Gallery, used a strong sense of brand (more on this in a later post) to ensure trading activity (e.g. café, shop) related to mission.

There were a vast array of approaches to how organisations are generating income: the most common being through exploiting their intellectual property (IP) and consultancy fees; property-based developments; increasing spend per head for visitors and contracting with the public sector to deliver services.  Below I’ve outlined a handful examples of each of these approaches:

Consultancy fees and Intellectual Property

Rather than pursue a corporate entertaining style approach, National Theatre of Wales (NTW) are working with the Admiral and Confused.com group on continuous professional development for staff in a way that uses their assets, and fits their group mission. Admiral are known for having a staff choir, so NTW have supported development of a staff drama group to devise a short play that will be performed one lunchtime then filmed and shown on the staff intranet.

Streetwise Opera has reinvented its previous biennial major opera production, which was a three-night live event only, in terms of audio, film and installation components.  This results in secondary digital works which can be distributed on a cross platform basis and marketed via the internet e.g. using viral shorts as well as physical components for installation on the festival circuit internationally. By this means Streetwise Opera has been able to both extend awareness of the issues facing people who are homeless and generate income both from PRS fees for composition and tour/screening fees.

For Ished the key question going forward is how much of the value chain should they try to cover and how can they also demonstrate the social value of what they create.  Ished has been exploring how to license and deliver products like Media Sandbox (a research and development scheme designed to promote innovation) and latterly Theatre Sandbox by taking an Executive Producer role.  To trial this Media Sandbox will roll out with the Manchester Digital Media Agency and Cornerhouse will be the delivery agent on the ground rather than iShed.

Live Theatre is looking to capitalise on their reputation for excellence in new writing through an online version of their existing new writing course. Currently at the stage of detailed testing, it will be launched in Summer 2010 to coincide with the Broadway opening of The Pitmen Painters (which was co-produce by Live with National Theatre).

Shetlands Arts is currently working with production and distribution specialists to identify the most effective models of exploitation of IP that results from performances and events in the Mareel venue that opens next year.

Several other organisations were seeking to monetise their IP as part of their models (e.g. B3 Media, Sound and Music and Arcola Theatre) however income streams from IP were not yet a significant aspect of the financial model of any organisation:

‘We’re thinking about how we can capitalise on what people value about us: that might be about how we are working with communities and technology. These are areas we’ve developed that people what to know more about how we do it – but we’ve not yet worked out a model of how to derive income from this.’ (interviewee)

Increased profitability per visitor

Increasing spend per head, rather than (or in addition to) increasing audience volume is an approach that several organisations are pursuing including Whitechapel Gallery, Leach Pottery and Quad. For example, Quad receive 20,000-25,000 visitors monthly; if each person spent an average of £2 more per head this would make a big difference to their business model.

Property acquisition and development

Acquiring and developing buildings were a prominent feature of many developments with Shetland Arts, Whitechapel Gallery, Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), Ryedale Folk Museum and MEAL all engaged in major building projects. However these projects were being approached cautiously – through phasing (BAC) and efficiency (Whitechapel), for example.

However many organisations were using their buildings, and the skills they’d developed relating to property development and management, to generate income – whether that’s through trading in the building or consultancy. For example, Arcola Theatre is using the expertise it has in building development plus management and development of sustainable technologies, which sit at the heart of its vision to build a carbon neutral theatre, through taking on estate management contracts for third parties and selling sustainable technology solutions. Live Theatre are using skills they’ve developed through a building project to explore a new joint venture with a restaurant group on their estate. Lightbox have utilised their building management expertise by taking on responsibility for a local authority owned warehouse and introducing micro enterprise tenants.

Delivering public services under contract

A number of organisations were receiving significant income from delivering services through contracts with public bodies. Streetwise Opera is contracted by eleven homelessness shelters to deliver activity and Dance United is contracted by youth offending services for its excellent and inspiring Academy project. Organisations in the museums sector (Ryedale, MEAL and Lightbox) were also actively involved in contracting.

What proportion of earned income is mission-related?

A very high proportion of income was mission-related. In several cases this takes the form of contracting with the public sector (for example Dance United and Streetwise Opera). Seven Stories is also contracting with the public sector, for example through its Hooks for Books packages for schools that combine professional development for education practitioners with bespoke projects.

Trading on the ‘open market’ is also important, for example Weald and Downland Museum has created additional income through developing an extensive fee-paying adult education and training programme based around the building collections. Day and short courses are offered on building technologies, building conservation and building history. They offer 3500 teaching days per annum and run two MAs accredited by Bournemouth University.

However – a note of caution; the study shows that there are variations in how organisations define or understand  what constitutes ‘mission-related’ activity leaving the term open to interpretation.  There was clearly a desire to see earned income as mission-related and some referred to it as ‘social enterprise’. As one contributor noted in an interview:

‘it’s a grey area – we find it difficult to decide whether trading is mission or non-mission, in fact we’re moving from having a separate trading arm to bring all activity into the core as a form of social enterprise.’ (interviewee)

Another contributor provided an example of the blending of mission and income generation:

CD releases are part of our income generation strategy – but I wouldn’t say it’s a huge part of our income – it’s great for profile and prestige though.’ (interviewee)

BAC calibrate every activity against a spectrum from pure commercial to pure social value; the aim is to hybridise social, cultural and commercial value.  An example is the way BAC uses the building to generate income; weddings take place in the Grand Hall – the space is provided in exchange for a fee. However the building is full of artists who can add cultural value to this transaction through set dressing, a live entertainment offer etc. This conceptual approach to space and assets was initially fostered by the experience of giving over the whole building to Punchdrunk for its production Mask of the Red Death.

The Arches, in Glasgow, contrasted sharply with this picture. The Arches is equally known for its clubbing as for its progressive and experimental theatre programme but it is the commercial success of the former that enables the latter and the organisation directly earns 80-85% of its income.

In my next post on this subject I’ll turn to look at how technology is facilitating changes in business models.

The ingredients of successful business models: part 2

In what ways are business models changing in successful arts and cultural organisations?

This is the second in a series of posts drawing on research undertaken  for MMM Captial Matters programme earlier this summer. You can read the first post summarising our findings here.

Two things stand out immediately from our research in terms of how business models are evolving:

  1. It’s not simply about ways of generating more income – although that is of course very important (and my next post will address how organisations are doing this in more detail).
  2. Successful organisations are often developing several aspects of their model simultaneously.

Partnerships

‘We’ve only been able to realise our ambitions because of the partnerships we’ve developed – they have been the key to our becoming more entrepreneurial and it’s been our emphasis on partnerships that has been so attractive to funders and investors.’ (interviewee)

Partnership working has been a key feature of many developments. For example at Whitechapel Gallery, collaborations with organisations that own collections of art underpin its new programming strategy in its extended building. The gallery has also developed a publishing venture with MIT Press (using a start-up loan from Venturesome: a social investor), and a new MA course in partnership with London Metropolitan University. Britten Sinfonia has also developed a range of new partnerships to further its reach, including one with BBC Radio 3.

Efficiency savings

Reducing its high level of fixed-costs has been pivotal in Cornerhouse’s development, aided by some very high level financial skills that have been brought into the organisation, and smarter use of technology in cinema programming and marketing. This has released resource to increase the programming budget.

Staff and buildings are usually the largest fixed-costs of many ACOs, and a number of organisations had opted for models which avoid financial responsibility for operating a building. National Theatre of Wales (NTW) was established without a building for this reason, Random Dance has twice decided against moving into a more permanent home because of the impact this would have on its operating costs.

Flexibility in staffing structures was cited by many organisations as a way of reducing costs or keeping them low. Flexibility usually means keeping the core team small and working with a pool of associates of freelance staff on a project-by-project basis.

New models of user-engagement

‘Because the local community value the museum we’ve been able to raise fund from them. Local artists community helped us raise £4,000 for us through an auction. The local cubs did a sponsored run and raise £160.22 for us. The local press ran a story about the museum’s capital plans and it resulted in local people sending in small donations (e.g. £10). That’s raised £20,000. We get £35-£40K a year in small donations a year, over the past few years.’ (interviewee)

High levels of user-engagement was frequently linked to high levels of support from volunteering (e.g. Ryedale Folk Museum, The Lightbox)  and/ or increased growth in income from trading and low-level fundraising (e.g. Whitechapel Gallery, Ryedale Folk Museum, Weald & Downland Museum) so had clear business-benefits as well as mission-related ones.

A number of organisations were increasing their investment in audience research with the aim of increasing their income. Quad, for example, is aware of a local and regional potential audience it isn’t yet reaching and is investing heavily in detailed market research to find out more about perceptions of Quad, audience need and motivation. Salisbury Festival has used its reserves to invest in audience development and through supporting part of the costs of a new post and subsidising free entry to events, it hopes to cultivate future paying audiences.

Increased earned income

There were a vast array of approaches to how organisations are generating income: the most common being through exploiting their intellectual property (IP) and consultancy fees; property-based developments; increasing spend per head for visitors and contracting with the public sector to deliver services.  For example Lightbox is providing services to pre-prison release resettlement schemes, working with ex offenders and mental health service users and providing literacy programmes for young people with learning difficulties through contracting with Primary Care Trusts and Local Education Authorities.

In my next post I will explore the main ways in which arts and cultural organisations are diversifying their income streams. In the meantime if you have any comments or views on these findings – and their implications – I look forward to hearing from you.

What do resilient business models for arts and cultural organisations look like?

Empty storefront of Borders bookstore Leeds - if old business models are failing in the arts, what do resilient ones look like?

Over the next couple of months, I working on an exciting new project led by MMM called Capital Matters. Working alongside fellow independent consultant Holly Tebbutt, I’m researching how business models are developing in the arts and cultural sector and the capital needs related to this. We’re looking for non-profit arts ands cultural organisation organisations (visual arts, Performing arts, literature or museums) from the UK which are developing innovative business models.

Please get in touch with me if you have any suggestions about individual organisations worth considering or research on this subject.

The outline below is take from the MMM website -

MMM is working on a major new national research project aimed at designing a new policy framework for building financial resilience in the UK arts & cultural sector. Entitled ‘Capital Matters the research will take an asset based development approach and will focus on two areas:

  • Expanding understanding and recognition of the diversity of business models supporting creative practice across the arts and cultural sector, how they are evolving and the factors that will enable that diversity to flourish further.
  • Identifying the potential for developing a new generation of specialist financial providers funding and investing in creative practice.

Together with a broad range of industry leaders and a programme of consultations with front line creative practitioners and organisations across England and in Scotland, three interdependent issues will be examined

  • The potential for expanding the range of different kinds of financial capital available;
  • The development of the skills and knowledge needed to use them and
  • The revision of policy and infrastructure frameworks to enable the speedy evolution of both the above.

Why is a new policy framework needed?

MMM’s work to date shows that thousands of arts and cultural organisations in the UK, critical to both the historical and contemporary cultural canon, are over-extended and under-capitalised. In particular, weak balance sheets are endemic in the sector. Often with high fixed costs and inflexible business models, many are overly dependent on annual public sector grants to survive. The fallout of the global financial collapse, which is reducing, contributed income from the private sector is exacerbating this scenario and expected reductions in the availability of public sector grant income will increase stress further.

Nevertheless within this turbulence is an unprecedented opportunity to create a forward looking, national long-term policy framework designed to accelerate evolution of working practices and behaviours by arts and cultural organisations and public and private funders and investors. One which

  • helps arts organisations shift away from a subsidy mindset to an investment mindset. From “how can we possibly close the gap between income and cost?” to “what are the core assets of our organisation, intangible as well as tangible, and how can they best be nurtured?” and
  • helps catalyse an innovative and fundamental transformation in the sources of financial capital available to arts and cultural organisations. Capital which will enable them to evolve into more resilient, adaptive, organisations delivering cultural excellence to an even wider general public.

The research draws on learning from MMM’s previous work on Expanding the Financial Toolbox and is supported by The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Innovation Fund, The Northern Rock Foundation, The Scottish Arts Council and Arts Council England.The report recommendations will be published in the autumn.

UPDATE – the consultation briefing paper is now available online. I’ve largely finished my involvement in the primary research stage now – over the Summer a final report is being written – look out for this towards end September. It’s going to be great – can’t wait!