Entrepreneurship for the Performing Arts

This blog is adapted from a talk given by Michelle Wright to the Reflective Conservatoire Conference at the Guildhall  School of Music and Drama on Tuesday, 20th March 2012.

My recent focus for the Reflective Conservatoire Conference was about how entrepreneurs could operate within arts organisations, specifically conservatoires, to display entrepreneurial characteristics: creativity, innovation and the ability to see ideas and plans through from creation to implementation.

The crucial feature of this – is the drive to get things done. Whilst entrepreneurs mustn’t railroad through bad ideas for the sake of it, it is hugely important to have the courage of your convictions. It is only this way that new, exciting things can happen, and it is this ability to make change happen that is for me the defining feature of an entrepreneur in any organisation.

Entrepreneurs, whether they are the performers themselves or the people who run the organisation can impact on everything, from the ethos and values of a performing arts team, down to the shape and implementation of the individual programmes put in place to deliver this vision.
Ultimately, this means that all staff in performing arts institutions must have the time, space and opportunities to suggest and develop new ideas. Without this creativity and willingness to change, organisations suffer.

Performing arts organisations should also always be asking what they can learn from elsewhere. This means looking at best practice models, both from institutions directly concerned with their performance focus, and other organisations which bear similarities (whether this is because they are also concerned with the performing arts, e.g. theatres, or because they fulfil a similar function e.g. engagement with the wider community). Partnerships, that can be efficient and effective, are key to organisational development.

 I am frequently astonished that some of the charities that we work with have moved so far from their original operating context. By maintaining an awareness of what is going on around them, organisations can be aware of the space to exploit, the needs of their beneficiaries, and the associated income generating opportunities. To lose sight of this competitive space is unacceptable – we need to innovate, not replicate.

Ultimately, I see entrepreneurs as fundamental to the future of the performing arts. There are two ends to entrepreneurship on this spectrum – the flexible and responsive artist with an enterprising attitude to surviving in a competitive space, through to the enterprising artist that will find new spaces, new ideas and a new shape for their work or organisation.

For each performing arts organisation or conservatoire I would ask two leading questions -

· As an organisation do we welcome new ideas? and
· Would we support the development of these ideas through to actual operation?

What support do our emerging musicians and artists need to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurship and to survive in this brave new world? Let us know your thoughts.


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