Sarah Thelwall looks beyond traditional funding streams towards commercial models of development for the creative industries.
In response to the reduction of public funding for the arts over 25 years, some organisations are exploring diversification beyond grant and sponsorship-based funding. Increased earned income, particularly in relation to the growth of creative industries, provides a range of opportunities to maintain financial stability and sustainability. SCAN, launched in South of England 2004 and recently relocated to Bournemouth University, develops and delivers digital and interdisciplinary arts initiatives in conjunction with a range of partner organisations, mainly in the not-for-profit sector. It is directed by Helen Sloan, a curator with 20 years experience in digital and interdisciplinary arts. SCAN works outside the traditional arts sector in much of its project work, developing ideas with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), creative industries and a number of companies, some of which can help the commercialisation of creative outputs. Through these new relationships, we have explored models which combine the creative development of the artists they work with, development of greater reach for the work (i.e. new audiences) and methods of income generation. The goal of this work is to establish new models of entrepreneurial practice which can lead to greater sustainability for both SCAN and the artists it works with. In experimenting with these entrepreneurial models, we have also been examining how they may be combined with each other and with more traditional grant funding approaches. Our main focus is on the development of content-rich, high quality art work, through exhibition (public realm and gallery) and online outputs. However, the organisation has recognised that artists who develop technological tools or new processes as part of their work have potential secondary income streams. In the future, SCAN will be focusing on four entrepreneurial models which it believes are complementary to more established methods of arts funding.
Research funds and proof of concept grants
The higher education approach to commercialisation combines the use of grants from the UK Research Councils with a series of loan and equity- based investments. The proof of concept funds are the earliest stage of the process of creating a commercial proposition. SCAN is exploring a range of camera-based technologies, augmented reality systems and motion-tracking software in these contexts. The emphasis on commercialisation varies depending on the project. Many also involve high-end research in arts, computer sciences, assistive technologies and other areas of inquiry. For example, Steve Symons’s sonic augmented reality system, Aura, is a backpack and headphones that produces sound dependent on the wearer’s GPS co-ordinates. Having made Aura exclusively for his own artwork, Symons now wishes to make it available for other sound artists as well as in alternative contexts such as audio trails and guides.
Placements in industry
A number of the artists that SCAN has worked with are leaders in their field, and can leverage this expert knowledge to consult with commercial companies. It is beginning to work with and mentor those artists who want a portfolio career that also leverages their expertise commercially, in particular with Jeannie Driver, a participatory public artist, whose work evaluates behaviour in the workplace in the context of well-being and environmentalism.[[The goal of this work is to establish new models of entrepreneurial practice]]
Mentoring, critical development and representation
Adopting modes of research and entrepreneurial practice is challenging for both artists and SCAN. The mentoring we now build in to projects not only ensures that this time is paid for but crucially provides the time and space to work with its artists to articulate what combination of commissions, research opportunities and commercialisation (of products or services) is appropriate. This clarity also enables us to represent these artists through introductions to residencies, other curators and key opportunities for the artist to develop their practice. This work is costed into projects.
By working through consultancy or research models with organisations such as the Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded ‘Creator’ research cluster, SCAN can connect the cultural and creative industries more permanently. This demonstrates the natural dialogue that already occurs across creative and cultural industries, the benefits which accrue, and the ways in which it may be supported further. These models of entrepreneurial practice bring demand-led economics into areas of the arts which have traditionally failed to go beyond supply side grant funding models. They also connect the arts more fully into the creative industries, continuing to demonstrate growth rates above those achieved by the economy as a whole.
Digital arts activity is particularly well placed to benefit from the policy focus of the creative industries, as it is more easily scalable than many other visual arts forms, and practitioners are often well connected through freelance work. We see this exploration of possibilities, and the focus on these four approaches, going forward as action research into SCAN’s business model and mechanisms for financing artists practice and methods to extend their reach. Over the past three years we have reviewed models such as licensing and venture capital. For now, these do not represent a good fit for us. This exploration of models new to the arts is shared with organisations such as Proboscis, Snug and Outdoor, Blast Theory and Furtherfield in collaboration with HEIs such as the Mixed Reality Lab (Nottingham) and the Ubiquitous and Pervasive Computing lab at Birkbeck College, and commercial firms such as Sutcliffe Play. I myself, Clare Cooper (MMM: Designing for Transition) and Tim Jones (Solar Associates) all have clients and stakeholders committed to working in these new ways. Where the old models are well understood, and the relationships with funders well established, these new models seem more ephemeral. They are, however, becoming increasingly concrete as successes accrue, trends are identified and relationships are cemented. They need to be recognised as a cluster of related approaches to the sustainability of the arts, and they require an organisation to commit to finding the mix which suits particular goals and skill sets. Proximity to the creative industries offers a perspective on how others combine creative and financial opportunities in ways which may be appropriate to many arts organisations.