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Future arts leaders will need to be skilled in the world of business, argues Helena Gaunt. She describes an incubator scheme championing creative entrepreneurship.

Photo of pianist and dancer
Rehearsal for Song in the City's Winterreise

Felipe Tozzato

The global financial crisis and uncertain funding landscapes have forced a new generation of talent to think on its feet. Entrepreneurs have been the young guns in a new, internet-driven wild west, forging new territories armed with new models and technologies.

For performing arts practitioners, it hasn’t been so easy to see how to engage with this and take up the challenge of the changing landscapes.

If we harness the spirit of a conservatoire to the aims of entrepreneurial innovation, new worlds can open up for us

Traditionally, arts and business have been seen as two entirely different worlds. Some art practitioners have tended to regard the marketplace as a threat to their high cultural ideals, while for those who toil in the real world, the sphere of art has often appeared rarified and remote.

But in our changing, technology-driven times, does this polarised mindset best serve the talents of a new generation?

I believe it is the responsibility of leaders to equip our brightest and best with all the skills required to make a future for themselves, and this means being able to bridge the worlds of arts and business.

As a professional musician and teacher, I have experienced the transformative power of talented artists collaborating creatively. I have also seen at first hand the struggle those same artists can face in making their way in a commercial environment.

Yet I believe artists have a lot to bring to this environment, and that business in turn can be enriched by the values and practices of art. If we harness the spirit of a conservatoire to the aims of entrepreneurial innovation, new worlds can open up for us. This is what the Guildhall School’s Creative Entrepreneurs scheme seeks to do.

Intensive programme

Our scheme is designed to be a business incubator that champions innovative creativity. Emerging artists are given the confidence and tools to realise their artistic visions in terms of sustainable business practice.

Over 12 months, we provide our entrepreneurs with an intensive programme of support. This includes one-to-one mentoring and coaching, seminars and business planning workshops, access to citywide professional networks, funding advice and support, a range of networking events and talks by prominent entrepreneurs and creatives, along with extensive use of central London office space.

Our previous success stories include:

  • Song in the City – a charity that programmes concerts around inventive and challenging themes, taking classical music out of its comfort zone.
  • Drum Works – an education programme that confronts disengagement within schools, using drumming to give young people confidence in their ideas and empowering them to direct their own lives.
  • Turn of Phrase – a communications skills company focused on public speaking, with an emphasis on gender equality.
  • Docklands Sinfonia – a young orchestra that has become a cultural force in the docklands, bringing high-quality music to the area, staging ground-breaking concerts and creating a lasting legacy by inspiring generations of young people.

Creative entrepreneurship is all about finding that ‘white space’, unlocking the unexplored potential in new venues, new audiences and new approaches to performance. It finds imaginative ways to stimulate people’s creativity, while also engaging with the community in terms of development, learning and social empowerment.

It’s about being savvy enough to make these approaches work, and seeing them through, committed to making a difference.

The principle of collaboration

Any actor or musician worth their salt knows that collaboration lies at the heart of the performing arts. Leaders who take this principle on board will ensure the vitality of the next generation of artists, and their practice.

I believe that putting both humanity and creativity at the core of enterprise in general will help us find solutions to many of the problems the world faces today. It’s up to the leaders in this field to ‘work smart to do good’, and to forge those links with the people and communities that will allow our artists to create value in many directions, financial and beyond.

Only by giving emerging arts professionals a solid grounding in creative entrepreneurship can we guarantee their survival after they leave our doors, and ensure the artistic leaders of tomorrow are aware, focused and world class.

Learning from Shakespeare

The image of the poet Thomas Chatterton starving in his garret may be a romantic one, but it hardly represents a sustainable business model in our contemporary contexts. For people starting out in the creative industries William Shakespeare sets a much more interesting example.

The Chamberlain’s Men was the first company in the history of the English theatre to make their actors stakeholders. It was through this co-operation, hard work and innovation, that Shakespeare, actor-manager-writer-entrepreneur, freed himself from the tyranny of aristocratic patronage to establish himself not only as an unrivaled playwright, but as an exemplary leader in the performing arts industry of his time.

With a portfolio career unlocking diverse income streams and disruptive business models, he managed to remain commercially viable while maintaining his integrity. 400 years on, it’s time to take a leaf out of his book.

Helena Gaunt is Vice-Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

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