An occasional column for invited writers to raise issues which concern them
The arts struggle to sustain sufficient levels of funding and many artistic directors? roles include fundraising and sponsorship as a major responsibilities. But Sean Rourke questions whether artistic leadership and finance should be brought together this in way.
What do we seek from artistic leaders? Most artistic directorships bring demands other than artistic vision and full-time appointments invariably engage them in other responsibilities: individual talents vary and all arts organisations have unique needs, but revenue is a priority for all. Given that artistic value and imagination are the main reasons for any arts organisation?s existence then it makes sense that the importance we attach to innovative artistic leadership should be reflected in the way their leadership is supported.
Faced with the permanent necessity to fundraise and organise effective community involvement, artistic leaders must keep their artistic horizons at a level lower than they would like, unless they have the luxury of generous levels of funding as well as full administrative and creative support. The time required to research and fulfil grant criteria rarely equates to the grant value, and this frequently inhibits organisations, particularly those with few staff, from applying. Time would be better invested in researching artistic opportunities, collaborations and interacting with those people the organisation is supposed to serve. Ultimately, these activities will generate more purposeful and longer term projects, and in turn offer better investment value by
? generating effective longer-term planning
? creating a stronger artistic identity
? justifying more public and civic support
? offering better sponsorship incentives
? attracting more national media attention
? strengthening regional arts marketing
In taking steps forward to release the full potential of artistic leadership, three key issues need to be addressed:-
1 Establishing preferred universal qualities to deliver expectations of success
2 Applying these qualities to specific arts organisations
3 The process required to empower the role, given known and anticipated limitations.
Paths for success depend on both the vision of the artistic leader and the willingness of the communities they serve to support their ambition (which, of course, includes sharing recognition for innovation). Certainly, leadership of this sort demands an ability to communicate and the personality, charisma even, to inspire motivation and commitment. Leaders also need to develop original ideas and utilise knowledge to bring benefit to local (and national, in certain cases) resources, as well as interpolating the highest standards of performance and programming. Individuals capable of taking on this role deserve to inherit a platform that has effective open channels to decision-makers at the highest levels of authority. In the case of festival directors, they need to interpret the potential of local culture (arts and heritage as well as commercial interests) and present the community?s shared sense of achievement, ambition and pride to a wider audience. This carries enormous responsibility and, in addition to artistic excellence, it champions the local economy like few other forces. Festivals provide a vehicle to unite common goals that drive business growth and cultural tourism, with the need to improve resources for the community (including education, health and social services, leisure and recreational facilities). The more a festival can inform and channel these priorities successfully, the more it will deserve additional funding. Mechanisms should be put in place to reward organisations appropriately ? a creative dividend if you like.
I know several artistic directors who engage in a dialogue with colleagues and other interested parties to help focus thematic programming ideas; a sort of ferment in which ideas can develop into strong, well-researched plans. Researching the priorities of all community sectors is essential to all artistic leadership, but I wonder how many of our leaders feel they are able to devote sufficient time to this activity? This process yields new ideas, increases the synergy of the arts with essential issues that affect all of us, and makes marketing more effective. It produces results that attract attention. Thematic programming that draws on aspects of our heritage is all too often superficial and patronising because it is not researched thoroughly and does not go far enough. Artistic leadership is not a passive role. It needs to be dynamic and interactive, discovering ways to engage our imaginations, give context to our beliefs and our sense of place, and celebrate the life force. Harvest these things effectively and new audiences are born.
Sean Rourke is a director of Business of Culture Limited, a consultancy dedicated to building resources for the arts and cultural industries. t: 07802 442019.