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As the Prosper programme comes to a close, Sarah Thirtle is convinced the sector would benefit from more business support.

Photo of two women in conversation in a cafe
Business advisor Anne Tye with Lyndsey Stephenson of Stellar Projects

Just over a year ago Creative United launched Prosper, enabling arts organisations, creative enterprises, museums and libraries to embark on a business support journey. Our aim was to reach and connect with companies of all shapes and sizes across England to learn about the changes they would like to see in their businesses. We then delivered a high-quality business support programme so they could achieve their goals and become more resilient in today’s changing funding landscape.

Business support can enable our vibrant and vital sector to weather funding storms and engage more people with its cultural outputs

We also wanted to gather evidence and data to better understand what business support provision is currently out there and how it is being used by the creative and cultural sectors. Linking all of this would be a series of online resources providing practical guides and reflections on supporting the business of arts and culture.

Partners and participants

With delivery partners and funders in place, we opened the door for applications to the programme in March last year. Over 400 enterprises and organisations registered, with 260 of these sending us their completed application forms.

From this cross-section of our creative and cultural sectors we had to whittle down to a cohort of 70 organisations and enterprises, made up of a range of business types, sizes, disciplines and talents. Each organisation was then matched with their own business advisor to work with throughout the nine-month programme.

On entering the programme, each participant completed a diagnostic, which produced some interesting findings. These have been examined in Business Support in the Cultural and Creative Sectors in England and Scotland: A Review by our research partners at the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University. One notable message was that the third of participants who had previously undertaken business support expressed higher confidence in their skills and business development functions in areas such as business plan writing, finance and operations and business models.

Taking business support directly to the organisations and locations where they are based, the advisors and our in-house team have travelled more than the circumference of the earth to deliver Prosper (about 25,700 miles). As well as receiving over 650 hours of one-to-one support, the cohort accessed a series of six masterclasses, six workshops and nine webinars. Over 80% of the cohort opted to send members of their team to one or more of these group learning sessions. Regional meet-ups were also arranged.

Demand for business support

Now that the business support period has finished, we’re busy collating data to measure the changes within our cohort and evaluate the impacts the programme has made. In the coming months we’ll be sharing and disseminating these findings with our funders and the sector at large.

We believe the results of our evaluation will add further weight to the argument for continued investment in the provision of business support. Prosper has shown that there is a clear demand for business support. By developing ways in which it can be delivered, and learning more about what organisational change it can affect, business support can enable our vibrant and vital sector to weather funding storms and engage more people with its cultural outputs.

Numerous commentators and researchers, including the recent sector deal proposals from the Creative Industries Council and Government, have set out that creative enterprises and organisations need support to improve their business skills to evolve business models and improve their sustainability and resilience.

In addition to this, development support could be provided in targeted ways to close the gender pay gap, increase participation across diverse communities and enable the sector to take the lead in social innovation.

So, for Creative United and our partners, the Prosper journey has been an experience where we have discovered how business support has been used by the sector and tested new ways of delivering it. With the evaluation of the programme to be published in the coming months, we hope to demonstrate the benefits Prosper generated for the creative and cultural organisations we supported.

Sarah Thirtle is Director of Business Support Programmes at Creative United.

Tw: #ProsperSupport

This article, contributed and sponsored by Creative United, is one of a series on making business support work for the arts and culture.

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Photo of Sarah Thirtle


What is interesting is that exactly 30 years ago this year, Arts & Business (or ABSA as then was) started two programmes to get business skills into the arts. Board Bank placed business people on the boards of arts organisations and Skills Bank placed business advisors into arts organisations. These programmes are still run in Wales and, to a degree in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The report linked in this article seems to make no reference to any of this work. ACE used to fund this work and then stopped because they said it was no longer needed. Now a new report has been written (linked into this article) that is funded by ACE that says this is exactly what it is needed. Sadly the report makes no mention of what Arts & Business did (with great success) in this area for many years. What is it about the arts sector in that we are happy to constantly reinvent the wheel and blindly ignore what has happened before. It can't be healthy!

Your comment reminded me of part of 'Step by step: arts policy and young people 1944-2014' which states: "...contemporary cultural policy is frequently made without a proper understanding of what has been attempted before". Institutional memory is short and policy novelty is perhaps over valued, but I sympathise with the overall funding conditions behind all of this.