New ideas for the arts – PLEASE!

One of our core values here at Culturapedia is that new and good ideas inspire us. To us this seems pretty obvious.  Indeed sometimes the idea is an old one – just new to us.  It does amaze me though that, in the arts world, there remains a really strong conservative streak.

In Culturapedia we strive to be the best we can be whilst keeping to our values and remaining happy and sane. We don’t set out to do things differently and have no evidence that there aren’t other arts and cultural project management businesses out there doing things in a similar way to us.  We do however see a lot of practice which is in desperate need of modification.

A couple of years ago I took part in the North West Lead Programme.  A year long course for business leaders with less than twenty employees.  The course involved masterclasses, inspirational talks, discussions and action learning sets. My action learning set is still meeting and includes leaders from HR, packaging, manufacturing, motor sales, accounting and kitchen retail businesses. We have a lot more in common than you’d think.

In the arts world there is a tendency to think that ‘the arts is done this way’. There are still lots of practices that commercial businesses wouldn’t even consider.  The government is trying to push a new agenda but this is driven by the economic crisis affecting most of the western world and not a desire to improve. The push for private sector funding and philanthropy is not going to save the world.

Clearly each organisation needs a business and organisational model that works best for it aims, values, customers and staff.  Public funding and the fear of it being misspent along with tradition do sometimes hold us back.

For example, are we asking too much of volunteer trustees and directors of  companies limited by guarantee and charities? This can be quite an onerous task – especially in organisations with a small staff team or where the scale of the organisation doesn’t attract all the relevant skills in its managers. It’s also almost impossible for small organisations to attract enough quality board members with the right skills and time.

Boards can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a benefit.  We had a call this week from someone telling us that because they’d once had a problem with an online payment the board had forbidden the staff from any further web based transactions.  Another apologised that they would have to send a cheque and this would have to wait ‘till a board member was available to sign it.  This is all before you consider the time needed to coordinate and service quarterly board meetings.

In the private sector it is unusual for small companies to be servicing a board of directors in the same way that small arts organisations do.

Conservative attitudes, (this would have a small ‘c’ if it wasn’t at the beginning of a sentence), are all around us, not just in the arts.  We’ve just had a piece of work done for mailout by a group of business students at Lancaster University.  Lyndsey came back from a meeting reporting that the Management School was swarming with students, all suited and booted as if this was what managers wear. Sue, Lyndsey and I are managers and are currently sat in the office wearing a kangaroo onesie, an elf outfit and a tutu.