Retrospective: The Artistic Entrepreneurs

On the 26th May 2016 I chaired an event with Entrepreneurial Scotland on the subject of ‘The Artistic Entrepreneur.’ The panel for this event consisted of: Araminta Campbell, the founder of Araminta Campbell – Fine Scottish Textile Design; Carla Brown, the CEO of Game Dr; and Jenny Lindsay, a Spoken Word, Music, & Live Literature Event Organiser. In this retrospective I reflect on some of the topics that came up during the discussion, as well as how the changing landscape of austerity Britain has led to the terminology of ‘artistic entrepreneurship.’

There was a point in my conversation with Jenny Lindsay in which I asked what her experience was, working as a Live Literature and Events Organiser in Scotland. She explained her experience working with Creative Scotland, and the benefits of working in each of the respective major cities. I pushed the question a little bit more, to which Jenny gave a knowing nod: ‘during the early stages of my career many of my contemporaries told me to move to London, because that was where the opportunities were. But I was stubborn, and responded if it doesn’t exist in Scotland, I need to make it exist.

In many ways we could have ended the event there. There is no other statement that can as concisely describe the experience of the artistic entrepreneur. This was a common theme in the conversation with Araminta Campbell, Carla Brown, and Jenny Lindsay, all of whom have trail-blazed in their respective industries by designing unique products and business models. Each of these individuals had entered their creative industry, and transformed it in the manner that they believed would allow it to flourish.

In curating this event with Entrepreneurial Scotland, I wanted to examine how artists operate as businesses. The term artistic/creative entrepreneur has become vogue in the past few years as a way of describing changing practices in arts industries. While some individuals reject the phrase, either out of confusion as to what it means or out of distaste for the ‘dark-side’ of business, it has fast become a by-word for financially sustainable artistic professions. As explained by Araminta Campbell during our conversation, she was inspired to launch her company by the most prosaic business interaction; making a piece of knit-wear for her mother.

It would be ignorant to ignore how the economic circumstances austerity Britain has developed this atmosphere. With funding cuts to artistic initiatives, as well as the shrinking of patronage or residency programmes, artistic communities have followed the business model of shrinking, fracturing, and emphasising personal ownership of brands; in short, entrepreneurship. This carries with it a further conversation as to how austerity has transformed the artistic landscape, for which I would recommend looking to Lyn Gardner’s excellent editorial, or literally anything written by Harry Giles.

Despite this, there was much positivity shared among the panellists. Carla Brown explained how here journey had begun not as an artist, but as a scientist wanting to raise awareness about health and science through games. By developing a network and supportive team, as well as driving the creative angle of her work, she has been able to start a company that is truly unique in the science communication landscape. While money has been drawn away from arts funding, it has been placed into start-up initiatives, and this leads to a transformation in the production of art.

Equally as important was the conversation as to how the Internet and social media revolution has changed artistic communities. Whether this change be branding, story-telling, or promotion, a savvy awareness of how to adapt to changing technology seems required in the new arts landscape. In many ways, the generation that is well adapted to self-branding and online networking may be prepared to approach this new world in a way that has yet to be seen.

There is still much in this conversation that has yet to be explored. Jenny Lindsay raised the important point towards the end of the event, in which the strong ethical framework on an artistic business is essential for both its health and survival. ‘Never exploit your artists,’ Jenny explained, ‘and the last person to be paid must be yourself.’ If there is anything we might take away from this conversation, I hope that is it.

You can contact each of the members of the guest panel on their Twitter handles: Araminta Campbell (@AramintaTextile), Carla Drown (@Sci_Game_Girl), Jenny Lindsay (@MsJLindsay), and Entrepreneurial Scotland (@EntrepScot).

 

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