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A thoughtful business model does not stand in the…
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Artistieke vrijheid business models
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A thoughtful business model does not stand in the way of artistic freedom, quite the contrary

Being creative and thinking in business terms: it is a combination that is still difficult in the cultural sector. And that is often not only a matter of not being able to, but also of not wanting to. After all, artistic freedom is difficult to squeeze into a business model, isn't it? Annick Schramme, professor at Antwerp Management School and UA, sees it differently: it is precisely through a well thought-out business model that you can continue to bring art and culture, even in times of crisis.
by Antwerp Management School | March 4, 2022
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Artistieke vrijheid business models

The corona crisis has brought many things into focus, especially in the cultural sector. A 2019 study on working and entrepreneurship in the Flemish cultural sector already showed that the sector still suffers from a lack of business skills. In the corona crisis, this lack really became clear. Subsidies fortunately offered somewhat of a safety net but the sector was still hit unusually hard.

According to Annick Schramme, it will remain crucial for the cultural sector to focus on sharpening business skills even after corona: "In the cultural sector, organizations or creators very much start from their own artistic project. This is logical, but it sometimes causes them to neglect elementary questions such as: What do we want to achieve? Who are we doing it for? How can we connect people to our story? Who can we collaborate with to achieve this?"

A business model is not an enemy of the industry, quite the contrary

"Those are actually all questions you have to answer in your business model. The word business model alone often evokes protest and resistance because it is supposed to be at odds with the artistic project. But it's the opposite: a well-thought-out business model makes it possible to create, to bring art and culture. So cultural management is not an enemy of the sector; on the contrary, it supports and strengthens it. Cultural management helps to ensure that artistic projects can be realized and that they find their way to the public."

This 'care' for art and culture is fully reflected in Antwerp Management School's courses for the public sector. Annick Schramme: "You never have total artistic freedom. You always work within a certain context and that has its limits, no matter what. In our programs, we help look at how you can get the greatest possible creativity within those limits."

"You can go somewhere with all your questions, you just have to find your way through that rich landscape."

And that's about much more than the search for funding: "Obviously it's important to understand your cost structure and to know what funding channels and models are available. But it's equally important to know the policy and the arts and cultural landscape well. We have a well-developed superstructure in Flanders. Just think of support centers such as Kunstenpunt or FARO for cultural heritage. There is Cultuurloket for business support, Flanders DC for the creative industry, Cultuurconnect for digital innovation, the public platform for cultural communication, and so on. As a creator or organization, you can undoubtedly go somewhere with all your questions, you just have to find your way through that rich landscape."

"But you not only need to know the policy and landscape, you also need good governance. The updated Culture Governance Code is not only meant for the big players. It's also essential for smaller organizations to think about responsibilities, integrity, transparency, diversity and so on. And of course you also need knowledge of marketing and communications. You need to have the courage to think strategically about who you want to reach, what is the best way to do that, how to (continue to) tie 'customers' to your story or organization."

It ultimately comes down to finding the right balance between the business and the creative

The latter, for example, proved extra important in full lockdown: "In that first wave, organizations started shifting gears very quickly in order to still be able to offer something of art and culture. They immediately dived into the technical aspect of digitization and usually opened up their online offerings for free. This is quite understandable in such a situation, but strategic thinking has been somewhat neglected. Where and how can we really create added value? These are questions you have to think about. You may be for or against it: the online business will not disappear completely. People may crave the physical experience, but they have also discovered the advantages of online offerings. And as a creator or organization, you better be aware of that. That doesn't mean you have to be a technology expert but you do need to know what impact the digital transformation will have on your operation and how to respond to it."

A business approach, then, to give creativity 'free rein': "It ultimately comes down to finding the right balance between the business and the creative. It is true that one cannot simply apply a general management approach to the cultural sector. You have to take into account the identity and specificity of the sector, otherwise you will lose the essence. But you do need business skills to keep making and offering art and culture. Especially now, in a context where the positive power of art and culture is so obvious, while at the same time the sector is under particularly strong financial pressure."

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