Business Models for Culture
“Every organisation has a business model, even if the majority of practitioners in the cultural sector would not describe the way they manage resources using this terminology. Yet, not every organisation does business modelling”.
Creative Lenses was a project co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. Implemented from 2015 to 2019, it explored the issue of sustainability of European arts and cultural organisations. In particular, Creative Lenses aimed to address the question of how might cultural organisations become more financially sustainable without compromising their missions and values.
The project’s vision was condensed in the tagline “stronger arts and cultural organisations for a greater social impact”. Also, its mission was to empower cultural organisations with knowledge, methods and tools to become more resilient so they can better create value for society. Some of the main tasks of Creative Lenses were, therefore, to research and explore business models in the cultural sector and whether the concept of the business model was a useful tool to drive organisational change and reflection.
For Creative Lenses, we put together a unique consortium of fifteen arts and cultural organisations from nine European countries:
- Two international networks: Trans Europe Halles and IETM
- Six cultural centres: Kaapeli, Stanica, Manifatture Knos, P60 and Village Underground
- Two universities: University of Arts London and the University of Basilicata
- Two cultural agencies: Olivearte Cultural Agency and Creative Industry Kosice
- One municipality: City of Lund in Sweden
- Three theatre companies: ODC Ensemble, Cia Patricia Pardo and Projecte Ingenu
Throughout four years, the project partners produced 25 public events, 24 publications, 10 videos and 2 digital platforms. Here are the details:
2015 | Focus groups: field research was undertaken by the University of Basilicata to explore the needs, wants, expectations and challenges of arts and cultural organisations in several European cities: Amsterdam, Athens, Brussels, Helsinki, Lecce, London, Lund and Zilina. Around 180 arts professionals attended the focus groups and were interviewed. Read the report.
2015-2016 | Forums: we organised eight one-day forums in several European countries. These events aimed to start a debate around the topic of business models in the cultural sector by sharing research, experiences and cases. More than 800 culture professionals and policymakers participated in the forums.
Oct 2017 | Conference SULA – Sustainability and Love for Arts: this two-day event brought together more than 200 international cultural managers, creative entrepreneurs and policymakers. The event offered training workshops, business model clinics and a creative business pitch competition.
2017 | Business Model Innovation Survey: this survey, conducted by BOP Consulting for Creative Lenses, revealed how non-governmental performing arts organisations and cultural centres are innovating their business models. Read the report.
2017-2018 | Catalyst programme and action-research: this was probably the most important activity of the project. Five cultural centres, two theatre companies and an organisation in transition between the two models explored and attempted to transform their business models and audience development strategies with the support of eight mentors.
A research team from the University of Arts in London added an action-research layer to the programme to understand what approaches were taken to business model change and why. The research explored the relationship between the values underpinning cultural work, the organisations’ particular missions and the need to produce sufficient income to sustain their activities.
Eight case studies and nine videos regarding the Catalyst cases are available here.
2018 | Business Model Knowledge Base: this digital platform contains more than one hundred selected resources addressing the business model innovation topic in the cultural sector. Access the platform.
2018-2019 | Benchmarking System (Artsmetric.com): a prototype of a digital benchmarking system for independent cultural centres and performing arts organisations was developed. Dozens of professionals tested the prototype in several international focus groups. And with their feedback, the platform will be further developed by Trans Europe Halles and Creative Industry Kosice as part of the project Cultural and Creative Spaces and Cities. Access Artsmetric.com.
2018-2019 | Publications: Creative Lenses was very prolific in terms of publications. This is an overview of what can be found in the publications section of this website:
- The research findings of the project
- A conceptual toolkit: Models to Manifestos
- Three working papers on the topics of value and business models
- The case studies of the organisations participating in the Catalyst Programme
- A summary of grey research literature published in the UK in the last few years
- A business model profiling of cultural centres and performing arts organisations
- Eight case studies of European cultural centres and theatre companies
Apr 2019 | Final Conference: in the closing conference, more than 40 speakers and 210 arts and culture professionals, funders, policymakers and researchers presented and debated how arts and cultural organisations from all several continents are adapting to changing environments and producing value for their communities.
Creative Lenses was an ambitious project addressing a quite controversial topic in the sector. The question now is: Have we contributed to making arts and cultural organisations more resilient? Have we, at least, been able to change the way that managers and policymakers understand and approach business models in our sector?
At the heart of the findings of the University of Arts in London research team there are three critical lessons for the project:
- The idea of the ‘business model’ is valuable to arts and cultural organisations as an imperfect tool, or heuristic’ to guide organisational development.
- Business modelling does not represent a politically neutral solution to the problems facing arts and cultural organisations.
- Business modelling is an underdeveloped practice within arts and cultural organisations.
If you would like to learn more about Creative Lenses and our experience exploring business models for the cultural sector, you are welcome to plunge yourself into the project’s website.