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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
When arts means business
Animated, Autumn 2000. 'Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.'(1) The industry needs entrepreneurs who will innovate and keep it alive. Susanne Burns believes it is time to throw away the old thinking about art and business not mixing. The artist who can combine them in their work may not only be more successful but will also be assisting in the development of the artform. Here she explains

As Evelyn Glennie pointed out recently in The Guardian, artists are effectively businesses in their own right. This is especially true of dancers whose work is primarily undertaken in a freelance capacity. Many dancers will specifically set out to form their own small businesses as companies or agencies, but many others become sole traders by default, operating on a series of short-term contracts and selling services to a range of different clients because this is the only way to work.

The industry needs entrepreneurs who will innovate and keep it alive.(2) As a practising dance manager working for companies, as well as the funding system, I experienced at first hand the problems faced by artists trying to make a living in a very competitive field without the requisite management and business skills to enable them to do so. It was against this background that, six years ago, I took a job as a full-time trainer within the Higher Education (HE) system at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Young people need to hone their self management skills and their ability to initiate and manage their own careers. Such skills can make the difference between a successful artist and one who fails to make a mark. A sentiment echoed by a recent graduate, Sophie Paratte, who formed her own dance company, Aspara: "I learnt a great deal about choreography and developed technical skills in a wide range of techniques, but it was the management skills which have proven to be the most important now that I am working in the field."

The cultural sector as a whole is characterised by self-employment. Whilst 13 per cent of the economy as a whole are self-employed, within the creative sector this figure rises to 34 percent. The dance world shares these characteristics but has the additional complexity of short performing careers and erratic career paths. In addition, funding shifts occurring within the sector have also affected the environment within which the artist works. What used to be a clear distinction between the public/subsidised and the commercial sectors is no longer so. The boundaries are blurring and the dance world needs entrepreneurs capable of making a living in more commercial environments and able to deal with the changing structures which result. All of this has implications for initial vocational training as well as for the ongoing professional development of the dance artist.

The HE sector has sometimes been accused of ignoring the reality of the world of work. But, this is changing rapidly as HE institutions have recognised the need to include business skills in their programmes. The rationale for this may, in part, have been externally imposed by a government and a Higher Education Funding Council keen to see high levels of employment of graduates, but it is also due in part to the increasing numbers of practitioners who have secured work as trainers. We bring an awareness of the real politick of the world. This not only affects the training, but, I believe, also provides students with strong role models.

As trainers then, we must consider how our programmes can provide the dancer in training with the range of skills required. Dancers need to be multi skilled, able to teach, perform and choreograph as well as able to manage themselves. We have a responsibility as trainers to make the young artist aware of the reality of the business they are entering - a business where management skills are as important as technical competence.

So, how should we train dancers? We have to empower, we have to allow failure, we have to generate responsibility and we have to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. But, we also need to develop the hard core of business skills and knowledge that will enable the young dancer to compete. By this I mean the ability to raise funding, to manage finances, to make funding applications to market themselves and their work, to understand contracts, to be able to manage complex projects, to devise business and development plans. I believe that this requires a balance between structured content, specific skills training and practical application through projects.

Here at LIPA all students have specific structured modules on Professional Development incorporated into their core programme. Further business skill development is built into the specialist routes and is offered as options throughout the programme. Thus, a dance specialist might follow an option on Managing Film, Business and the Web or Touring and Working Abroad. All students develop project management skills, the ability to develop budgets and manage finances, the ability to understand contracts and copyright issues within their specific art form and the skills required to produce development and business plans and funding applications. All students develop portfolios prior to graduation which include CVs and resumes, letter heads and business cards, show reels or demos as appropriate and databases of industry contacts. Dance students also follow a short course on starting up a dance company, producing a business development plan for assessment. This involves students in developing their understanding of business structures; particularly those appertaining to 'not for profit operation', mission development, the setting of objectives, three year financial planning and marketing strategies.

The practical work undertaken ranges from projects within LIPA to the promotion of projects in other venues and students have staged work in Liverpool Airport, at local venues such as the Unity Theatre and in a local swimming pool. They take responsibility for this work, managing it, funding it and marketing it. Thus, a great deal of our teaching and learning takes place through practical projects and applied practice. Informal and experiential learning is common and this means that our role as teachers is more often that of a mentor and facilitator, catching students before they fall and helping them to realise their ambitions.

As a consultant, I have worked with a small independent dance company for over ten years. My work has ranged from business planning to organisational development but has always been underpinned by a belief that my role is to facilitate company members to implement decisions we have taken jointly throughout the consultancy process. This has involved working closely with the artistic director of the company and I have watched with astonishment how she has developed the managerial skills and qualities required to enable her to manage the company.

Because of this, I have come to believe that the skills of the artist are not so far removed from the skills of the entrepreneur. The need for flexibility, creative thinking, courage and a willingness to take risks. The link with innovation and the need to be visionary. All of these things characterise the dance artist too.

Artist led companies may face specific problems, but the solutions lie in the intrinsic link between the creative skills of the artist and the creativity required to manage organisations and businesses as we enter the new millennium. The challenge is to find a holistic approach to training which brings these two things together. We need to throw away the old thinking about art and business not mixing - they are integrally linked. The artist who can bring them together in their work may not only be more successful but will also be assisting in the development of the artform. As Andy Warhol said, "being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art."(3)

This then is our challenge. We have to empower dancers in training to develop the skills required to succeed in the real world. This might mean that we have to let go of some of our old practices and adopt different approaches to initial vocational training. The skills of the dancer and the manager are not far apart especially when we link our management processes with the creative process within the body of what we do. After all this is what most independent dancers are doing on a day to day basis!

Susanne Burns, head of professional development, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, responsible for the training of specialist arts managers as well as business skills training for students on the other programmes. She continues to work as consultant and is currently undertaking research into the management of change in arts organisations.

1&3 Warhol, A., The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), Harvest, 1975
2 Burns, Susanne, LIPA News, Winter

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001