Notes from Wildkat’s rountable discussion on entrepreneurs and innovation in the classical music world

In a digital age where arguments become steadily more reductive and information sources narrow, making the effort to actively seek out other people’s thoughts is a real boon. Having the opportunity to do that face to face is a rare thing especially in the classical music world.

But there are places where like-minded people can convene and share ideas. One such endeavour is Wildkat’s invitation roundtable discussions – a great opportunity to make connections with industry people who share similar passions.

The most recent session was on entrepreneurs and innovation in the classical music world.

Questions quickly arose. How did we define entrepreneur? Why was there a dearth of entrepreneurs in the sector, yet they were two-a-penny in the pop world? What impact could an entrepreneurial spirit have on the classical music world?

I’ve captured some of the thoughts attendees shared during the 90 minute session, as much for my own recall as for sharing useful information. They’re deliberately in note form and are, inevitably, a reflection of what resonated for me on a personal level. Sentences in italics are my personal reflections in response to those of the delegates.

What attracts entrepreneurs to the classical music world? What’s putting them off? Where do we find the next generation of entrepreneurs? This needs to be embedded in education at an earlier stage. Conservatoires and higher education establishments need to place more emphasis on business and entrepreneurship alongside the more traditional ‘conventional’ musicianship training.

Organisations make great strides to encourage young people to join them and replenish the staff, but a mixture of inertia, fear, lack of imagination or opportunity means the new generation of administration staff are quickly ending up disillusioned. Any innovative or entrepreneurial spirit is quickly extinguished. Little wonder there aren’t many entrepreneurs.

This was definitely my experience in arts management. I had ideas and energy I wanted to bring to bear on programming, for example. But convention, tradition, and hierarchies meant demonstrating innovation resulted in defensive reactions. Low wages was tempered with a sense that as a member of staff at an arts organisation one should feel grateful for the role you had no matter how poorly paid it was.

The arts world needs ‘capacitors’ in order to stop the ultimately destructive way individual beneficiaries fuel status anxiety and fulfilment through the arts. This was a nuanced point, but a very interesting one: some influential individuals seek out art not only for the purest artistic benefits, but also for the status of being associated with it – most notably through financial support or connection with a work of art or organisation. This fuels a sense of superiority which damages the reputation of the art form itself, elevating it to a higher plane and alienating everyone else. Capacitors in the electronic sense stop the flow between the two. Might the arts world benefit from capacitors being put in place (whatever form those capacitors need to take)?

Has sustained public funding of arts organisations in the UK meant generations of entrepreneurs overlook the likes of classical music because its survival has for a significant amount of the 20th century depended on funding to keep it alive? If it’s funded, there can’t be any money to be made out of it, can there?

Has sustained funding made the classical music world demur and impotent when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation? Does there need to be a shift in thinking about how funding is used to support the arts? Should it be used, for example, to create a sustain a future sponsorship model?

Does language we use to talk about classical music need to change? Do we need to radically rethink how we talk about the genre?

Where is the ‘fight’ for the arts? When the arts – or more pointedly, classical music – is under threat, then the genre will be fought for more passionately. Right now it feels passive, weak, apologetic and grateful for its attention. Where its emotional impact being spelled out? Where is its joy being spoken of passionately?

Entrepreneurs need investing in too. Until there are entrepreneurial and innovation role models leading the way in the UK, then others won’t feel inspired to take risks in the future. And role models may well be best created by significant amounts of money being made available to them, so that they can take risks and experiment with new ideas.

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