Commentary: Why arts organisations should act more like startups

Anne-Marie Imafidon, The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network, 4/11/12

As someone who has a commercial/corporate mind, the mentality of leading arts organisations [is] incredible -- and not always in a good way. It's not often you hear the words startup and art in the same breath. It's funny because the stretched budget and creative use of favours is something common to both worlds. But how many arts organisations take the real startup approach? A recent wave of crowdfunding sites has encouraged arts organisations to utilise techniques the average startup also needs to leverage. [However,] arts charities should not just be thinking about raising the initial round of funding. To ensure they can stay afloat and be sustainable, thus meeting their need and making art available to a larger audience, their activities also need to be easily scalable. I often wonder why art charities feel the need to do (and execute) everything themselves. In business we see this as a single point of failure. If you make what you do replicable, and empower others to do it, you'll be meeting more than just your own objectives -- take a look at A Good Week, Lance Armstrong's Livestrong armbands and Alex's Lemonade Stand. Making money isn't a bad thing, and neither is working with other charities. Joint ventures are a win-win-win situation [and] can take many forms. English Touring Opera's Support for Free campaign [includes] partnering with Amazon and the Trainline to help raise revenue, a glowing example of an art organisation thinking outside of the box. Here are 3 suggestions for implementing your startup approach:

Explore affiliate marketing: English Touring Opera is using it, and so should you. What does your audience currently buy online? Is there a chance they'll buy it via your website? Are there any products complementary to the work you're already doing, that you can collect a small commission off? This is a captive audience.

Crowdfund creatively: If the ex-mining town of Glyncoch can use Stephen Fry's Twitter popularity to build a community centre their donors will probably never see, you can create a decent video and ask the world to share in the vision you have for your charity. The Dragonfly Effect is a great place to start working out a strategy.

Use Twitter for joint ventures: There's nothing like connecting with others over Twitter. Retweet information you find useful and tweet about events you have. Also, make sure you use hashtags to link what you're saying to conversations going on already. Before you know it, potential partners will have surfaced and will convert into real, mutually beneficial partners.


No talk, all action: in Washington State, launching a startup in 54 hours

Sol Villarreal on Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's official blog, 4/30/12

[Last] weekend the City of Seattle, King County, and Washington State hosted Startup Weekend GOV here at City Hall, the first Startup Weekend event in the world to focus on using government datasets to build new startups. During his opening remarks Friday night, Mayor McGinn also announced the Evergreen Apps Challenge to award over $75,000 in prize money to the top apps in 7 categories. Apps created as part of Startup Weekend GOV will be eligible for the Evergreen Apps Challenge; prizes will be awarded in early October. See here for a list of the 38 ideas that were pitched Friday night and here for the 10 that made it through to the point of doing presentations Sunday night. [Two 1st place winners were chosen, including] Art Rover, which uses the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs' public art database, among other sources, to create walking maps of public art for tourists and scavenger hunts for locals.


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FROM TC: If this topic interests you, you may enjoy browsing a website called which aggregates news about startups in a number of categories including Creative Arts, which covers "music, art, photography, dance and other forms of artistry that people use to express themselves creatively. New businesses show off what they do to help, inspire and develop creativity." Here are some other startup ideas I've run across recently online:


Startup: The first non-profit, artist-controlled classical music record label

Norman Lebrecht, blog Slipped Disc, 5/10/12

We've been sent the first releases by Odradek, which describes itself as 'the first non-profit, artist controlled classical label'. The artists are not widely known and the music is serious - from Schoenberg to Gubaidulina. But the quality is outstandingly high and the mission statement is nothing short of utopian:

"We think that the current model undermines the true essence and significance of music. We think that a model centered on just a few big names, the great concert halls, a limited repertoire that is necessarily restricted by the bonds of popularity a model that makes its selection of new young performers from the anti-musical system of competitions, the success of which is often obtained through extravagant histrionics rather than the correctness or subtlety of interpretation and finally, a model that is subject to the exploitation of the marketplace, and which obliges the majority of musicians to pay enormous sums to record CDs, for which the profits then go largely to the record company, thus depriving many very worthy but not wealthy musicians from the possibility of recording is not only a model that is far from art, but is a model that even itself is in crisis. Ideally, music just as other primary goods, should not fall subject to the markets. We know that in a strict sense, this is utopian, but it is precisely this tension towards an unreachable utopia that guides our project.Odradek Records is a non-profit seeking label. Once production and distribution expenses are recuperated, all of our proceeds go directly to the artist."

John Anderson, the founder, explains: "Artists are chosen anonymously based solely on a demo recording by a committee of myself and four others, who rotate year to year. We're organizing festivals in four cities around Italy this July for our first six artists (24 concerts in all)." It sounds almost too good to be true. All we can say so far, after hearing Pina Napolitano play Schoenberg's complete piano works, is that it's very good indeed -- and very real.


Startup: Website 'crowd-sources' what movie plays at your local theater

Jason Gilbert, The Huffington Post, 4/30/12

Tugg, founded by movie executive Nicolas Gonda, takes the crowd-funding model and applies it to your local cinema: Anyone can choose a film from Tugg's library they'd like to see screened, along with a participating neighborhood theater; those selections immediately create a signup page, with the film's info, including showtime, date and ticket price. If enough people commit to buying tickets on the Tugg website, the movie "tips" and the screening is on. Gonda credits sites like Kickstarter for familiarizing the "collective buying" mentality that fuels Tugg and can make the movie selection experience for theaters and theatergoers much more efficient. Tugg is currently focused on one-off showings, for independent directors trying to get their films shown, or local special interest groups with a relevant movie they want their supporters to see. Because Tugg is still in beta, and a relatively new company, the ways in which you can use the service are currently quite limited. [And] if you want to create an event, you have to prove you have influence over a sufficient amount of potential ticket-buyers on social networks. That's because prospective ticket buyers cannot yet browse screenings by location or title; you have to be invited by an event organizer. Clearly, though, once Tugg opens its doors to wider user access, it has the potential to transform the movie selection process for both theater owners and theatergoers. That will be an exciting turn, if Tugg can pull it off and attract a wide enough network of users. And if it can't: Well, it can still enable local groups and indie directors to easily organize and promote screenings at actual theaters for the movies they care about. And that's a worthy function, I think we can agree.


Related: Curated movie-on-demand site gives 50% of revenue to filmmakers, 2/23/12

Another movie-focused innovation with an indie twist: Prescreen, a curated video-on-demand platform that highlights a different independent movie each day. Now in beta, Prescreen aims to help makers of lesser-known films find a broader audience while enabling movie buffs to discover movies they might otherwise never have found. Consumers begin by signing up for free, using Facebook Connect or their e-mail address. Once that's done, Prescreen will send them a new movie trailer every day that can be watched for free. If the movie looks good, users can rent it for streaming on demand. If they share the trailer with others, meanwhile, they can earn rewards and discounts on the site. Movies remain on Prescreen for 60 days, and to avoid overwhelming users, the list of films available through the site at any given time never numbers more than 60. Participating filmmakers earn 50% of the revenue generated from the sales of their movie on Prescreen, along with a report detailing the film's performance on the site as well as demographic data and a suggested marketing plan.

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