Peter Thornton has been working in the cultural and charitable sector for 25 years. He is specialist in team building and leadership, creative evaluation, informal engagement with young people in the cultural sector, as well as experienced in devising and delivering training, project management, networking raising funding and building partnerships. We asked him for his view on the challenges and opportunities of the cultural sector.
LOOKING AT 21st CENTURY CULTURAL INDUSTRIES, WHAT WILL BE THE NEW CHALLENGES?
The increasing pace of change will impact on us all – reaching audiences is easier in theory with social media but interacting with them and encouraging ticket sales is more challenging. Comments go viral so quickly – the positive but also the negative!
In the hotel and hospitality industry reviewing comments on “trip advisor” is now an integral part of the customer decision making process – and typically people seem to go of their way to highlight issues or to be critical. This is becoming true across the cultural industries.
Subsidies for the sector are being squeezed universally and so making every £/ € count is vital – increasing earned income whilst delivering excellence and reducing costs is not an easy equation to balance.
Business resilience and the ability to respond quickly to change are both critical. For many years now freelance workers in the industry have developed ‘portfolio careers’ – but now SME’s, and even some larger institutions, will need to be able to change direction, expand and contract quickly to meet market demands.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO OFFER MY EMPLOYEES IN A CULTURAL INSTITUTION TO BE ABLE TO RETAIN THEM FOR THE LONG TERM?
Working in our sector has rarely if ever been finance driven in my experience! In the UK most cultural sector employees are paid under the average wage. Job satisfaction, the desire to be creative, to work with likeminded people, to have a passion for what we do and to feel appreciated – these are the motivating factors. Going forwards there will need to be more people who create work opportunities for themselves and then deliver against them.
The sector is broad and not necessarily homogenous and so there will be the few high profile highly paid jobs – the iceberg principal still applies– so that for the few well paid roles “visible above the waterline” the vast majority will be significantly less well paid and “below the waterline”. It is important to recognise that the latter support the former! Without the backstage/ front of house/ technical support the high profile work would not be possible.
Staff retention can be an issue but few creative industries employers have the luxury of financial stability that can enable them to forward plan for the long term. Increasingly flexible contracts that work for both employer and employee are likely to increase – There could be a growing pool of staff who work both as freelance and also staff in creative industries organisations. Entrepreneurship and the skills to be able to manage oneself in freelance work should be part of more training courses in both Further Education and Higher Education settings. I would however also like to see an increase in profit share where this is possible? Intellectual property rights/ copy write legislation used effectively for creative products and services developed could occasionally bring substantial financial rewards that could be shared more equitably.