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What business thinks about (marrying) the arts?

Starting work at the Australia Council soon after leaving Toyota definitely gave me an original perspective on how business and the arts are worlds apart. I thought the arts were... mysterious, creative, passionate and at times a bit chaotic, while business were .... clean cut, logical, profit driven and sometimes rather ruthless. While these are gross generalisations, it is interesting to consider what happens when these two worlds meet. What makes a successful marriage between an arts organisation and a business, and what gets in the way?

MOMA, 2010, artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen)

We know a lot more these days about which sorts of arts organisations are successful at business partnership from the Giving Attitude research. But until now we didn't know much about the business perspective. So when Fiona Menzies invited me to do some new research looking into how business think about arts partnerships I immediately saw how this could help the arts sector.

Over summer I got to interview some impressive business leaders who have partnered with the arts over the years, and ask them some sticky questions. Like why they do it ? What makes a partnership work ? And what really bothers them ? I heard from partners in law, partnership managers in finance and tertiary education, marketing and community managers in energy. All dedicated professionals who generously opened up about what it is like to partner with the arts and share some home truths.

What does business want ?

Business were pretty clear about what they want from arts partnerships. So it was not hard to distill what I heard into five insights, which are the building blocks of the research report:

  1. Reputation: To stand out from competitors and share memorable experiences.

  2. Value: Business wants to see value for money, more than ever, as budgets are tight.

  3. People: People are central to finding, deciding and sustaining partnerships.

  4. Professionalism: Business expects partners to be organised, proactive and flexible.

  5. Results: Reporting and evaluation helps business decide the future of a partnership.

What ticks them off ?

The business leaders I spoke to were very reluctant to recall bad experiences, missed opportunities, or unmet expectations. After much gentle probing they opened up when I asked "was there anything that didn't go as well as you had hoped". Below are some wee gems.

This research was commissioned by Creative Partnerships Australia so I would like to warmly thank Fiona McKenzie (CEO) for her skillful guidance, and Christina Chiam and Zoe Graham for all their help in making this research possible.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this interesting. If you want to learn more please check out the Open for Business research report.

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