Play Me, I’m Yours

We recently completed the evaluation of the Arts Centre Melbourne Play Me, I’m Yours project. You can now see the video and report summary for yourself.

We really enjoyed evaluating this project. It had a great sense of “art as gift,” providing the folk of Melbourne with an oasis from consumption. To read the summary of findings, click on this link or on the nifty flipbook, below:

Welcome to Kate Pounder, our new Senior Associate

Bailey and Yang Consultants would like to welcome Kate Pounder, our new Senior Associate. Kate is a communications and technology sector expert. You can read all about her stellar CV here.

Kate will be based in Melbourne. She specialises in policy advice and submissions, government relations and industry advocacy in the communications sector.

We are very excited to have Kate on board!

Social and ethical considerations in the creative economy

I just read this excellent blog post by Geoff Mulgan, reporting on Hasan Bakhshi’s recent work on the creative economy in the UK.  (Hasan is the director of creative industries in the NESTA’s policy and research unit.)

Geoff explains Hasan and Peter Higgs’ analysis of the creative economy, seeking to quantify how many people really do work in creative jobs.  They applied a definition of “creative jobs” as ones with “a role within the creative process that brings cognitive skills to bear to bring about differentiation to yield either novel, or significantly enhanced products whose final form is not fully specified in advance.”  (A side note: the first profession that sprang to mind for me was “teacher.”  I don’t think they are included….)

Using this definition, they established that about 7% of the UK workforce is engaged in creative roles, either within or outside the “creative industries.”

I agree with Geoff that the study is a contribution to the increasingly granular and rigorous data that can now form the basis of cities’ creative economy strategies, beyond the “hype” of concepts like Richard Florida’s “creative class.” The data shows the basic hypothesis is sound: the creative economy is growing in importance.

Based on the work Yen and I have done in the creative industries, I agree with Geoff that the data shows the creative economy is a worthwhile site for investment.  The research we have done for the Australian Creative Industries Innovation Centre shows that the creative economy can contribute to GDP at the national level, and business profitability and productivity and the granular level.

Naturally, policy makers don’t just look at the data.  They also consider social and ethical issues when developing strategies to support any enterprise, creative or otherwise.  As a creative industries researcher, worker and practitioner, I have a few humble observations to make which I would like to add to the conversation about how best to support creative economy.

1. “Creativity” is good

Using the word “creative” implies a positive value judgment.  It is generally accepted that being “creative” is good.  But the value of being “creative” can depend on what you create.  For example, a very creative person might invent new and interesting ways to torture prisoners.  Is this still “good” from a social perspective?

Being “creative” may also be incredibly taxing on an individual.  For example, a creative worker may be a freelancer, working for low pay and subsidising their own creative practice.  Research I did when at the Australia Council into the theatre sector showed that there was an issue with theatre director succession because so many leave when they hit the 35-45 year mark, or the “mortgage” age: when it came time to choose their art, or their livelihood.  More about this issue below.

 2.  The creative underclass

(The word “underclass” might be overstating the issue :-).  I wanted to make a play on Richard Florida’s term “creative class,” which Geoff Mulgan already picked apart in his blog piece.)

Creative workers often engage in their creative pursuits because they enjoy them.  Often there is a passion, or even a sense of vocation.  Researchers Eikhof and Haunschild interviewed creative workers in Germany, and found that they will commonly sacrifice salary and certainty for the love of the work.  (This was also the case in my interviews with theatre workers in Australia, which I mentioned above.)

This can lead to, not so much Richard Florida’s “creative class,” as a “creative underclass.”

There is a supply and demand equation here.  If there are enough people willing to work on contract, or for free, or long unpaid hours, then this will happen. And it does: animators work around the clock for low pay; graphic designers go from job to job with no certainty, as advertising agencies expand and contract depending on the work they have on; writers work for nothing, subsidising themselves.  They do it because they love the work; but many will tell you how disillusioning it becomes and how they long for steadier, better paid work, in a firm which allows for creativity but also supports and cushions from the vicissitudes of the freelance life.

There is also a lifestyle choice involved: creative workers may want to work for themselves, spurning what they perceive to be inflexible firms in favour of managing their own time.  There is a structural thing going on too: creatives may like to work for themselves as they feel that they work better in this way, rather than within the constraints of a large company.  And there is an identity thing at play: some people like to think of themselves as free, creative and at large.  To wax a little academic for a moment: Marx might think of this as a mass delusion, creativity as the new opiate of the masses.  Bourdieu might point knowingly and say, ah, a collective misrecognition which allows creatives to trade in symbolic capital, and ignore their inability to obtain a mortgage.

3. The point of the creative economy discussion

Why do policy makers talk about creativity?  Policy makers want to enhance wellbeing and this often means wanting to increase GDP.  In other words, we talk about creativity in the economy because we want to increase the wealth of the nation.

For this purpose, we may wish to de-fuzz the word “creative” and replace it with the things it takes to support creativity. (There is nothing new in the ideas below, but I wanted to include them as a logical step in deconstructing the “creative” in the creative economy).

For example, we could talk about:

  • an “open” economy – or perhaps, an “open” business culture might be the better description here – one which is tolerant, energetic, agile, and allows for ideas to flourish
  • an “angel” economy, one in which investment in new ideas is easy and supported
  • an “IP economy,” one in which intellectual property is supported so as to create wealth, but not so restrictively as to stop it

These factors, alongside creative brains, are all important to turning new ideas into wealth.  Supporting a creative economy means:

  • supporting an open and agile business environment with relatively easy access to capital
  • an educational system which supports creativity
  • a legal system which strikes the right balance in IP
  • a workforce environment which ameliorates some of the worse cases of creative worker exploitation, whilst still allowing for flexibility


The hype of “creative” is being contextualised and deeply understood in its economic, workforce, social and ethical dimensions. For example:

  • Bakhshi and Higgs have helped us better define and quantify creative jobs.
  • Prof Janet Chan of UNSW will soon be releasing a “Handbook of Creativity,” which looks at some of the sociological and political issues in the creativity debate.
  • The Australian Creative Industries Innovation Centre is about to publish our analysis of the many real business issues facing creative SME businesses in Australia.

The conclusion of this blog post?  Let’s keep talking.


Useful link: The death of the book is e-fiction

Alan Kohler, of Business Spectator (one amongst many of his stable of gigs), has written an article on the impact of the digital revolution on the “book”.  As you can tell by the title he chose, he believes “Overall, as Mark Twain might say, reports of the death of the book are greatly exaggerated.”  As Mr Kohler would say, “Here’s why…”


Kohler is of course playing quite flexibly with the term “book”, and includes “e-books” under this category, and not just the physical version that is the main category that has been predicted to decline towards near-extinction.  This is presumably for rhetorical purposes.  E-books he notes are now taking about 10 percent of total book sales and rising fast.

In terms of his prediction that the Internet would redefine what a book is, he says this is less apparent (yet), except that “short novels and summaries at a price point around $3 each are doing well.”

With somewhat less rhetorical flourish, Kohler notes that book publishers are still proving their value in the sector, claiming “publishers are still needed to edit and package the books for sale, including digitally”.  However, he admits their role as “risk managers” has been obviated: the ‘traditional’ model was that they paid the authors an advance on royalties and then invested the capital to have the book created and then bought back books that didn’t sell from the retailer, all of which is a bet on how much the book will sell.  This role as risk manager is diminishing as e-books cost very little to reproduce and can be reproduced quickly in response to demand.  Publishers he says also “gets to keep more of the money: no printers and typesetters to pay”, as do the authors who are now essentially sharing the risk with publishers.

Analysis of the collapse of UK camera retailer, Jessops

According to the article, the main causes for the collapse of camera retailer Jessops were:

  1. The shift from cameras to smartphones with built-in cameras
  2. The unviable retail model used by Jessops

Other contributory factors included:

  1. Poor relations with suppliers/Change of credit conditions by suppliers
  2. Over expansion during the easy credit of the boom years

The Artistic Vibrancy Onion

onionI keep coming back to the artistic vibrancy framework in my work for arts organisations, and hearing of how it has been adopted across Australia and overseas. I thought it might be time to unleash my Onion of Artistic Vibrancy on to the unsuspecting arts world.

When I was at the Australia Council for the Arts, I worked with the performing arts sector to develop an artistic vibrancy framework.  For a long time, the arts organisations and funders had struggled to articulate artistic merit.  We needed a shared language to talk about, and to some extent, evaluate, measure or at least record, artistic vibrancy.

We identified five core elements of artistic vibrancy:

  • excellence of craft
  • development, preservation or curation of the artform
  • development of artists
  • audience engagement and stimulation
  • relevance to the community

Excellence of craft

This is about how well you do your art – eg your technical proficiency as an orchestra or the production values of your play.  Your peers are probably the best people to ask, eg through peer review, benchmarking against organisations you are like or which you aspire to be like, or less formal conversations.

Development, preservation or curation of the artform

This refers to how well you contribute to your artform.  Again, your artistic peers would be the ones to comment on this, as well as the community of the artform you are in and the artists you work with.  You could do this via interviews, conversations, a peer committee, and opportunistic conversations eg with visiting experts or well-respected guest artists.

Development of artists

This refers to your organisation’s contribution to the development of artists.  Your artistic peers, sector experts and the artists themselves would be the best placed people to talk to about how well you are doing in this area – eg through conversations, a peer review panel, and artist surveys.

Audience engagement and stimulation

This is a question for the audience of your work – either for live performances, readers of your books, or online viewers or listeners to your music.  We want to find out how emotionally moved, intellectually stimulated, challenged and captivated they were by your artwork, coining Alan Brown’s language or artistic impact.  The best people to ask about this are the audience members, via interviews or a survey.

Relevance to community

This is about your organisation’s connection to its community beyond the audience.  For example, an orchestra can be relevant to its wider community through education programs, or perhaps through programming decisions to engage target groups.  “Community” can be your organisation’s target communities, eg disadvantaged youth or particular ethnic groups, or it could refer to your local community or your entire nation.  The key question is to ask how relevant you are to these people.  And the best people to ask are naturally the community members you are interested in connecting with.  You can do this via open days, community surveys and community consultations, or perhaps conversations with community representatives.

The above is a quick summary.  There are four papers I wrote about it, and a whole “Artistic Reflection Kit” designed to help organisations reflect on their own artistic vibrancy, available on the Australia Council website.

The onion of artistic vibrancy

The Artistic Vibrancy Onion

Now we come to the onion.

My underlying idea when developing the artistic vibrancy framework, is that arts organisations are all about relationships.

We can think about these relationships as a series of concentric circles, like an “onion.”

At the core of the onion is the organisation’s relationship with the artform itself.  For example, ‘excellence of craft’ is really about a strong relationship with the artform, as is the ‘development or preservation of the artform’.

At the next ring out is the organisation’s relationship with itself.  This includes the organisation as an idea, a brand and an institution, as well as the organisation’s more tangible connection with its own staff, both artistic and non-artistic.

Then we move to the organisation’s relationship with artists who may be external to the organisation, and the wider artistic community.  The organisation always sits in relation to its “field,” to be Bourdieu-ian about it.

At the next level is the organisation’s connection with its audience – those who watch, listen and experience the art.

Then we have the ‘community relevance’ layer, which is the skin, the interface between the ‘inner onion’ and the wide world.  This is about the relationship of the organisation and its work with its identified community and specific communities of interest.

And then there is the air, the wide wide world in which the onion sits – the connection with the general public.

Why the onion is a useful tool

By conceptualising it this way, arts organisations can start to map their own efforts and energy when it comes to each dimension of vibrancy.  If you wanted to, you could actually draw an onion and map your resources and programs on to it, to see where you might be strongest or where you might want to concentrate more energy.

The layers don’t have to represent waning connection the further out you go.  Your aim is to have strong weaves between all layers.

This could be a useful way of communicating your organisation’s foci to others.  Importantly, it is a good way to understand yourself, keeping the art at the heart of the onion but strongly weaving its connection to all layers.


Every Company is Up for Disruption

I saw this article over the weekend and thought it may be useful to the many Creative Industries (CI) businesses we meet with and help on a regular basis. The article, by Victor Belfor, angel investor and mentor at 500 StartUps, and VP Business Development at Influitive, describes his approach to designing products in fast moving spaces for small to medium enterprises (SME’s) influenced by technology (Which sounds like just about all of us).

No Boundaries – Arts and Disability in Western Sydney

We just finished a report with the University of Western Sydney, evaluating the No Boundaries project and community event in Penrith, NSW.  Penrith City Council launched the report at an International Day for People with Disability event at the St Mary’s Arts Precinct, on 3 December 2012.

You can get the report from the No Boundaries website.  The appendices, including survey and interview guides and the data graphs, are yet to be uploaded – if you need them sooner, just drop me an email and I will send it through.

The project was a clear success for participants and audiences.  We looked at dimensions of the audience experience such as emotional response and captivation, and learning about people with disability.  We interviewed participants and carers in-depth to find out how they experienced the project.

The most interesting finding, from our point of view, was the importance of having an event outcome.  Many of the participants and their carers talked about the amazing impact of seeing their work as part of the large-scale projections which artist Cindi Drennan put together for the big, No Boundaries event, held in Penrith on 21 and 22 September 2012.  One person said they came away feeling “five inches taller.”  Participants felt more confident, more appreciated and more acknowledged by the wider community.  Audience members also reported that they were proud of the event happening in Western Sydney and that they learned more about what people with disability are capable of.

A great project.  We hope they can do it again next year.

Appreciative Inquiry

We are often asked about the different types of evaluation approaches.  We will try to summarise them from time to time here, on our site, and hope this helps people sort through the jargon of evaluation and get to the bottom of what suits you and your needs best.

We have started with an explanation of Appreciative Inquiry, because Jackie was asked about it recently at her presentation in Melbourne to arts organisations.

Download this page as a PDF here.

What is an Appreciative Inquiry Evaluation?[1]

An Appreciative Inquiry evaluation is based on the principles of Appreciate Inquiry (AI), an organizational development method which is focused on building on what an organization does well.  The principles of AI are summarized below.

In an AI evaluation, evaluators and participants work together to share their views of the present, and “co-create” the future. An AI evaluation does not ignore problems, but approaches them as opportunities for change.

In an AI evaluation, the evaluator and participants:

  • become fully engaged in the learning journey
  • work to “co-create” the future
  • acknowledge that there are multiple, equally valid interpretations of reality
  • share their individual interpretations of reality, with an aim to gain a shared understanding of experiences
  • envision possible positive futures which build on present strengths
  • use language and foster relationships which create that positive future

In a pure AI evaluation, traditional evaluative methods – eg qualitative and quantitative research – are used only as the need arises, and are driven by participants.

Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

“Appreciative inquiry” is an approach to evaluation based on the assumption that an organization wants to improve.  Accordingly, the evaluation has a fundamentally positive focus on what the organization does well, and how it can build on this.

The core principles of Appreciative Inquiry are:

  1. Constructionist principle: people’s realities are “constructed” through their social interactions.
  2. Simultaneity principle: change and inquiry are simultaneous.  Inquiry can itself effect change.
  3. Poetic principle: the “story” of an organization is a product of the ongoing narrative of its members and others.
  4. Anticipatory principle: envisioning a positive future can help to guide people towards one.
  5. Positive principle: focusing on the positive can help create a positive energy for the future.
  6. Wholeness principle: wholeness brings out the best in people, so supporting people to share the whole story from a position of individual wholeness can build a “collective capacity for change.”
  7. Enactment principle: positive change occurs when people create the future through their words, images and relationships.
  8. Free choice principle: free choice stimulates positive change and liberates personal and organizational power.

[1] This explanation of AI is drawn from Howieson, Jill, “A Constructive Inquiry approach: blending Appreciative Inquiry with traditional research and evaluation methods,” Evaluation Journal of Australasia, 11(2) 2011.