The Art of Impact, a program without impact?

The Art of Impact: the Dutch two-year program of € 7 million subsidizing art projects with social impact in two rounds. At the first round, there were 428 applications and 36 projects were approved, in the second round 50 projects from the 290 applications received money. And there is a curator who may choose his own projects. How many? That number cannot be found on the site, but the aim was 40. So in total some 120 projects. The program will cease to exist at the end of 2016.

120 projects should give an enormous boost to the promotion of art with social impact. And one would assume that those projects are extensively supported and that we all will learn a lot from this experience. Research is also being done among the projects. On the Art-of-Impact site itself there is nothing to be found about the research. It is apparently carried out by the Kwinkgroep who report this on their own site. How the research is done, is nowhere indicated.

So what remains after 120 projects that received a single pulse and a research report with undoubtedly interesting answers from the projects? What is the impact of The Art of Impact?

So here are three questions about the impact of The Art of Impact.

The first question is what the six art funds (Mondrian, Performing Arts Fund, Cultural Fund, Dutch Film Fund, Letterenfonds, Creative Industry Fund), which implement the program, will do in 2017 as The Art of Impact has ended. Will it now be natural for them to honor art projects with social impact? Will they change their criteria? Or they see it still as a temporary toy of the Minister of Culture and go back upon their own ways?

The second question is whether the program feels responsible for the projects selected after this one-time assistance. Or is The Art of Impact yet another example of the ‘project carousel’ in which interesting projects once get a cash injection and are then left alone? In the UK funds are discussing this approach because many promising initiatives die a premature death by constantly having to re-apply and meet criteria such as innovative, etc.

One could even say that giving money to some 120 projects is almost criminal. Of course it is nice to support such a wide range of projects, but how many are actually prolonged in a viable way and have more impact than the duration of the project? Will The Art of Impact select a number of viable projects and ensure that they are supported in their development and funding? Or do we have 120 blanks?

The third question is what will the research generate more than anecdotal evidence of the usefulness of the program. In any case the study could provide answers to the following questions:

                • What is the purpose of the supported projects?
                • How the artists went to work? (Tabo Goudswaard, the curator, has a nice story about the different ways in which artists work, which format is actually used? )
                • What are the results? And what is the intended social impact of the project? Which theory of change is handled?
                • What are the lessons learned, what works, what does not?
                • What can we learn to conceive better projects in the future which have more impact?
                • How can impact be better reached, researched and described in the future, learning from all those projects?

So it’s really not that hard to identify several relevant aspects of impact:

  1. What is the impact of the program for the funds that manage the program? What lessons they draw from this?
  2. What is the impact of the program for the participating projects?  What does it mean for their survival?
  3. How do you assess the social impact of the projects themselves and show that impact? What is there to learn for future projects?

And there is the question of what the program The Art of Impact is doing differently from all the many initiatives of artists that already commit their artistry, their skills, their artistic process in society. Does the art of Impact see other possibilities for art with social value than were already there? Or do they put only a magnifying glass on them? Or will The Art of Impact ensure that the absolute separation – which is still being made – between ‘autonomous’ and ‘social’ art is finally lifted, especially in the art world itself? If so, the program has had at least impact there.

The challenge for crowdfunding in the cultural sector

Thursday, February 11 I was one of the panelists at the crowdfunding cafe Crowdfundinghub. A lot of discussion about the possibilities of crowdfunding in the cultural and creative sector. Afterwards I want to share a few thoughts.

Crowdfunding is a rapidly growing form of financing in the Netherlands. Doubling every year until now the amount of money in crowdfunding deals is approximately 128 million in 2015.

Is that also true for the cultural and creative sector? Not quite: in 2015 the amount spent has increased to 9.5 million on 856 projects, an average of about € 11,000 per project. That is a substantial increase: 80% in volume and nearly 60% per project. Why the latter is in rise, is not clear.

What is striking is that only 7.5% of all volume of crowdfunding goes to the creative and cultural sector, while 23% of all projects are carried out in this sector. How is that possible?

That’s simple: in businesses the average amount of crowdfunding is more than € 90,000, eight times as much. And crowdfunding for enterprises makes 85% of the total. There lies the bulk of the growth of crowdfunding. The banks hardly finance start-ups and smaller companies and thus lending to businesses via crowdfunding takes an enormous flight.

It is the difference between donations and loans. In the cultural sector crowdfunding is almost only through donations. Voordekunst is doing very well and has gained almost a monopoly in the sector. And many artists and small institutions are living from project to project, so that fits here very well. De vraag is natuurlijk of dit van project tot project leven op den duur houdbaar is voorveel kunstenaars, het is niet bepaald een duurzaam verdienmodel. The question is whether this project life is sustainable in the long run for many artists, it’s not exactly a sustainable business model.

Maar wat dan? But what then? In de cultuursector gebeurt (te) weinig aan ondernemingsfinanciering. In the cultural sector there is not much done in loan funding. There are loans, for example in the Fund’s Culture + Fianncing , but not by a form of crowdfunding that is tailored to this sector. The question is whether there is need for a new platform, there are far too many platforms in the Netherlands, at least 80, and most are not viable in the long run. With a commission of 5-10% it requires a very large mass of projects as a platform to make enough sales to be viable. Many platforms have now grants or require investors with deep pockets to keep running.

Ultimately it’s all about the financing needs of the sector and how to provide it. In a sector in which recent years more than 500 million has been cut (200 million national government, more than 70 million provinces, 250 million at the local level) it is no longer sufficient to think only in grants and gifts. Crowdfunding only, donations or loans, is not the answer. It involves creating combinations of different types of financing.

But in my idea there is also a need for a place that provides loans to the cultural and creative sector through crowdfunding. There are plenty of entrepreneurs and professionals in the Netherlands with a heart for this sector who will find this an exciting idea.

Art for Innovation

Blog 22 juni 2015


I The Start

Big words: art and innovation. How can we connect them? Trying to define them is going to get us in trouble. So let’s broadly assume: this is about all kinds of art-forms and what they can contribute to all kinds of innovation in companies and other organisations.

The setting: May 2015 in the Hague, the Netherlands. Some 30 people assemble to follow the track Art for Innovation at the Pin-C-conference. Where Pin-C stands for participatory innovation Conference. Other tracks concentrated on the role of design for different innovation domains.

So here we are: artists, researchers, consultants (some have an artist background, some not), intermediaries between art and organisations. There is no fixed program for the 2 days ahead, except that there are some papers by researchers that will be discussed.

Everything you read are my thoughts and notions, not necessarily of others who were present…

II Understanding the context

The session starts with the use of theatre forum within a company.  How to get support for innovation within a company. The group is divided in departments of the company. It is almost alarming to see how fast participants identify with the partial interest of ‘their’ department and how fast communication between departments disintegrates into dysfunctional and adversal communication.

Forum theatre is able to show the ‘shadow systems’ within an organisation: values, norms and power structures behind the facade of the official charts of a company. This recognition may be the first necessary step for change. It is awareness building, not the change itself.

The use of the artists making-process within a MBA (Master Business Administration) is another approach. By using artefacts and building together a different process of interaction develops than when just using words and concepts. It is easier to question each others presumptions and beliefs and to get deeper into the matter.

The use of rituals, silence, other ways of communicating than through words, all hint at making space for reflection on what was normal until that moment.

My first conclusion: many artist ways make it possible to ‘reframe’ the situation:

  • They shift the meaning of the situation
  • They deconstruct or attack the prevailing meaning
  • They make shadows visible: the rules that no one talks about
  • They make interaction possible between the shadow world and the official structure.

III The art of intervening

The question rises if it is only about reframing, or/and is also about bringing change itself. Does the art stays outside and reflect or comes inside and act?

An observation of mine: many artists use forms and rituals over and over, maybe adapted to the situation at hand. They have a domain or form which is theirs and which they always use.

There are also artists that start from scratch, they listen and watch first and then develop an idea on what to do. They are multiversal, every project is different, they hardly ever repeat themselves.

Both approaches are equally viable, depending on the situation. But in my observation it is more of a difference between artists then a conscious answer to the need and situation of a company.

Can we put artists interventions in a frame, with two dimensions? The first dimension: to start, knowing what you are going to do or to start, without knowing what you are ging to do (or: having a form at hand or jumping into the deep and improvising).

The second dimension: is this a repeatable process/form or it ist a first time/novel way so specific it cannot be repeated.

Then you get this frame:

  repeatable First time

It is possible to put a lot of artistic interventions within this frame. And of course it can be reframed.

My second conclusion: we do not know many frames that make sensible distinctions between sorts of artistic interventions.

IV Who does it?

At the conference track we were with researchers, researchers-artists, teachers, artists, consultants without artistic background, consultants with artistic background, intermediaries between artists and companies.

They all work on artistic interventions:

  • They can bring art into a company
  • They can bring artists into a company
  • They can bring artful ways into a company (sometimes even without an artist).

This makes the landscape of art for innovation quite complex. There are many possible actors and there are many possible acts. That is why there are no easy definitions of artistic interventions or of art for innovation.

My third conclusion: it is a constant changing scene where you have to look carefully to see who is on stage and what their act is.

V Art for Innovation

There are many areas in a company where art can help to innovate: products, services, processes, business models. Do we know which artistic interventions work best in what area? Or is that a stupid question?  Because it is always up to people to change: change their consciousness, change their behavior, develop their talents?

A company has a need. It can decide to use an art approach to  clarify that need, to develop that need into a better plan, to get backing for that plan, …

Art creates space, it can give a voice to people not being heard, to empower them. It can help unlock new energy, deconstruct extisting meaning and practice, develop new meaning and alternatives.

And therefore influence the existing situation. Is that innovation? Ninetynine percent of innovation is incremental anyway. And breakthrough innovations are always the result of a long process of other innovations.

My fifth conclusion: yes, art can work for innovation. Even if working on innovation might mean that innovation often happens alongside the process.  But that is also the way innovation works in art.

VI Final act

I know a play should have three acts, but we can break that frame, right?

At the conference there were two people from a big company. In the end they were convinced that the company could use art for innovation. They experienced how it could work. But they did not know how to convince their superiors that art could work for innovation.

Art is much more form and process than a predictable outcome. That is its strength, but for selling it  also its weakness.

The company people need a catalogue of examples, stories of other companies where it works. And CEO’s with a long term view and commitment. The ones that have some form of affiliation with the arts. The ones that only look at the next quarters’ results will not use art for innovation.

My sixth conclusion: we are looking for managers and CEO’s who like art, but do not know all its possibilities, yet. Who look further down the road then just the metrics. Who are able to put trust in people and processes before knowing the outcome.

There is work to do….

P.S. Just to be clear: where I write company you can also read (not-for-profit) organisation

The Value of Connecting Arts and Business

Blog 26 april 2015


Recently there is the discussion on the authentic or intrinsic value of the arts and how this is instrumentalised or compromised when put into a business setting.

So let’s see some examples of how this works.

Someone from a big insurance company says: “if I want a dialogue with my customers about insurance, it will be short. Insurance is a boring subject.  But if I can talk with them about art the dialogue will become longer and more alive.  So if I want to attract a higher educated part of the population, then associating myself with art is an excellent opportunity.  Art helps branding my company in a positive way”.

Another businessman says:  “a good reason to sit on an arts organisation board is that I work with people in grey suits all the time. I love to work with someone with pink hair for a change. Art is fresh air for people dealing with numbers, plans and, formats all day”. Okay, you could say  that if he likes working with people with pink hair that much, he should get another job.  But that’s not the point here.

Two businessmen who are clear, almost blunt, about their motives to work with the arts. I like that. If it is clear you can discuss the what’s in in it for them and what’s in it for you, as an arts organisation. And they are really passionate about the arts, don’t worry. They do want to contribute.

In recent years we have seen arts and business connect in many forms:

  • A credit card company that supports a number of cultural organisations financially and where staff gets discounted entry to engage them with the cultural sector and stimulate their development.
  • A program where young professionals in business are placed on boards of arts organisations where they are counselled in their professional and personal development.
  • Placing artists for 3 months in SME’s where they help the business to innovate and change.
  • Business people who provide expertise on a voluntary basis to arts organisations to help them with marketing, communication, pricing, etc.
  • A bank that finances a program that helps arts organisations to develop the skills to raise more private funding.

Traditionally connections between business and arts took the form of either donation, sponsorship or award shows with good examples of those connections.

Now there is more diversity in these connections where there is not only money (business) exchanging for a positive image that comes from the arts.

But it is also about transfering skills: business expertise to the arts, creative skills to the business. And about the realisation that the arts can do what is hard for business regulated by plans and numbers, namely being authentic, breaking boundaries, improvising.

Is there a danger in instrumentalising art this way? Of course, but it is up to professional artists to withstand that pressure. F.e. by saying you cannot do a 2-day course in storytelling for a company, when it takes 6 weeks to bring an authentic story on stage with professional actors. Learning story telling takes more time than just 2 days.

The future of arts connecting with business may well be in finding mutual profit that go beyond just money. To find out more about the value art can have for business, and more about what business can mean to the arts.

Let us move beyond just sponsorship relations and award shows. There are many more connections possible between arts and business.

So, next time you meet someone from an insurance company who is interested in art, do not think about the money only. Start another conversation.

Why am I telling all this? The past two years I have been involved in a EU-project, indeed called Connecting Arts & Business, with partners from Belgium, DenmarkHungary and Poland. We published a report where you find all the examples I gave to you and many more. Have a look at, download the report and use it!