culture

Welcome to 3C Projects

This first post is intended to explain what I do and why I do it.
Subsequent posts will set out in more detail my activities and, I hope, will provide regular contributions to the discourse around the role of professional creativity at the intersection of community and the economy. 
They might also, from time to time, rattle the odd cage.

Navigating Complexity

It is almost 20 years since my work started to evolve from that of a practicing artist to that of a broker and developer of creative partnership projects and the primacy of the object was eclipsed by process. Back in the day, we had not yet had the digital revolution and the creative industries/economy, the triple or, heaven forbid, quadruple bottom line, Corporate Social Investment (CSI) were still emerging as concepts all of which have complicated the place of art in relation to the social and economic spheres. The value of the creative professional is now more universally understood, the demand for creativity is now more clearly articulated than ever before.

But with the opportunities have come, more recently, threats. With the current changes to the funding environment it is entirely possible that within a year or two the arts landscape will be profoundly different from today’s. The creative sector and the organisations that service it at the developmental level are more vulnerable than they have ever been.

And yet the advice we get on how to ensure the sector’s sustainability is, predominantly, to seek charity. Millions of dollars (literally) are being allocated to helping to encourage philanthropy and “Giving”. In today’s sophisticated and complex cultural economy these notions seem a bit lumpen: paternalistic attitudes from the last century – and the one before that! They seem to perpetuate myths that position artists a bit like idiot savants living misunderstood lives in garrets, in need of benefaction from the great and the good, rather than trained professional practitioners whose skills can be applied in many contexts beyond the studio and the institution, and for which there is a demand.

Nor are the more contemporary strategies like crowd sourcing and dollar-for-dollar subsidy sustainable in the longer term. I know of one organisation that had to mug its young, already underpaid staff (twice!) for money to get itself over the $for$ line. Those models may work as a one off, but they are really designed for the larger institutions with wealthy, well connected boards and top end of town constituencies – the same organisations that will benefit most from the new funding regime. But if you are a small to medium (s2m) organisation, or a regional one, or your project engages a demographic, or an issue, that isn’t of interest to a sponsor, it seems clear that you will have to find alternative ways of drawing the attention of the corporate sector to your value.

As the funding climate worsens over the coming months and the next few years, the competition for philanthropy and sponsorship will intensify and there seems little reason to believe that the larger institutions won’t continue to flex their muscle and gobble it all up as usual or that the benefactors and sponsors won’t drive harder bargains.

The bodies charged with assisting the sector in these terms show little understanding of, or inclination to explore, radically new modes of engagement appropriate to the practices of the 21st Century. The main game is at the top end of town and the orthodoxy is a 19th Century one. 3CP seeks to offer alternative strategies to this.

Key Points of Difference (KPDs)

3CP’s key point of difference will be to design initiatives that go beyond benefaction, that develop real partnerships in which professional creativity is provided as a service. We specialise in brokering and customising projects that link community benefit to business outcomes. We do not seek sponsorship for a predetermined arts project, we provide a creative service to non arts partners in their own terms. We scope the strategic aims of the partners, develop the creative response accordingly and then assemble the creative resources to deliver the project: often cross disciplinary teams. For example writer, visual artist, designer, historian.

While the arts have not sat very comfortably within the construct of the “Creative Industries”, 3Cs projects have proven many times over the years that indeed you can design projects that deliver multiple (social and business) outcomes without compromise to artistic integrity, without selling out or dumbing down. On the contrary, such complex (and often difficult) projects enrich the debates around the role of art and artists beyond the institution. In adding value to the partners’ activities, my projects have employed dozens of creative professionals from across the spectrum and generated several million dollars in investment while contributing practical, discursive and strategic benefits to the sector.

It can be argued that the demand for creativity is greater than the demand for art. But many artists’ practices defy categorisation as art in conventional terms and in fact often look as much like creative problem solving, or facilitation as they do Art. Of course community and process based methodologies have long provenance and are not of themselves unique to this era or to 3CP. But in my experience it is precisely those practices which lend themselves best to engagement with non arts partners as they are the types of practice which are already engaged with the world (politics, social issues, activism) in one way or another. While these kinds of practices are the ones that are the most at risk in the current funding scenarios, they are also the ones which, perhaps paradoxically, have the greatest potential to come up with creative solutions to the current challenges, demonstrate the value of the artist to business and further embed creativity in the broader scheme of things. Their practitioners are often the kinds of artists who relish the moral, ethical and creative challenges inherent in the kinds of projects that we will design at 3CP.

KPDs are built in to the process of concept development with, and for, partners and are as important to 3C Projects as key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, linking creative training of unemployed young people to the aged care sector’s exploration of the role of technology in empowering the elderly, can provide a key point of difference for both the youth space and the aged facility: linking the digital content that results from this intergenerational process to local tourism interpretation adds another point of difference for the tourism agency: 3CP brokered the partnerships and assembled the team to deliver this – new ways of working for all.

Brokerage

The ability of artists to see things differently, conceptualize unexpected relationships and provide lateral interventions in the lives and work of others is the resource that we tap, but those attributes are not sufficient in themselves. The ability to translate and broker these assets, to shape them into cross-sector partnerships with multiple outcomes needs to be more fully developed as a form of practice. This is the area in which I have specialised for many years and in which 3CP seeks to lead.

Effective brokerage, or intermediation, can result in practical, strategic and discursive benefits to the arts. Practical benefits include jobs and professional development opportunities for artists on projects beyond the art world that often do not look like arts projects at all. Such projects open up significant professional development opportunities and revenue. Brokerage is also pivotal to the successful development of strategic partnerships that are at once social, cultural and economic. These engagements can in turn generate discourse and debate around the role of the creative professional in society and business. And yet the importance of brokerage in unlocking these benefits and new resources is ignored in policy, funding programs and organisational planning. Nor does it register on academic radar as a skill set that can be taught. It is not the same thing as curatorship.

Recognising that the change needs to be practice led, we work closely with individual artists, writers, performers, designers, filmmakers, curators, historians, librarians, as well as with organisations, academics and policy makers. We work throughout Australia and New Zealand. The partnerships we broker are not necessarily always between a cultural organisation and a corporate: some of the most productive and creative partnerships are cross art form or cross sector or even between large institutions and smaller, or regional entities. We believe that, despite the wedging that is currently occurring between large and small, between metropolitan and regional, between top end and grass roots, that the s2m sector can engage with larger institutions on equal terms and for mutual advantage – we design projects that prove that!

Few cultural organisations have made explicit connections between their core business, which, regardless of art form is creativity, and the opportunities that might exist in the current atmosphere of threat. Fewer still have been prepared to radically realign their activities to take advantage of it – but that may become a necessity in the near future. Our aim is to help turn the threats into opportunities.

We believe that the organisations that will survive and flourish in the emerging operating environment will be those that don’t shy away from the complexity but that specialize in navigating it. They will include in their strategic planning and skills auditing a whole new set of criteria. The skills which are at the greatest premium out there are conceptualization skills, communication skills, people skills, sensitivity, team building, facilitation, scholarship, pattern recognition and dot joining, confident imagination. These skills permeate our sector – we have them in spades. They are under-utilised assets that can be developed to underpin new models of practice because therein, I believe, lies a key to sustainability. In this scenario artists will be at the nucleus of projects designed to deliver multiple outcomes for diverse stakeholders.

The organizations that can drive the change could be contemporary art spaces, community arts centres, museums, they could be libraries, they could be private consultancies, creative entrepreneurs or hybrids that don’t exist yet, entirely new business models. But to the potential partners and clients from the communities and the industries seeking to engage with our creativity, it will not matter whether you are a contemporary art space or a library or a museum. What will matter is that you are flexible, lateral, intelligent, professional, and above all, relevant to them in their own terms.

This is the context in which 3CP will operate. 3C Projects are not about the arts seeking support, but rather, offering it.