The new entrepreneurs

At a time when attracting younger arts audiences is more important than ever, the big ideas are increasingly coming from cultural leaders at the start of their careers. Three young visionaries are set to shake up the arts scene

Steven Walter, artistic director of Podium festival

A cellist by training, 25-year-old Steven Walter has performed at venues across Europe. In 2008, he founded the biennial Podium festival near Stuttgart, working on the basis that ‘artistic music is more than simply a pleasant evening’s entertainment for an ageing educated middle class’. Podium has staged a crossover night in a wine cellar, a four-hour Bach performance in an old fire station, and a concert in a court – where the audience sat on inflatable exercise balls whilst they listened. In 2010 Walter and Podium received the ECHO Klassik special award for innovative promotion of classical music.

Quite early on I became interested in actually creating something and making things happen that otherwise wouldn’t, which I think is a very beautiful thing. That’s our drive, to be entrepreneurial. I had this idea for a festival that would continue the sense of community spirit that I had felt so strongly when I was a youth. We have a very strong classical music community, but we stick to ourselves and don’t communicate. It’s a very closed circle.

So the grand idea of Podium festival is to take this community spirit to the next level, to a professional concert level, therefore creating a subculture of classical music. In Germany the institutionalised, so-called high culture is sort of shaky; it’s not something that we can rely on, it’s not something we should rely on. So we’re trying to create a parallel system of making music.

It was not a conscious decision to run the festival with a team of people in their mid-20s. It just happened. We know many people of our own generation and we tried to integrate them. I think we have to connect to our own generation in terms of audience.

‘Younger people are used to a totally different way of consuming everything. They’re not up for this kind of old-fashioned, standardised way of presenting music’

I can speak for Germany because I know the audiences here very well: we have a rather standardised and ritualised concert setting that a certain generation, the bourgeoisie and the upper class is very used to. It’s integrated with their life. Younger people are used to a totally different way of consuming everything; in terms of art, they won’t necessarily be up for this kind of old-fashioned, standardised way of presenting music. That’s not how we do our music at all. If we want to reach out to our generation we have to pluralise the concerts – and so we try many different things.

We have a unique audience; the average age this year was 29. That’s fantastic when you compare it to the average age of chamber music audiences in Stuttgart; which is about 63 and is really a problem. But we actually think you should open up and break through certain preconceptions that exist with the way classical music should be done – without watering it down.

It’s very important for me that we never do ‘classical light’. We do a lot of crossover events and stage these in unusual venues, but we go for strenuous works, things that really are challenging. We don’t shy away from complexity. I think Bach in his greatest complexity can work extremely well in a club, for example. It’s not all dependent on this usual sterile setting. We’re not changing the product. We don’t view this as something we’re trying to make easy: it’s not easy. We’re not breaking music down and assuming that people have an attention span of one and a half minutes. It’s the context that’s contemporary. It’s a different way of communicating in a different format.

We have a very fluid, open organisation. Social media and the internet is our home. Everything is created on the Internet and then happens offline, which is sort of beautiful I think.We have a decentralised team from all over Europe and that’s how we work. We try to not think in terms of marketing, but just an awareness of how we communicate the things we do everyday.

We have two blogs where we discuss the things that interest us and what we’re working on. We try to be authentic, natural and open about what we’re doing, and that pulls a lot of attention and willingness to be part of our community.  Things are moving so fast in the way people consume classical music and there’s now so much competition for people’s free time.We can’t rely on anyone automatically being interested in what we do, even though we have fantastic content. We need to get rid of these strict barriers between making music and managing. For musicians,there needs to be a new spirit of entrepreneurship, and for cultural managers, there needs to be more knowledge of art.

At Podium we see ourselves as part of that movement towards a new way of presenting classical music, a new way of organising classical music and placing it into a different part of society. I don’t think this change will happen from the top, I think it will only happen from the bottom and that’s why we’re trying to create this grassroots movement and a new awareness of the music. I do think bigger institutions can, and should be, open to this change. I just think it’s much harder to rebrand an opera house that has had a certain image, that’s just so heavy in every way. It would be easier and faster if we, as a new generation, can find a new way of presenting and making music.

Julia Kaganskiy, global editor of The Creators Project

Julia Kaganskiy launched the New York-based #ArtsTech Meetup group, a band of more than 2,500 members dedicated to exploring the ways in which social media and technology can help bring arts and culture to mass audiences.The 26-year-old is also global editor of The Creators Project, an arts platform from Vice and Intel that showcases how technology is enabling creativity. Last year Kaganskiy was named one of Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology and was a finalist for the World Technology Network award in the Arts.

The #ArtsTech meetup was kind of a happy accident. I became involved in the New York startup scene and I was feeling inspired and energised by the innovation that I saw happening. It became clear that digital technology was paving the way forward, and being somebody who has always been drawn to the avant-garde, the cutting edge, whatever’s next, I realised this was a very exciting place to be. In 2007 I started investigating what was happening with digital technology in the arts sector. I was finding that there wasn’t a ton going on just yet, especially with regards to how cultural institutions and artists were using social media. I started researching, following the museums that were on Twitter, and talking to people to get a better sense of what was happening.

‘I’m somebody who has always been drawn to the avant-garde, the cutting edge, whatever’s next’

#ArtsTech was a way for me to continue those conversations, as well as a creative form of exchange for other people to join. A lot of these professionals working in the cultural sector had taken on newly formed digital roles, and they were experiencing challenges convincing the administration that digital was something worthwhile to invest in. They were working in isolation despite being close to one another in the city.They might get together once a year at a conference but there wasn’t a community in place to support these developing ideas and opportunities.

#ArtsTech was a place to create that community and have that dialogue. What was also important for me was how to find a way to integrate voices from outside the cultural sector to help shake things up.Too often we end up in a confined forum where people are speaking to one another, but preaching to the choir. It seemed important to integrate voices from the startup scene that’s happening here in New York – which is maybe more experimental and agile – and to link it with the artistic community, thereby inspiring people to think outside the box.

About 50 per cent of our community is made up people working in digital or marketing roles in the cultural heritage sector, including the Guggenheim,Whitney and MoMA. The other 50 per cent is made up of people involved in the startup scene who are engaged in trying to do some kind of arts-technology entrepreneurial venture. There’s also quite a few artists who might be using social media as their platform for artistic performance.

Our meetings are themed around particular topics and we’ll have a panel debate or offer a short presentation. I try to structure it so that the speakers are diverse; on any one topic we’ll have contributions from a spectrum of voices. Usually they’ll present a point of discussion and we’ll have an audience discussion via a Q&A session.What’s also really exciting is that there is always a parallel discussion that happens online via the #ArtsTech hashtag.

My interest in the interaction of arts and technology came from two places. One, I was really interested in using the web to discover more high quality material about art. I’m the kind of person who is a constant learner, I want to continue enriching myself. In 2007 I was having a hard time finding quality art content online; it just wasn’t readily available. I became frustrated with that. That’s how I started investigating why that wasn’t happening: where were the museums in this space?

The other reason was that the accelerated pace by which things move in digital times interested me; it became important to me to hear emerging voices that might question this shift. I found that this criticism is present in the way that artists are engaging with these tools, and how they are really breaking them apart, converting them and seeing what creative potential they have or don’t have.

These technological tools are changing the status quo of every industry, including the creative industry. It’s been really exciting to see how artists are using these tools in unexpected and surprising ways to create new forms of expression, and how they manifest visions that were previously impossible because the technology wasn’t there. One of the most interesting potentials of technology is that it can democratise access to the arts; I really want to get this material out to as many people as possible and make these digital spaces places of enrichment, especially in terms of how people interact with the arts.

My role at The Creators Project is global editor, so I oversee the website and all the editorial content in six different regions – US, UK, China, South Korea, France, and Brazil. The website contains a blog and a web video series where we release short documentaries on artists and their projects, but TCP also takes the form of a travelling cultural festival, as well as working with artists on the production and creation of new works.

The importance of this sort of platform for artists working with technology is that it’s actually trying to bring this kind of work to a mass audience.Media arts festivals and niche art and tech communities have existed for 20 or 30 years, but haven’t really been integrated into the contemporary arts dialogue or into pop culture in a real way. That’s all starting to change, especially as the population becomes increasingly adept at using technology: people can’t live without their iPhones, Facebook and Twitter. That’s one of the greatest goals of The Creators Project; we plan to champion this creative output and to bring it to a pop culture audience.

Jonathan Mann, artistic director of Cardiff Sinfonietta

Welsh maestro Jonathan Mann has been assistant conductor for both the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands. The 26-year-old founded the Cardiff Sinfonietta in 2004 aged just 18. The ensemble brings together young musicians in Wales and students from the major UK conservatoires. Soloists to have worked with the orchestra include the pianists Sophie Cashell and Benjamin Grosvenor, as well as the tenor Dennis O’Neil.

At first the vision for the orchestra was just an opportunity for musicians in between youth orchestra courses and the Welsh youth orchestra to get together and play some of the chamber repertoire that wasn’t being done in a larger orchestra setting. But as it’s gone on we’ve had to find a niche for the Sinfonietta in Wales, especially in Cardiff where you’ve got a full-time opera company and a full-time professional symphony.

We include a lot of students and graduates, people who are just going out into the professional world of music, so I’m always trying to look at repertoire that would be useful for players to have studied before going into the profession. For example we did a Beethoven symphony cycle over the last few years, and for many of these musicians it was first time they’d been able to perform all the symphonies.

‘I’m more prone to taking a few risks in business. I’m always looking at it first and foremost from an artistic point of view’

It’s an easy environment where they can learn these pieces with friends – so that when they go on to play for one of the professional orchestras, they feel confident and prepared. Now we’re having to think even more about the future.

The Sinfonietta is constantly developing, but I think our vision at the moment is how can we bring classical music to people who have never heard it,or would never even listen to it on the radio. I feel that we need to do this by getting people to actually see a performance.

Hopefully this coming season we’ll do a ‘Dummy’s Guide to Classical Music’ in the form of a concert, where all these little traditions – why the conductor walks on at beginning and everyone claps; why everyone wears tail suits; why people don’t clap in between movements – will be explained. I’m hoping we’ll be able to put it into a concert format that does not appear patronising. People can come along and learn that these traditions aren’t intimidating.

The other idea, rather than the audience coming to the orchestra, is that we go to them. I’m hoping to organise a flash mob orchestra, where we’ll just turn up in a shopping mall, or at a park, and play the first movement of Beethoven 5 and see the response to the interaction between the musicians and the conductors. That’s where we’re hoping to go. It’s finding new ways to present music with integrity.

I’ve really learnt the business side of running the ensemble as I’ve gone along. We’re fortunate in Wales because the Welsh people are very passionate about their music making and if you look around there’s a good amount of sponsorship. I think there are entrepreneurs and visionaries in business and in music. I guess I might be more prone to taking risks in business because I’m a musician. I’m always looking at it first and foremost from an artistic point of view, rather than a pragmatic point of view.

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