Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

March
07
2012

The purpose of an arts organisation

AMA Commons, the blog of the Arts Marketing Association, has published a piece by me on the relationship between the artistic purpose and the social purpose of arts organisations:

“People in the arts tend to have a strong sense of vocation and to take as self-evident that the arts are a good thing. But they are curiously embarrassed to articulate the benefits the arts create. It can be invigorating for arts professionals to inquire into that deeper sense of purpose and to communicate it to audiences and funders alike.”

Read the full piece on AMA Commons.

March
06
2012

The value of culture lies in its capacity to enrich lives

The National Gallery drew large crowds during the Second World War for recitals by Myra Hess

The National Gallery drew large crowds during the Second World War for recitals by Myra Hess

AMA Commons, the blog of the Arts Marketing Association, has published this piece on the relationship between the artistic purpose and the social purpose of arts organisations.

Organisations of all kinds face a new challenge: to demonstrate that they create value for society and not just for themselves.

A reckoning has been a long time coming after the financial collapse of 2008. But it’s arrival is unmistakable – not just in the mood music of the party leaders as they compete to compose the best tune on moral capitalism. It’s evident in the furore around the aborted bonus of the RBS chief executive, Stephen Hester, the broadly sympathetic hearing given to the Occupy protestors at St. Paul’s, and the public revulsion over the phone hacking scandal which brought about the Leveson Inquiry into the role of the press.

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December
22
2011

Art in the time of austerity

National Portrait Gallery

 

We’ve recently completed a project with the National Portrait Gallery, who engaged us to develop a draft social value model. We spoke to people at all levels of the National Portrait Gallery’s staff as well as external stakeholders such as corporate sponsors.

We found this a striking instance of the specifity of making a social value case. It’s tempting to think in generic terms about the social value of any given sector. But each institution is different. The National Portrait Gallery has unique characteristics which differentiate it from other galleries and museums. These are rooted in its founding purpose, which was to tell the story of Britain through portraits of men and women of achievement. Unusually for an art gallery, this means that the subject of the artworks is of greater importance than their artistic merit. Is the National Portrait Gallery, therefore, most similar to other galleries in their role as custodians of arts or to museums which curate artifacts of historic interest? To what extent should it stay true to its Victorian mission to tell a canonical story of Britain versus a contemporary, post-modern one to foster critique of hegemonic narratives and encourage a more inclusive portrayal of Britain?

The answer to these question are determined in part by the view one takes of the social value that the Gallery should deliver under different scenarios of how the economic crisis will play out.

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September
06
2011

Focus ruthlessly to deliver your purpose

Obsessive about focus

My latest piece for Arts Professional discusses what prevents organisations concentrating on their purpose.

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Few organisations know how to focus on their core purpose. The technology company, Apple, is one. Its chief executive, Steve Jobs, is famously obsessive about focus. Apple infuriates as many people as it delights by stripping away that which it considers inessential. But it is now worth more than a number of its close competitors combined. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” said Jobs in 2008. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

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December
13
2010

Searching for a silver lining

My latest article for Arts Professional tries to unearth opportunities in the approaching austerity in arts funding.

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Nobody likes cuts. But is it too outlandish to see an upside to financial uncertainty? Perhaps not. Organisations that navigate the storms ahead may gain more autonomy to set their own destiny. A possible outcome could be that they reconnect with their fundamental purpose and refresh how they deliver value to audiences.

This may sound panglossian. In austerity, our energies concentrate simply on survival and the niceties of maintaining and delivering a vision recede to the sidelines. But it can be a mistake to treat the values that inform an organisation as too costly a luxury to merit attention at a time like this. Clarity about what an organisation exists to achieve is central to making good decisions in the face of challenge.

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August
11
2010

Book review: Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut

When humans evolved into seals


Kurt Vonnegut’s 1985 novel Galápagos is a Darwinian satire on the mess humankind causes for itself as a result of having evolved big brains. Set in the late 20th Century, it charts the breakdown of society and the near extinction of the human species — caused by a cocktail of hedonism, financial crisis and viruses. The twist is that the story is narrated from the vantage point of a million years hence, from which perspective the culture and behaviour of 20th Century humans seems inexplicable. The few surviving humans of the future — a small colony that settled on the Galápagos islands — have evolved a more stable equilibrium with their environment with small brains, minimal language and a simple life in which the only concern is when to dive into the ocean to catch fish.

The novel has a fragmented narrative but is brimming with ideas. Reading it in the wake of the financial crisis of the early 21st Century, it resonates more strongly possibly than it may have at the time of publication. Vonnegut evokes the rapidity with which society can break down when people no longer believe in the value of money: a catastrophe to which we came closer than most of us care to imagine.

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June
18
2010

Mind the gap: how to focus on your purpose in the arts

Empty gallery

 

I’m writing a series of pieces for ArtsProfessional on how arts organisations can focus on delivering their mission. Part 1, on the gap between the organisation’s purpose and its actions, appears today and is reproduced below.

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A theatre won funding to improve its engagement with disadvantaged groups. It approached the challenge as the chance to spread the word about its work. But it discovered that to get the target groups through the doors, the work would need to change. What the theatre was doing from day to day turned out to be irrelevant to a section of the community it was meant to serve. This is an example of the gap that can occur between the way an organisation behaves compared to its avowed mission, one that provides the sense of purpose from a shared understanding among everyone who works in a company.

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April
19
2010

How to lead digital strategy in the arts


My friend and former BBC colleague, Jonathan Drori, has produced an interesting paper on how arts organisations can best use digital media.

It was produced for the Department for Culture and, having the misfortune to be published in the midst of the election campaign, will struggle initially to receive the attention it deserves.

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April
16
2009

Learning from art: Gerhard Richter at the National Portrait Gallery

Ella, Gerhard Richter

Ella, Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter’s portraits are confusing. He paints from photographs – some taken from family albums, others found in newspapers and magazines – and strips away the context that provides meaning. He wants to confound interpretation. Yet time and again the viewer is drawn back to the original context – the story behind the picture. For me, it is this tension between the banal surface and the complex reality beneath that makes his work interesting. An exhibition of 35 of his works at the National Portrait Gallery tells us something about the importance of stories in how we make sense of the world.

Richter’s subjects at first glance are beguilingly mundane: a woman with an umbrella; a young girl with a baby boy. The detail is blurred away and the images seem like familiar, suburban scenes – reassuring representations of a world we think we know.

On closer inspection one realises that the woman with umbrella is Jackie Kennedy and the picture portrays her in mourning for her husband. The girl and baby boy turn out to be Richter’s Aunt Marianne and Richter himself as an infant. While the painting was made in 1965 it is from a family image taken before the war. Aunt Marianne had had a psychiatric disorder and had been murdered by the Nazis.

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March
10
2009

Learning from art: Roni Horn at Tate Modern

You Are the Weather (detail), Roni Horn

You Are the Weather (detail), Roni Horn

 

Roni Horn is a contemporary artist who chips away at our certainties and presents a world which seems familiar yet turns out to be quite elusive.  It’s an experience to be commended to anyone who presumes to lead people or to understand the environment with which they are engaged.

An exhibition of her work is at Tate Modern.  It consists largely of sculpture and photography.  There is a great deal of repetition and variation on a theme and it’s easy to view the work quickly and think you have grasped it.  But it gets under your skin and eventually challenges your preconceptions, encouraging you to question perception itself.

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