1500 And Counting: Police Brutality, Deaths in Custody & Visibility

How one driven, creative duo crowdfunded their way to make a film shining a much needed light on a crucial subject. We talked with 1500 And Counting‘s producer Siana Bangura about the project, the alarming statistics surrounding cases of police brutality and deaths in custody and the visibility of UK BAME victims.


Tell us about 1500 And Counting.  Why this subject? Why now?

1500 And Counting is a film investigating police brutality in the UK. I’m the producer and award-winning filmmaker Troy James Aidoo is the director. We were compelled to team up and tell this story following the death of Sheku Bayoh in May last year. Sheku was a Sierra Leonean-British father killed by police in Scotland on 3rd May 2015. The stories surrounding his death were disturbing and upsetting and the silence surrounding his killng really unnerved Troy and I. We wondered why so many British people were outraged by the deaths of African-Americans, using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to react and protest in real time, but were completely silent when faced with the same situation on British soil. After much frustration we discovered that more than anything, people just didn’t know. They did not know or realise that these things happen here too. There was a strong feeling that police brutality and institutional racism are American problems. During the course of our research, Troy and I discovered that was simply not the case. Sheku’s death is part of a tragic pattern of deaths in or directly following police custody in the UK. Since 1969 it is reported that almost 3,000 people have been killed by police and since the death of David Oluwale in Leeds in 1969, no officers have been punished and no family has ever recived justice. Since 1991, there have been at least 1500 deaths in police custody in the UK but zero convictions. Of that figure, between 500 and even as much as 800 of those victims came from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. This disporoportionate amount of deaths of black and brown people is something I found alarming and indicative of insidious institutional failings. The death of Sheku Bayoh was the catalyst for us to educate ourselves on the matter and take action. Then, in January of this year, we learned of the death of Sarah Reed – a Black British woman. She died in Holloway prison and we found out in February thanks to Lee Jasper breaking the story. Her death really solidified our belief that this film needed to be made, so with a strong sense of urgency we set about gathering resources and launched a crowdfund campaign to make it happen.


What made you decide to finance the film through crowdfunding and how valuable has that been?

Although a terrifying decision, we decided to crowdfund because firstly, up until now we had been using our own very limited resources and making do. But we realised nobody would take this film seriously if it wasn’t of a certain quality. We also believed we owed the families and victims that – to tell their stories accurately but also in a way that people could not ignore. We wanted to be taken seriously. Trying to get money through more traditional means was tough – getting grants for something so anti-establishment is almost impossible and also the lengthy bureaucratic system is slow and Troy and I wanted to make this film and put it out this summer. Beyond the very practical considerations, the decision to crowdfund was also rooted in the belief that this film belongs to everyone because police brutality is everyone’s problem. It was very much a challenge to get people to see that at first but if we can’t trust the police to police us fairly then we are all vulnerable. I think towards the last leg of the campaign people started to understand that. Collective ownership is important. Now there are people literally invested in this project and our tiny team of two is now a large team of over 200 supporters who have helped us acquire the necessary resources we needed to make this documentary. Troy and I were always ready and willing but as young black filmmakers we were not able to continue with our work prior to the crowdfund campaign. We’ve also now got the confirmation we needed that there is an audience for this film and that there are people who believe we can deliver and deliver we will.

Crowdfunding can be mentally, emotionally, and even physically exhausting. It is a rollercoaster of emotions. We wanted to hit our target so badly so that we could have the money we needed to continue with this project and up our game but also to see that people believed in the project and weren’t victims of apathy. There was a lot of disappointment to start with and some doubt over the future of this project but Troy and I agreed we’d find a way to make this film regardless, but it was just a matter of how hard or easy people would make the process be for us. Now we’ve hit our target, an already challenging project has been made that bit easier to execute the way we want to. It was especially moving for me on the final day of our campaign to see how so many people pulled through for us. I have personally never witnessed or experienced anything like what happened that day – people were working together in that way ants do – like an army. We entered the final day about 51% funded and with 11 hours to go or so we had hit our target and by the end of the campaign we had raised over 105% of our target. It really boggles the mind. People were tweeting all day and donations as small as £3 and as large as £550 were pouring in. I saw that people were seeing my messages, tweets, and our project’s story and were responding with generosity. Throughout the campaign I made the point that talk is cheap and action is what is required. Sometimes the only way to support and ensure something you want to happen can actualy happen is if you put your money where your mouth is. I saw that there were people who always say they ‘support young people’ who turned a blind eye to this project and then there were others who rose to the challenge. Ultimately nobody owes us anything but we are making this film for all of us and so it needs all of us to support it. The entire experience – the good, the bad, the really bad, the remarkable and sensational – has been a really valuable learning curve and an important experience for us as creatives, storytellers, campaigners, activists, and members of society.


It seems self-producing is becoming the first option when it comes to documenting and sharing the stories young creatives want to tell. What are your thoughts on this?

We live in a society that does not value creativity. Too many of us have to work for free or ‘expenses’ and are exploited on a regular basis. And if you do get paid or sponsored then a lot of rules are put in place to restrict you and police your creativity and vision. If you take full control you can do things the way you want to but taking full control then means you need to finance your film or project yourself. From self-producing films to self-publishing books, it’s all a way to clapback at a society constantly putting obsctacles in your way and saying ‘no, you have to pass through this gatekeeper and that gatekeeper and be co-signed by this person and that person’. I personally am sick of it, which is why I very much operate in alternative media and indie arts spaces. It’s not an easy path to travel and sometimes you end up martyring yourself but if you have a message and a story to tell you’ve got to tell it. You can’t rest until you do. This film is our way of giving a platform to families and victims who have been denied that. This is our way of educating our society on a matter that affects us all. This is a very British story but with global rammifications because police brutality is something we see all over the world. Adding the British story to the larger conversation will hopefully help Black British people understand their place in this country and more broadly, help Black folk understand our fragile and vulnerable position in the world. Although we are putting emphasis on the stories of Black victims we do not for one minute want anybody to feel they are safe. We hope everyone who sees this film – Black, white, brown, male, female, none of the aforementioned or all of the aforementioned – will leave feeling vulnerable and compelled to take action, the way we were compelled to move after hearing about the death of Sheku Bayoh.


How have your previous experiences and projects contributed to your role in producing this film?

I am a journalist by trade and over the past three years I have been heavily involved in the Black British Feminist movement. I am very vocal about issues affecting women, the black community, and more specifically Black women. My investigative journalistic skills, along with my creativity, resourcefulness, profile, and commitment to giving platforms and space to marginalised voices all have played a part in bringing us to where we are today. I have also worked with Troy on many projects previously so joining forces on this was an obvious thing to do – a very organic partnership. There is no doubt that this is our most demanding and challenging project to date but it will be worth it. We’ve already learned so much from the process so far and hope to continue learning and raising awareness about the issues that affect the most vulnerable in our society. I am commited to doing meaningful work and using my resources, platform, and voice in a way that will make change happen. 1500 And Counting will be a landmark documentary and we can’t wait for you all to see it.


Follow developments:
www.1500andcountingfilm.com / @1500ANDcounting
@sianaarrgh / @visionnaryTJ

Art-for-Change: 8 Ventures To Be Inspired By

There has never been a more exciting time to be an entrepreneur. Or a social entrepreneur. Or a creative social entrepreneur at that. Social change has been at the heart of our work since we started, with the mission of supporting creatives to make a sustainable living from their talent. And we have been inspired by some of the most innovative arts ventures driven by a desire to see social change. So we wanted to share that with you. Here are 8 of the most exciting socially-driven creative projects for change from around the world, currently inspiring MAIA Creatives.


  1. STEM From Dance

STEM from Dance uses dance to nurture under-represented minority girls, preparing them for a college STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. The organisation weaves together dance and STEM in a bespoke programme, working towards changing “the face of the next generation of scientists, engineers and techies.”

STEM From Dance was founded by Yamilee Toussaint, who studied mechanical engineering at MIT, as well as being a dancer for over 21 years. After teaching high school algebra in an under-served community in Brooklyn, New York, her eyes were opened to the multitude of opportunities her students didn’t have access to, so she set about combining her two passions to help provide students with something greater than what the school system could offer.

Toussaint started STEM From Dance with the hope that a strong dance and STEM supplemental education would help to increase the number of under-represented minority high school girls across the nation who pursue a STEM undergraduate education.



  1. Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund

The Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund will use a wind turbine to generate renewable energy to fund a ‘no strings attached’ grant scheme for art-activist projects.

The fund is the brainchild of artist Ellie Harrison, with support from Beaconsfield London & CCA Glasgow, in response to cuts to public funding for the arts and the concern that corporate sponsorship would lead to a compromise of values and ideas.

Once set up, the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund (RRAAF) aims to be a new and autonomous alternative funding scheme for art-activist projects in the UK. The initiative champions systems change in arts funding to support and encourage politicised practice.

Of the project, RRAAF funder Chris Fremantle says: “activist art needs ‘unrestricted’ funds and this is a great initiative to use the production of one sort of renewable energy to support the generation of another sort of energy, one that provokes and challenges.”


  1. ArtLifting

ArtLifting is an online marketplace that provides homeless and disabled artists the opportunity to earn their own income. ArtLifting celebrates and sells original paintings, art prints, and products so artists can earn recurring income from each piece.

Founder Liz Powers has worked with homeless and disabled individuals in Boston since she was eighteen. Creating and running art groups in local women’s shelters and witnessing talent in abundance, she created ArtLifting with her brother Spencer, which has since grown from supporting four artists in Boston to supporting dozens of artists across the U.S. Artists not only earn an income from their talent, but also experience an increase in confidence and empowerment. Since its launch in December 2013, ArtLifting has helped five formerly homeless artists gain housing, with the organisation’s impact growing daily.


  1. Contemporary Other

Contemporary Other is a limited biannually printed publication, celebrating the work of alienated voices, artists, thinkers and activists in the fields of art, performance, politics and culture. Launched by artist Demi Nandhra, Contemporary Other was formed out of the desire to dedicate a publication to the modern marginalised identity, giving precedence to diversity of thought.

The CO manifesto states: We favour the individual whose identity does not conform unambiguously to the conventional. We favour the marginalised, the dark, the east, the feminist, the queer, the radical, the subordinate, the transnational, the post human, the admix that is the Contemporary Other. CO’s purpose is not the reaffirmation of the concept of us and ‘other’ but is concerned with lack of awareness of social and oppressive constructions hence our name.



  1. Cockpit Arts

Cockpit Arts is an award winning social enterprise and at present, the UK’s only business incubator for craftspeople, housing up to 170 small businesses at two centres across central and south London. Founded in 1986, the organisation supports craft practitioners at the start of their careers, as well as those who are more established, to grow and build successful and thriving businesses both in the UK and internationally. Since opening, Cockpit Arts has helped thousands of talented makers grow their businesses, many of who have gone on to achieve national and international success.

As a Social Enterprise, Cockpit Arts services and studio spaces are offered to designer-makers at affordable rates. Any profit made is reinvested to support those most in need, with special awards and bursaries offered to early stage craft businesses. Cockpit Arts also delivers a unique creative careers programme to provide opportunities for young people referred by The Prince’s Trust, plus, a creative employment programme generates wider craft employment opportunities in the craft sector through Traineeships and Apprenticeships.


  1. Assemble

Assemble hit headlines last year, winning the prestigious Turner Prize with their urban regeneration project, Granby Four Streets. Assemble’s working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realization of the work. The 18-strong collective use art, design and architecture to improve houses in Toxteth, Liverpool.


Setting up social enterprise ‘Granby Workshop’ in the wake of their controversial Turner Prize win (Assemble have been dubbed the first ‘non-artists’ in the traditional sense to claim the prize), the collective has helped to improve houses originally acquired by the council for demolition and redevelopment, with imaginative designs and recycling of existing materials, with revenue from the sales going to support the redevelopment project. These products were designed for refurbished homes to replace elements that were stripped out of the houses as they were boarded up by the council, including door knobs, mantelpieces, furniture, fabric and tiles.

Assemble member Fran Edgerley said: “Granby Workshop offers a real and meaningful way for the public to get involved in our work in the community-led rebuilding of the Granby. Social enterprise means that the project can contribute directly to rebuilding the economic infrastructure of Granby and create a sustainable organisation to advocate for the tenacious creativity that has been so transformational for the area.”


  1. Green Rooms

Green Rooms is a non-profit hotel – described as the first social enterprise hotel – designed to offer affordable accommodation and workspace for artists in London, while giving the wider community a space to stay, work, learn, play and collaborate.

The four-story art-deco hotel is the product of social entrepreneur Nick Hartwright’s desire to see affordable accommodation that doesn’t compromise on quality, with backing from the local council and Mayor of London.

With social enterprise seeping through every pore, Green Room’s restaurant will offer rent-free residencies to emerging restauranteurs and an artist-in-residence programme, acting as a support  hub for training chefs and creatives alike.


  1. Stony Island Arts Bank

Chicago artist Theaster Gates Jr. saw an opportunity with a derelict building in his neighbourhood that had been empty since the 1980s. He took a chance and purchased the Stony Island Savings & Loan for a single dollar from the city of Chicago in 2012, then managing to raise considerable funds to help restore the bank through a number of initiatives, including salvaging marble from the bank and selling it in rectangular pieces called “bank bonds” at Art Basel.


Renaming the space, Stony Island Arts Bank, the building is now home to art installations, artists, scholars, and archives on art history, architecture, and black culture. It also houses the Rebuild Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Gates to invest culture in underdeveloped neighbourhoods.  Gates describes the space as: “a hybrid gallery, media archive and library, and community centre. It is an institution of and for the South Side—a repository for African American culture and history, a laboratory for the next generation of black artists and culture-interested people; a platform to showcase future leaders—be they painters, educators, scholars, or curators.”

Public Art, Commercial World

Public Art, Commercial World: In Interview with Jon Andrews, Public Artist LTD.

The creative industries are changing, with more focusing on innovative ways to generate business and sustain through their practice. Enter Public Artist Limited. We caught up with Jon Andrews, Director, to discuss the relationship between art, public spaces and the commercial world.


What is Public Artist Ltd and how did it come about?
Public Artist Limited is an independent art consultancy based in Birmingham. The organisation was established in 2015, and arose from a collaboration between Stoford Developments Ltd and Warwickshire College on public art projects associated with Stoford’s property development portfolio. I’ve recently become a non-executive director of Stoford having been with the business for over 12 years. Jo Capper is the co-founder of Public Artist Limited and leader of the Fine Art Degree course at Warwickshire College where I’ve been studying part time since 2014. The idea for Public Artist Limited arose from conversations Jo and I had in early 2015 around Stoford projects and my previous (variable) experiences in the realm of public art obligations arising under the planning system. We see it as a partnership between public and private sector practices and experience. Moving forward we would like to critically develop art practice in the public realm, seeking opportunities for artists to locate and place their practices in social contexts.

Where does your work come from? What is your process?
The work arises firstly by identifying what we feel are clear opportunities through a network of contacts and news media sources. These are usually associated with capital projects that are either planned, in progress or in one case initiated by ourselves. We then identify the stakeholders involved and what their motive might be to secure artist’s involvement in the project. Sometimes this is by way of a planning obligation, but we are also engaging where there is no such obligation, where we believe we can generate an opportunity for a suitable artist.

Alight, Cardiff, Mark S Gubb

What are the biggest barriers your face in trying to facilitate collaborations between commerce and communities through art?
There is often a mutual lack of understanding that naturally leads to suspicion around motive. Artistic motives are often very different to commercial stakeholder motives, and communities will often feel that artists’ work in public realm is disconnected, or even irrelevant to context. Then there is the language barrier, which is sometimes used as a means to exclude rather than be inclusive. Add all that up and it’s quite a minefield to navigate. I see it as silo culture; we are all comfortable in our chosen silo, and get fairly uncomfortable with any overlap or intrusion, but that’s exactly the region that’s most interesting and rewarding for those prepared to take a risk. The other big barrier to collaboration is the understandable desire for predictable outcomes, which can be in complete opposition to the creative process.

Colour Space, Thame County Show, Claude Heath with Jo Capper and Jon Andrews

Why do you think there is often such a disparity between the arts and business enterprise worlds?
There are a number of reasons, but I think the single biggest reason is the language barrier and hard wiring; artistic and commercial thinking are two different modes of thought. Having said that, where successful they have a lot in common; the most successful commercial businesses are often the most creative, they just wouldn’t necessarily see that mode of thinking as artistic, and maybe that’s a product of the language divide. Jo and I find our ongoing conversation has explored ways to bridge that divide in communication. Understanding how these different worlds operate and finding intersections where there is possibility for communication. That could be a public artist project in itself; a community engagement, a business event, a meeting, an introduction etc.

What are the challenges in making the creative sector sustainable?
As a sector of the economy, it is sustainable and represents a pretty good return on investment for the country; the current government accepts that. Like any industry, there are parts around the edges that struggle for viability, and success can come from the most unlikely beginnings, whilst failure can be equally surprising.

Recording site clearance at Pantheon Park, Wednesfield.

What role do you envision public art having in the future?
I’d think about public artists embedded in every community promoting social cohesion and wellbeing. Permanent public art installations they produce will represent a legacy of successful processes. We’d like to see public artists actively engaged in every street and every doctor’s surgery, supported by commerce and the communities they benefit. We need to get to the stage when people ask where the local public artists are when making enquiries about house purchase or school choices. One day you will be able to locate public artist organisations on Rightmove!

The Rise and Rise of the Creative Entrepreneur

“To be successful as a self-employed artist takes a hell of a lot of self discipline. You need to be flexible, a good time manager, have a head for numbers and embrace a really good work ethic.” – Kim Lawler.

The creative economy presents a world filled with opportunity. As a sector, the strength of the creative industries lie in the ability to manage risk and innovate in response to the uncertainties of the day, where the risks are as great as the potential rewards. In this environment, we are witnessing a seismic shift: how artists work, think, train, trade, collaborate and are valued is changing. That being said, conventional thinking still sees the art and business worlds as contrasting, with an education system that continues to encourage one pathway or the other. In spite of this, modernity has seen a blurring between these two apparent parallels and entrepreneurship has become a necessary part of the discussion around the sustainability of creative practice, for various reasons. This includes the saturation of the market, competition accessing finance and the development of the ‘digital’ sphere.


The Internet and advancing technologies have contributed to the unprecedented rise of creative entrepreneurship, given that it has significantly affected the way artists create, promote, sell, communicate, deliver and find work. The speed and scale of accessibility also means artists can now reach audiences in what used to be ways reserved for the institutions and large scale corporations.

Contributing to the bridging of the ‘arts and enterprise gap’, it seems “governments have abruptly woken up to the presence of the creative industries and their importance – both as feeders of ideas and products to other businesses, but as highly valuable cultural capital in keeping Britain a place that attracts the brightest and most energetic.” – Anne McElvoy

Furthermore, the multidisciplinary practices of young creators mean modern artists aren’t just relating to one artistic identity. In fact, the creative entrepreneur isn’t limited to the artistic sphere at all, instead, using their forward-thinking, entrepreneurial vision to conjure up new opportunities from nothing, with the business acumen to make it happen.

Versatility has become a new focus as creatives attempt to diversify their income streams, like any good business. But does this come at the compromise of artistic integrity? The commercial vs. artistic debate has always been prominent in the creative industries and this shift to entrepreneurship undoubtedly flags it up. Alternatively, we could instead choose to view this as an opportunity to explore different interests. The flexibility and agility of creative entrepreneurship is one of its great advantages.

Of course, professional artists have always relied on their talents to generate wealth, but creative entrepreneurs take that a step further to explore the full potential of their ideas and create value for others, as well as themselves through their skills.

“The value they [artists] create lies not in their physical products (if any) but in intangible assets such as their brand, reputation, network and intellectual property.” – Mark McGuinness

Untitled design (1)

Creative entrepreneurs:

  • Are proactive, turning ideas into products and services, effectively evaluating the processes and outcomes along the way.
  • Identify opportunities in the marketplace, using business skills to turn these ideas, products and services into profits, enabling the continuation and sustainability of the practice. In this regard, some consider creative entrepreneurs as different to creative freelancers, who may be earning income solely through paid work for clients, whereas the entrepreneur creates their own opportunities, produces results and making profits.
  • Build relationships, virtually and offline, connecting with partners, clients, audiences and stakeholders, often placing collaboration and effective communications at the heart of these associations.

“Creative entrepreneurship is spawning its own institutional structure—online marketplaces, self-publishing platforms, nonprofit incubators, collaborative spaces—but the fundamental relationship remains creator-to-customer, with creators handling or superintending every aspect of the transaction.” – William Deresiewicz

The path of the creative entrepreneur is not, by any means, an easy ride nor does it run without obstacle. The decision to pursue business in any capacity isn’t one that should be taken likely, however, it can be the most rewarding, fulfilling decision you’ll make. After all, doing what you love for a living makes it all worth it.

Our next Creative Enterprise programme resumes later in 2016, providing professional artists from across the industries with business, marketing and law training, enabling sustainable practice. If you’re interested in participating or contributing to future programmes, contact us: info@maiacreatives.co.uk

Freelancing in 2016: Expectations & Hopes

2016 is here and things are changing!

2015 saw an ongoing shift in the workforce culture, with a steady increase of freelancers and that is set to continue this year. With it being increasingly difficult to secure traditional full-time work, more people are tempted by the idea, flexibility and freedom of earning income with freelance gigs.

Here are a few things we hope and expect to see in the coming 12 months regarding the freelancer culture:

  • Freelancing is predicted to become a larger part of the global workforce, as businesses continue to seek ways of cutting costs and more people make the plunge to go solo. Take the creative industries, where self-employment already measures at 43% and is tipped to exceed the number of people working in the public sector by 2020. Independent workers allow businesses to find more targeted talent to address their specific needs, usually at a lower cost than employing a member of staff. This has reciprocal value, as the freelancer can design their lifestyle and work pattern to suit, picking and choosing the roles they want (though, sadly, not typically the case for newbies) and charging accordingly.
  • The desire for shared and communal space will grow, as will the need for more affordable solutions. We are set to see more co-working spaces, giving creatives the option of where to work from, boosting productivity, offering resources, building networks and becoming part of a community of likeminded types. Just take a look at Moseley Exchange, Impact Hub Birmingham and Birmingham Open Media, to name a few.
  • We will witness a greater reliance on technology, from how work is sourced, produced and stored, to delivery and communications. An increase in the use of mobile technologies, cloud storage and productivity software digital connectivity makes it easier than ever to manage your freelance career. We’ve also seen a rise in the number of platforms connecting talent with business, including crowdsourcing platforms and virtual assistant companies. See: Time etc, Virtalent, The Dots and Zealous.
  • HOPE: Attitudes towards freelancing and freelancers will improve. Easier said than done, of course, but we need freelancers to be considered an integral part of operations, as opposed to filler positions, inbetweener jobs and students trying to get their foot on the ladder. Much of this comes down to better understanding. Freelancers have the skills, talents and ideas to significantly impact business growth, so we need to see more organisations leveraging this, implementing those assets more efficiently.
  • HOPE: Better benefits for freelancers and self-employed practitioners will emerge. As of now, it’s pretty dire out there! As a significant constituency in the UK workforce, we need to see freelancers represented at policy making and governmental levels, advocating for better rights. In the not-too-distant future, we really hope (read: need) to see that retirement, parental leave, sick leave and other benefits will be MUCH easier to acquire.


If support and attitudes towards freelancers improves, it is likely to be an incredibly prosperous direction for new age workers. But, with its uncertainty and insecurity, this is not a post commanding you all to quit your day jobs right away. Here are 3 tips to consider before making the plunge:

  1. Start on the side: work around your current day job. Use your spare time to research opportunities and build up your client base, while remaining financially secure.
  2. Identify your strengths and choose your expertise. When it comes to freelancing, there is often little value in being jack of all trades, master of none. Not only can it be a very hectic and stressful lifestyle, but choosing just one or two areas of expertise will allow you to specialize, provide a more efficient service and charge more competitively.
  3. The need to understand business is often overlooked by creatives, nevertheless an incredibly important component. As a freelancer, you are operating a business, and whether you choose to outsource or handle that side of things yourself, it is still a good idea to understand marketing and promotions, tax returns, spreadsheets, budgeting and how to negotiate contracts.


Considerations for the Future of Creative Practice: STEAM, Growth & Barriers

“The UK is a world leader when it comes to the creative industries and they play an important role in shaping how the rest of the world perceives the UK. But we are trading in an increasingly competitive marketplace and cannot take our position for granted. Standing still is not an option.”

– Nicola Mendelsohn, Creative Industries Council

We’ve heard it enough to know that the creative industries play a key role in generating economic growth and improving societal wellbeing.  As one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, currently worth £77 billion in the UK and rising, there is no doubt the creative industries are thriving, with growth outweighing that in other fields, such as finance. Employment is also on the rise, up by 5% between 2013 and 2014 against a 2.1% UK average. There has never been a clearer indication of the economic value of the arts and creativity.

And the influence of those with creative training stretches far beyond the traditional creative sector. “As any business or public-sector leader would agree, creativity and innovation needs to be at the heart of any thriving and forward looking organisation,” says Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer of Design Council. In tapping into the creative economy’s vibrancy, we would be looking at even greater economic growth. However, this growth does not and should not give us license for complacency.

Technological advancements are significantly impacting on the development of the creative industries. The relationship between the arts, design, technology and engineering maximizes opportunities for innovation, ideation and problem-solving. As the creative economy pushes for an emphasis on STEAM, rather than STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), opportunities for real innovation are improving. Spaces like BOM are facilitating this advancement right here in our city, Birmingham.

Future Arts MAIA Creatives Birmingham

But every industry faces its own challenges and the creative economy is no exception. It is an uphill struggle. Creative education is still seen as a luxury by the majority, rather than an essential component of innovation, spurring future economic wellbeing. The knock on effect often means parents encourage their children to stick to more traditional options that lead to “the proper jobs”. As a result, we’ve seen in recent years, the number of applicants for STEM subjects increase, at the expense of the humanities subjects that help give the technological advancements the narrative required to apply it to the real world, a sentiment reflected in the work of futurist, Chris Barnatt. The disciplinary silos within UK education are a systemic problem. Furthermore, governmental attitudes to the creative industries mean we, as practitioners, must find innovative new ways of generating income and sustaining, as public investment dwindles, local government funds shrivel, Arts Council England’s resources are spread thin and attention and funding still remains largely London-centric.

There is no doubt the creative industries are rapidly changing, as is the way we manage our own creative careers going forward.  In fact, self-employment in the creative industries is tipped to exceed the number of people working in the public sector by 2020 (it’s current self-employed workforce stands at 43%), while 78% of businesses within the field are micro, with fewer than five employees. Though roles in the creative industries are at ‘low or no’ risk of automation unlike traditional white-collar jobs, according to Nesta research, what are the implications of this freelancing culture? What of security, holiday, parental and sick pay, pensions, etc?

Creatives need to be entrepreneurial and conscious of new developments across the industries, be that technological, economical or otherwise. It is crucial to look beyond conventional methods to identify new opportunities, in collaborative ways to avoid further fragmentation within the industries.

This article is a repost from http://www.future-curious.com

10 Tips for Starting a Creative Business

Sitting at your laptop daydreaming about starting your own creative business, perhaps as an artist, performer or creative agency? An innate desire to make a career out of your creativity? The good news is: there’s never been a more accessible, interconnected time in history, which makes starting a business that much easier in this entrepreneurial generation. Here are 10 tips to launch your creative business:

  1. Study.
    Refine your craft. Develop new skills, but also, know the market like the back of your hand. Learn as much as you can, as early as you can and never stop learning. The creative industries are very saturated and competitive. What is your USP? How do you stand out? Can you combine skills? Know who your competition is and learn about them. How are they funded? Who are they working with? Are there opportunities to collaborate?
  1. Start.
    Probably the hardest thing to do. Good news is you don’t have to worry about getting everything perfect right away. Nobody does. In fact, it’s probably best to learn on the go. Try testing out ideas on a small scale first. You can approach orgs like Arts Council England or UnLtd for grant funding towards Research & Development (R&D) or feasibility testing.


  1. Focus.
    Once you tap into your entrepreneurial mindset, it’s common for a million other business ideas to come. It takes guts and determination to see something through. You wouldn’t be the only one who procrastinates and flirts with other ideas when things get struck. As someone who subconsciously starts looking for escape routes when things are sticky, I can testify to the importance of patience. Take your time and try to focus on seeing this one through first and be honest with yourself along the journey.
  1. Brand.
    If you’re creative, it’s perhaps a good idea to ensure your brand reflects this. What does your brand look and feel like? Is it appropriate for your audience? Will potential clients and audiences view your business and see ‘quality’? Look, logo, colours, feel, name, language, communications – are these all in unison? Is there cohesion across your website, social media, etc.? Do others view your brand the way you’d like them to?
  1. Money.
    Prioritise cashflow! In creative business, like all others, there will be ups and downs, which is why good planning and strong financial management will really come in handy. Remember it is important to make money/profit as a creative, whether a sole trader, charity, social enterprise or limited company. And you don’t have to compromise your art or worry about “selling out” because of it. To run a sustainable creative business, we have to be innovative in how we make money. It is becoming increasingly less secure to rely on grant funding. Look at other ways to raise funds, e.g. earned income (the most sustainable kind), crowdfunding, sponsorship, contracts, etc. Note: try to uphold your values & avoid chasing money as much as you can, where it can very easily become about realising your funder’s intentions, rather than your own.


  1. Attitude.
    Be nice. Genuinely. There’s a lot to be said for a positive attitude. Old age business Some believe in the Law of Attraction. Entrepreneur Daniel Priestley says: “you get what you pitch for… and you are always pitching.” So if you project negativity, what does that tell others about your business?
  1. Connect.
    Network. Network. Network. The creative sector is an exercise in networking. Social media, networking, events… Try to meet with as diverse a range of people & orgs as you can. Endorsements go a long way in this sector. Are you looking for a business partner? Do you want to team up with others to bring a project to life? Can you find a mentor to learn from? Are you hoping for new clients? Do you need to fill a skills gap in your team? Expertise, advice, contacts, partnerships, customers… all the essential stuff to help strengthen your own work and the development of the industry.

Theatre de Complicite Master and Margarita

  1. Internet.
    In the digital age, it’s important to get online. Use email marketing to let your peeps know what you’re up to, e.g. Mailchimp. Social media works better for some industries than others. This is absolutely one of those industries. If you’re not on Twitter, get on it now! Follow hashtags, industry leaders, potential partners, creative businesses and practitioners you admire and get involved in the conversations. If your creative business can be represented visually, e.g. crafts, photography, art, etc try Instagram and Pinterest. Consider selling products in online marketplaces like eBay and etsy. Have you got a strong website? You can get a free one to begin with from platforms like WordPress and Wix.
  1. Enjoy.
    That’s probably why you considered going into business for yourself in the first place, right? Take the time to remember that. Just between us, as stressful as it can be, the startup stage is probably the most exciting… though it might not always feel like it. Learn to enjoy the ride. Ever heard people talk of “the art of failing”? Experiment, play, test, prototype, fail! You learn much more from mistakes than smooth sailing, as long as you pick yourself back up. Take as much as you can from the lessons and continue to grow.
  1. Wellbeing.
    Most importantly, please remember to take care of you! Business is stressful. Pursuing your passion is extra tough and it’s so easy to put everything you have into making it happen. So don’t forget: get a good night’s sleep. Eat well. Give yourself a break every now and then. Take the time to do what makes you happy. Avoid burnout!

Reversing the Value Chain: Arts, Business & Community

Birmingham CSR SUMMIT 2015
Reversing the Value Chain: What Can the Arts and Creative Sector Bring to Business and Community?

What a day! Having seen the title for this year’s Annual Birmingham CSR Summit, we at MAIA Creatives were undoubtedly excited. Now, that excitement continues to bubble over! The summit is the region’s leading conference dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility, examining critical issues affecting the future of business, community development and civic responsibility with the idea of generating next steps and action points to take forward.

Lucky for us, this year’s theme sits slap bang in the middle of home territory for us, particularly as our work focuses on the exchange between creativity and enterprise. Half of our work brings business concepts to creative individuals through our arts development & professional practice programmes. For the other half, we collaborate with the most creative minds, co-designing and providing solutions to the needs of businesses and institutions. In other words, we bring business to the studio and creativity to the boardroom. The summit opened up the idea of the arts to explore the immense value it can have economically, financially, environmentally, socially and even personally.

After hearing from local arts organisations of varying sizes, corporate institutions, independents and researchers, here are a few reflections from the day:

  • Academia is important. Creativity and education should be mutually inclusive and we should be looking at creative learning processes. Arts-based practice being integrated into the curriculum would bring about major advantages, especially given attributes like adaptability, risk-taking, capacity building, forward-thinking and innovation are at the heart of such practices.
  • The arts are an integral part of the economy and, in turn, our civilization. As one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, currently worth £77bn and rising, we need to reverse the mindset that doesn’t value the arts in the way it does STEM fields or professional services. In tapping into the creative sector’s vibrancy, we would be looking at even greater economic growth.
  • We have a big communication issue. There is the opportunity to integrate seamlessly if we master a shared language. Until then, we will maintain missed opportunities where the impact and value of the creative industries are missed by many outside of that world.

    “Finance has been added into the curriculum to show how maths connects with and translates to the real world. We need such a translation with the arts.” – Jacques Nimki, Artist

  • In fact, how do we connect with the next generation? As the youngest city (population) in the EU, how do we better represent and communicate with that crucial demographic? The youngest panelist of the day, Izzes Gayle of The NUBI Hub picked up on this, noting that there were only a handful of 25’s in the room. Young people need to be involved in these conversations and they will be the movers, shakers and leaders of the industry in the next 10-15 years.The city is becoming more and more enterprising and it’s starting younger – how do we better support that? Is it worth introducing youth boards? Can young people sit on the board of already existing organisations, or take senior roles where they have a say in decision-making? Can larger organisations work more efficiently with local creative startups to bridge some of the existing gaps? Can there be a fairer distribution of wealth, so the “big boys” don’t get it all and then struggle with outreach? We need to develop an ecosystem to create this change. Now.
  • Businesses are helping, but are they helping enough? Are they helping where it matters? Are they communicating this enough or in the right way? We heard some great testimonials from established arts organisations, such as CBSO, Ikon Gallery, Ex Cathedra and Town Hall Symphony Hall, about the support they receive from firms through CSR, but are smaller organisations able to access this? Is there provision for some form of mentoring so that small businesses and startups can look at this process?

    “Embrace positive disruption. Let’s look at how we evolve what’s already out there, to bring it into a new age.” – Joel Blake, Entrepreneur

  • Are we all being creative enough when we think about the impact that the arts can have? Geese Theatre Company ran a truly insightful workshop looking at how they use theatre as a tool for change, within criminal justice and forensic mental health settings. Visual artist Jacques Nimki encouraged delegates to look at how we can normalise the perception of art, through his site-specific work in urban landscaping. We have a great opportunity to look at the alternative ways we can use creativity. At MAIA Creatives, we of course acknowledge lateral connections, like contracting videographers with businesses seeking content. But, we may also work with curators, creative producers & visual artists when managing a branding project for a company. Or we’ll work with creative writers and performance artists on a bid-writing and pitching brief. Even recently, a company approached us with a request for an illustrator who could help them map out a new strategy for a board meeting. The transferable skills creatives possess open up possibility tenfold.
  • We need to start thinking innovatively and recognise that the arts is not just a ‘nice-to-have’. It’s more than leisure. But we need to be more strategic in the arts and articulate our value in a bolder, brassier manner, backed up by statistics and data, a point raised by Ammo Talwar of Punch Records.
  • CSR shouldn’t be seen as an unauthentic ‘badge of honour’, or where corporate bodies are doing arts organisations a favour. Instead, we should be looking at reciprocal value. And that goes beyond CSR to evaluate, at a more fundamental level, the reciprocal appreciation of what the creative and corporate worlds can offer each other.

What became very clear quite quickly is that the public perception of the creative sector needs to change and we’re missing significant tricks until this is done. Interestingly, by the end of the summit, it appears we were all in agreement that there is a huge opportunity to conquer the communication barrier. Great work is being done. There is no denying. Sector collaboration is happening. Businesses are supporting the arts. We have reason to keep the faith, so lets be proactive. Stage one of the process is rounding off and a dialogue has begun about next steps. Now we have the opportunity to further this dialogue and look at strategies and solutions for seamless integration of the creative arts in business and society. First step for effective transformation? Communication. Time for action.

Five Reasons Why It Isn’t All Bad for the Arts Under the Tories.

Brace yourselves! The Tories are coming!

Given recent political affairs, I’m sure over the last month or so you’ve seen a million articles about the arts under threat, cuts to public spending, pressure on local authorities and what not. And yes, we know The Conservatives manifesto includes in their arts programmes a commitment to increasing diversity and access. But we know what is coming our way. This, however, is not another post to remind you that in times of austerity, budgets become tighter, resources become limited and the public sector suffers.

turner_contemporary_gallery maia creatives

There is no denying that the arts are about to go through a tough time to say the least. But, in the current financial climate, we know what to expect. We’ve been here before. And this time, we’re better prepared. Here are FIVE reasons why it isn’t all bad for the arts under the Tories:

  1. Cultural industry and appetite is still thriving. Even after a Tory-led coalition. As one of the fastest growing sectors, the value of the creative industries have made significant growth, with a 10% rise in 2013 and increasing. According to DCMS’s most recent report, 2015 is set to be another significant year for UK creative output. Data also shows records being broken in music, film and video games. What a great time to participate in and benefit from this flourishing sector. For the UK to uphold a balanced, high-growth economy, it’s vital that the strengths of those within the creative sector are nurtured and that there is guaranteed equal access for all to benefit from rich cultural activity.
    The Stage
  2. Art reflects the happenings of the day. It is a part of how we document our history. It reveals our societal journey and gives up the platform to decide upon and articulate our own narratives. Historically, many of the greatest, most prolific works produced serve as a commentary for which we use as an analysis of the time. And, in some cases, art and literature have had a direct impact on the way we view society and move forward. Look at protest art and resistance theatre.
  3. And while we’re on the subject, you can guarantee more innovative work will be produced, challenging the status quo, reimagining possibilities and inciting its audience to question. Judith Chernaik says “artists are a part of a tradition of outrage and protest.” We remember the arts under Thatcher. And if we don’t, then we’ve heard the horror stories about the cuts she imposed. But, we welcomed the emergence of artists and companies, channelling their outrage, boldness and energy into commenting – directly or otherwise – on socio-political issues, like racism, prejudice, the economy, LGBT rights, war, refugees and more. Linton Kwesi Johnson. Sankofa. The Smiths. Gay Sweatshop. Cheek by Jowl. Complicite. But this isn’t new. Without opposition, we probably wouldn’t have ‘1984’, or graffiti art, or postmodern theatre, or jazz and blues and hip hop. Bring it Tories. Bring it!Theatre de Complicite Master and Margarita
  4. Communities tend to pull together at times of political adversity and socioeconomic hardship. Through shared experience, art and culture nurtures that communal spirit. . It is time to innovate, collaborate and build our own communities to foster change.
  5. Individual creatives and small arts-based businesses are becoming more enterprising in this savvier generation. And the Conservatives are passionate about supporting the UK’s businesses.  Result! Presumably, if we are able to slightly shift our focus, become more innovative in our approaches to finance and tap into the opportunities existing within the world of enterprise, we will surely be able to reap the benefits of a Tory government. The fact of the matter is the sustainability of our sector is crucial and we cannot afford to rely on our government. We have to innovate, shake things up and take control.

Cheek by Jowl

After all is said and done, it’s become imperative that we don’t allow the branding of the arts as redundant just because times are tough. Acknowledging the value on creativity and culture is crucial. Currently, the creative industries are worth just shy of £77bn and rising. That’s £8.8 million per hour!!! And that is just its financial value. Never mind the social value generated in community pride and benefit, aesthetic entertainment and emotional connection. This is not to deny that the arts will continue to exist with or without government and local authority support. However, if we as a sector had more fundamental support, that figure would be even greater.

Bottom line: as Melissa Denes so eloquently expresses, the arts have survived the Great Depression, war and censorship. We will survive another Conservative government.

How Creatives Can Change the World and Why Other Industries Need Them

“The business of the artist is to create, navigate opportunity, explore possibility and master creative breakthrough. We need to restore art, the creation of opportunity, to business.” – Brandweek.

We of this amazingly gifted, entrepreneurial generation have been granted a unique opportunity: to reinvent and improve our society and the things we see around us, leading to a sustainable, positive future. To do this, we need change makers, people with real, valuable knowledge and substance, the creative leaders and visionaries.

The general consensus is that we need people to challenge the existing status quo. A new creative leadership mindset. We need people creating their own futures and building better lives for themselves and their community. For positive change, we need people with great ideas, knowledge, talent, attitude, the ability to implement and execute well…

“In tough economic times, too many communities de-prioritize investments around creativity and culture, often perceiving them as ‘nice’ but not ‘necessary’,” says Christine Harris, former executive director of Creative Alliance Milwaukee. Yet, creativity and culture are instrumental to economic and societal wellbeing. In fact, creativity and innovation are at the heart of our economy. It is how we thrive. In times of austerity, insecurity and uncertainty, the desire to take risks and innovate disappears. It is at this point, however, when it should be more prevalent than ever. Therefore investment of all forms within this sector is vital.

Creativity is a culture, a standpoint, an outlook on the world that exists innately within artists and practitioners. In a world where we’re pushed into a lateral form of thinking from a young age, creatives have the upper hand. Creatives are taught to nurture their inner playfulness and curiosity, rather than reject it. Creatives experiment, learn and adapt by default. They rebuke the monotony that strictly analytical thinking produces. Their capacity to identify problems, create solutions and opportunities and adapt to change is next to none. Transferable skills are vast, holding real, authentic value for businesses, from practice, in developing, designing and applying. For that, those in the arts and creative sector excel in areas where many outside of this realm may struggle the most:  ambiguity, uncertainty, forward thinking, improvisation, chaos, spontaneity and the courage to break moulds and truly innovate. It could be strongly argued that the economic future of an organisation depends on its ability to create wealth through nurturing and combining innovation and creativity with entrepreneurship.

MAIA Creatives Business Artist Support

So why aren’t more industries and organisations taking advantage of such a remarkable resource? At MAIA Creatives, this question lies at the centre of what we do. We’re seeking to create a financially sustainable creative sector for those involved within it, in part, by bridging together the worlds of business and the creative arts. In particular, we’re looking at how other industries and institutions can best utilise the skills of creative talent to create impact in their field.

Business – in fact, the world – can learn much from the creative industries, a role model in that it instinctively pushes boundaries beyond the established norms. The diverse, multidisciplinary approach to creative practice gives opportunity for new, relevant, potentially ground-breaking forward thinking solutions. A lot can also be learnt from the creative process that incorporates inspiration, participation, dialogue and collaboration, rather than authority, delegation and hierarchy.

Of course, creatives can also learn much from business, which is another aspect to our work at MAIA Creatives.  There needs to be an understanding of business principles and methods to analyse and understand industries, companies and markets. Without sufficient business acumen, many great ideas fail or don’t last. Considering sustainability and longevity, it’s important for creatives to understand the mechanics of business and industry.

Business MAIA Creatives Artist

A collaborative approach between business and creatives is already beginning to lead to a new generation of creative entrepreneurs, able to implement ideas, communicate effectively and adapt to change, in order to develop new and sustainable business models. But it’s a largely subconscious effort. Actively, these types of relationships are few and far between. Yet, the power is immense. Cultivating the skills of these gifted individuals to combine business and creativity without a doubt forms a powerful dynamic.

Ultimately, creativity is essential, as it lies at the heart of innovation, which drives growth. As a result, it is simply imperative in business. And beyond. In The Art of Management, Schumpeter writes “companies are scouring the world for new ideas. In their quest for creativity, they surely have something to learn from the creative industries.” We couldn’t agree more.

What do you think? Have you experienced a business-meets-creative relationship? Would you consider collaborative working in this way for your business? Drop a comment, or tweet @MAIACreatives





Post: Amahra Spence