Sustainable business models for the visual arts

My name is Susan Royce; I am a chartered accountant and change consultant who has worked in the arts for over 10 years.  I have also been the chair of Axis for the last 8 years and collect contemporary work when my bank balance permits.

Image: Susan Royce

In response to requests from the Turning Point Network, I have been asked by the Arts Council to look at what makes a sustainable business model in the subsidised visual arts sector.  

Virtually all of the literature on business models assumes that the business itself is profit making and that its main goal is long term shareholder value so my first challenge has been to consider how to think about the sustainability of businesses which are mission-led, subsidised and set up as not for profits.  

My first major conclusion is that you cannot understand or explain business models in this sector if you confine yourself to the numbers.  It is vital to consider all of the resources which an organisation attracts and deploys - cash, of course, but also people's time, the organisation's brand and the networks it and its staff are a part of.

Building on this I believe that sustainable business models exhibit 3 traits:

  1. They are attractive- their mission, vision and values attract support from a wider range of sources
  2. They are agile - their organisational culture, internal processes and financial structures allow them to operate flexibly responding to both opportunities and threats in good time and without derailing the organisation
  3. They can deliver - their culture, people and processes promote the efficient and effective use of the resources at hand

I shall be enlarging on all these themes over the next few weeks and I would really welcome any and all feedback.