Research Blog Series: The Cultural Enterprise Office and its clients

Kicking off the theme of Intermediaries, Platforms and Users for the Research Blog Series, Philip Schlesinger sets out the research into the cultural business support intermediary.

Project: Supporting creative business: Cultural Enterprise Office and its clients (A Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange Project).

Investigators: Professor Philip Schlesinger (PI), Dr Melanie Selfe (Co-I), Dr Ealasaid Munro (PDRA), the University of Glasgow.

What did your research aim to do?
The research aimed to undertake the first major detailed study of a cultural business support intermediary.

How did you do it?
A primary method was team ethnography in Cultural Enterprise Office. This was complemented by extensive access to the organisation’s documentation and a range of interviews with its clients, staff and the mentors used for training.

What are your key findings?
We have shown how bodies of this kind are shaped by the wider institutional landscape and their own continual adaptation to the changing fashions of ideas about the creative economy and the models of how to intervene in the various sectors that compose it. One little-acknowledged fact is that those working in precarious occupations are often serviced by those working in a precarious organisation. We think that stability of funding should be addressed.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
We have fed our findings back to the staff – actually, we did so regularly, given our pursuit of knowledge exchange. We know that the research modified practice as the work was being conducted and we shared our results.  We have published a book, Curators of Cultural Enterprise (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). We have also published reflections on team ethnography: ‘Inside a cultural agency’, Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 45 (2015) 1-18. We have also run a workshop with policy makers and cognate bodies from across the UK, Denmark, Norway and USA to compare experiences. We have spoken at the Creative Economy Showcase run by the AHRC in London in March 2014 as well as many other events both in the UK and internationally.

Challenges encountered/Lessons learned
A key issue is the sheer effort of undertaking knowledge exchange, and the extra time involved because of its complexity. This had to be balanced with pursuing sociological research at the same time. There is a lesson for researchers: you need to budget for this and organise appropriately. There is also a lesson for Research Councils: you need to provide a budget and not ask for knowledge exchange on the cheap. One big benefit – if it all works out – is a deep connection and exchange with those studied. This greatly enhances the outcome but is hard to manage.

Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
Yes. We still know very little of how such intervention impacts on those for whom it is provided – or whether it does. And we do not yet possess sophisticated ways of tracking how creatives might be affected by expert advice..

How has your association with CREATe helped to take things forward?
CREATe gave this associated project a platform to present its findings to other researchers in the network. And it also became one of the projects that represented CREATe at the Creative Economy Showcase, which meant that it reached beyond an academic audience.

More information can be found in the book ‘Curators of Cultural Enterprise(Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and in the articles ‘Curators of Cultural Enterprise: A Critical Analysis of a Creative Business Intermediary’ and ‘Inside a cultural agency: team ethnography and knowledge exchange‘.


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