Category Archives: art and culture make good business

Hope, in the cyber age

If you’re wondering where I’ve been for the last month or so, I’ll tell you. I’ve been working on a project that is risky, especially during these recessionary times, but that has so much potential for wonderful stuff I can’t not work on it. I’ll let you know what it is later — it deserves its own post — but take it from me, it’s frightening in its potential.

But what I wanted to write about today was this story. There’s a small press in the UK, Salt Publishing, that was so hard hit by the recession that it almost went under. Wait — I’ll tell it in the owner’s own words:

I’ve had better years. Last April at our year end we’d enjoyed 70% growth for our tiny literature business. We were on target for a third of a million turnover by 2011. We weren’t cocky, but we were confident we could make it. Then the recession hit, it came on slowly and ate away at our growth until, with the utter collapse of March’s sales, we were 11% down on 2008 and £55,000 down against budget.

I’ve never faced bankruptcy before. While I was a director at CUP I never felt a personal connection with business performance. It wasn’t my home, my children’s futures on the line.

So what did he do?

He started a very simple internet campaign. Again, his words:

I was Skyping my wife looking for answers, for some way forward when I said, “Hold on a minute, I’ve an idea.” The idea was risky—it was to go public and to use our Facebook presence to announce a campaign. “Just One Book” was a simple offer: you could save an independent literary press by purchasing one title. That’s all it would take.

And it worked. It went viral, as these things can do. Once more, here he is — Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing:

Within 18 hours of posting that first note over 300 orders arrived from Kazakhstan to Japan, from Denmark to Australia. Over the past five days we’ve taken close on 1,000 direct orders and generated over £20,000 of sales: trade sales have tripled. For a little family business like ours this has been humbling and exhausting. No one likes being on the brink, now we’ve stepped back a few paces. We’re not out of danger, but we’ve seen that linking a viral campaign to drive sales to bookshops and our own website can have dramatic effects. People are saving us one book at a time.

So here’s the thing. We live in an extraordinary time. It’s one of those times when a fundamental revolution is taking place around the world. When we call it “globalization” but we really don’t understand it; this is the kind of revolution that took place when Gutenberg first printed his Bible on that first printing press, only at warp speed, or, more accurately, at cyber speed. Too many power-brokers, especially those who sit in chambers of government, do not understand what is going on; the election of Barack Obama demostrated that, as does the extension of the old ways into his new campaign by his detractors. When one appeal can save a bookseller by involving people all over the world, there’s no limit to what a people, united, can do.

So back to the project. It’s risky, yes. But maybe, just maybe, cyberspace can offer a path around the risk.

Brussels Declaration by artists and cultural professionals and entrepreneurs

Just FYI.

from the Newsletter on Cultural diversity

“Today, all countries face a profound crisis: financial, economic, and social. In addition, particularly for developing countries, there are climate, energy, food, and human security crises. Current policies on development cooperation do not respond adequately to the challenges of sustainable development. We must, therefore, rethink our approach to development. And, without wishing to overstate the power of culture, we are convinced that, as already stated by Léopold Sédar Senghor, ‘culture is at the beginning and the end of development.’

“Many surveys and studies show us that culture and art is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in terms of employment, economic growth, and wealth creation. It also promotes social cohesion and democratic participation in public life. Finally, unlike mineral resources, social and cultural capital is a renewable resource. Regarding North-South cooperation, it can not succeed without the improvement of human rights, democracy, and governance. By stimulating individual and collective imagination and creating links between communities, culture and artistic creation contribute to the establishment and development of democracy.

“Because culture contributes to economic development, well-being, and social cohesion and impacts other sectors of development, we, artists, professionals, and culture entrepreneurs are making three key requests:

  • First, that culture be the subject of public structural policies at national, regional, and international levels
  • Second, that the cultural dimension be taken into account by other sectoral policies and defined in a integrated approach to development
  • Finally, that artists and creators be fully recognized as actors in development and have a professional and social status adapted to their own context

Download the PDF here.

Patrick Rahming’s Response

to Day of Absence.

A word here: Patrick wrote this response to the excerpt from the full post that was circulated, faulty dates and all (it’s actually 42 years after Majority Rule and 36 years after Independence — my bad), not the original post, which you can find down the page. So some of what he says doesn’t relate to the full post. Still, I think he makes some interesting points. Check below the fold for the full exchange between Patrick and me.

Pat’s response:

Now that the day is over and I won’t be accused of trying to stop something, I will share my response to the Day of Absence. It is sad that we have reduced ourselves to behaving like a bunch of unionists. Jobs are NOT what being an artist is about. Noone owes any of us a living. If we are, as we claim, creative, we are in a better position than the rest of the community to make a living. The fact is that the reason most artists are broke (including me) is that there are other things in the world that are more important. As you noted, it is those things that will make the world of our grandchildren worth living. This constant suggestion that somehow the community should make it easier for artists to make a living is nonsense. It is the result of years of conditioning by governments that we should be taken care of. We are valuable. We must learn to make use of that value. The way to do that is not to beg (like we allow our children to do at intersections and outside businesshouses) but to use the creativity that manifests itself as painting, sculpture or poetry to create income-producing devices. I certainly don’t want anyone top feel sorry for me because I didn’t make the kind of money I could have. That would suggest that what I did do with my life (the music, poetry etc.) was less important than the money. It is not. I choose to do what I do. So do the rest of you. If expressing yourself in the forms you do does not reward you in the ways you wish, then perhaps you should do something else. The world would not stop if people who make their living in the arts did not show up. It would be a poorer world, for sure, but it would roll right on without you. I am an architect, and I must accept that while I might express myself creatively in that realm, the vast majority of this community finds my concerns of little interest. They are content with the crudest built environment they can have, as long as the price is the cheapest they can have. If I waited for the majority of the community to appreciate the creative efforts of architects, to reward me for being passionate about the way a porch works, I would never work. But I have no choice. This world is not mine. I hold it in trust for future generations of Bahamians. My income is not important in that picture. Si it is up to me to use the creativity with which I say I am gifted to create businesses, the unit of measure in the world of money. In any case, in this Information Age, the JOB is obsolete.

Ironically, there is a play that uses the “day off” idea to show white people that they need black people. Bahamians don’t “need” Pat Rahming. It would be the height of arrogance for me to threaten them with my withdrawal.

Pat Rahming

Continue reading Patrick Rahming’s Response

Day of Absence responses

Well, the Day of Absence idea got far more responses than I expected or hoped. Not that it makes a whole lot of difference in real terms — yet — but I’m impressed by the number of people who appeared to be touched by the matter. There was even coverage in the national dailies — on Page 3 in Thursday’s Tribune (pretty big — *I was gonna link to it but they’re playing around with their website so I can’t*) and today in the Arts Section of the Guardian.

And the discussion has proliferated across cyberspace and across the airwaves. On the Ringplay blog, we’ll link to all the different posts we come across (lots of them are on Facebook).

But here, the most interesting response that I received was by email. I’m going to post the exchange as we go on. It’s between Patrick Rahming and me, and he makes some solid points.

Check back to see the discussion unfold.