Current U.S. Fulbrighter, Susie Monagan, has been spending her Fulbright year exploring creative industries in the west of Ireland. In this short piece she shares her experiences and research outputs.
The Double-Edged Sword: Listening to Artist-Entrepreneurs in the West of Ireland
By Susie Monagan
During the Fall of 2013, I took leave of my position at Ithaca College and used a Fulbright Award to work with the Creative Edge project. Funded by the EU’s Northern Periphery Project, the Creative Edge’s remit has been to work internationally to develop research and programs that stimulate the creative industries in rural areas. My research question has been: How do the artist-entrepreneurs in the west of Ireland’s creative enterprises make sense of their role and value their remote location? I have conducted in-depth interviews with 26 creatives who are engaged in producing cultural projects, products, events, and services. My questions sought to probe the interviewee’s values and priorities and understand the way a rural location has presented each with obstacles and opportunities, as well as unique approaches to networking. My goal was to add complexity and context to the “mile-high” methods of other strands of Creative Edge research.
I sought interviewees from each of the seven counties in the west, representing a variety of art forms and projects. I selected individuals who were aware of the economic impact their work has on their local community, especially in the form of job creation and attracting funding from outside. I also sought to represent a variety of organizational missions: market driven, community driven, and/or artistic product driven.
I conducted hour long interviews, transcribed them and then, as I started to notice common experiences and values began to sort responses into themes. Sifting through the responses further, I began to develop a set of five recommendations or responses, as follows:
1. Develop 21st century “cottage industries”. Connect enterprises to place (and vice versa) by coordinating place-based networks and branding.
2. Address gaps in education. Develop undergraduate degree programs to include coursework and experiences in: project management, company management, producing, and resource development and management (fundraising, investment).
3. Re-organize arts advocacy. Ireland’s creative individuals, businesses, and organizations should create an activated, independent membership organization whose remit is to advocate for funding. Americans for the Arts provides this function in the United States.
4. Measure intrinsic impact. If they are going to strategically address audience development, Irish arts organizations need to measure intrinsic impact. See WolfBrown for an effective, free tool to get the conversation started.
5. Reframe networking for the rural context:
a. “Network in place” by staying in remote locations and bringing artists and patrons to you.
b. Network internationally.
c. Develop broad local networks across employment sectors and interest areas to develop opportunities that might be more specifically tied to place.