Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? (Robert Browning)
A creative approach to management, teaching and consultancy
Drawing on more than 35 years of experience in the management, leadership and transformation of a number of arts organisations, including orchestras and festivals, I have designed and refined a proven conceptual model and practical tools which have assisted others (leaders and team members) in the strategic planning and successful implementation of various arts projects and enterprises. My metaphoric model is that of a Well-balanced Stool, the different elements of which also underpin my own work in cultural management, teaching and consultancy. It will become clear that the methodologies and underlying principles are transferable from the arts into any field of endeavour – with creative and inclusive imagination as their essential starting point and higher achievements as their sustainable outcome.
The Seat of the Well-balanced Stool symbolises the business, project or activity itself, ideally rounded and firmly grounded on three strong Legs. Its position and height must initially be determined by vision and aspiration, which sow the seeds of all good strategies.
The first and most important Leg represents the role of the organisation in creative terms and drives the Seat of the Stool to new heights: it is naturally of primary importance to determine the ‘what’.
The second and third Legs are the ‘how’ – the human and material means or resources which must follow the aims of the organisation and be able to grow towards its higher purpose and potential achievement. A shared vision inspires teamwork and empowers performance by the people involved – the second, organisational Leg therefore will rise to new challenges. Vision and excellence are keys to attracting additional and new resources – the third, financial Leg can thereby grow bigger and stronger in the increasingly competitive circumstances in which not only the arts but all businesses find themselves.
A frequent strategic mistake, sometimes reflecting a leadership crisis or a creative loss of nerve, is for an organisation to be governed and restricted by perceived limitations in both the capacity of the people involved in running the show (be they staff or board) and, even more commonly, the amount of money or other material resources that are apparently available. By limiting the reach of these two legs, which are ever the means and never the ends in themselves, new heights of achievement are thwarted at the outset: new growth is nipped in the bud – and the potential of the organisation, both human and economic, remains as stunted as the resulting creative work.
To reach new heights of achievement one must dare to dream and plant ideas in the certain knowledge that most will not take root and many of them will not be practically possible, at least within the foreseeable future. Ideas, like seeds, are germinated more often than not through conversation and collaboration, which are essential functions in programming and other aspects of the creative process. If enough are sown, some will take root and grow readily, taking the whole organisation to a higher place than it can otherwise have contemplated and attained.
The Stool becomes balanced when all three Legs have been able to grow in mutual accord: the Seat then not only attains a higher place than before but also becomes grounded in a better reality. Meanwhile the Seat itself must aim for a rounded shape and not only an elevated position: in an ideal world, the business or activity defined by this model will exist in complete equilibrium with its external environment. A rounded organisation, like an individual person, is better balanced, more successful and has much more potential for growth.
The Well-Balanced Stool serves two important functions:
One: it is a tool for creating a business plan or developing a strategy for change. The starting point is always the vision, articulated as a statement of mission (the Seat) and described in a series of aims and objectives (Leg 1). In the context of a cultural organisation, it is the artistic, educational and marketing strategies that need to be developed first. A good plan will consider next the means to achieve the chosen ends with policies for governance, organisational development, staff training and recruitment – in other words, the human resources (Leg 2). Strategies for fundraising and financial management follow and, finally, the budgets and forecasts are drawn for the period of the plan which, typically, may cover 3-5 years – the material resources (Leg 3).
Two: the model works also as a diagnostic tool for assessing the body’s health or identifying the root causes of underperformance or financial crisis. As with proper planning, one must begin by examining the organisation’s vision and role rather than its financial circumstances: a shortage or loss of funds is all too often blamed as the primary cause rather than as one of the effects of its current malaise.
"Ian Ritchie is an inspirational speaker with a huge amount of experience in creative arts management, and our students always come away from his sessions with a lot of new ideas relevant to their future careers. It is of great value to have someone of Ian's stature coming in and sharing their knowledge with our students."
Senior Lecturer in Creative Industries
London Metropolitan University
Articles & essays
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Festivals & conferences
"Ian's guest lecture for the Creative Industries students at Birkbeck was a very appreciated addition to the course. His unique ability to contextualise his vast experience not only brought insight into the topic; it also provided practical tools for creative arts management."
Lecturer in Creative Industries Birkbeck, University of London
The creative process is central and essential to any healthy enterprise, especially so in the arts, defining its role. This may be represented in the geometry and dynamics of the Stool’s primary Leg. A cross-section of this can be seen as a Virtuous Circle: at its heart is the Creative Triangle that has always defined my approach to artistic programming in particular and management in general. The interdependence between the composer, the performer and the audience in music is exactly the same as the relationship which unites the research laboratory, the factory and the retail outlet, for example, in a manufacturing industry. The Triangle therefore also depicts the market place.
The Creative Triangle is circumscribed by the dynamic and circular process through which ideas are grown, tried out and appraised incrementally. This is not only how markets are developed but also how all of us, as individuals or organisations, can learn: the model of the Triangle and its Virtuous Circle also defines education, therefore, placing learning at the heart of the creative process and as a driver for organisational development. It follows that artistic programming, learning and marketing are congruent triangles and by no means independent functions.
The other two Legs of the Stool, representing the human and material resources, can also be dissected and analysed in various ways to suit the structures and circumstances of each business or project. The Well-Balanced Stool was invented and developed by me and Richard Chapman, a change management specialist and facilitator, in the course of our working together for some years on either side of the new Millennium with a number of arts organisations undergoing transformative Stabilisation programmes in the UK, funded by the National Lottery.
My practice as a consultant and facilitator for individuals or organisations offers guidance and encouragement for leaders and their teams to take ownership of the process and find their own pathways for successful outcomes. My teaching of students in cultural management and arts administration at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels draws on precisely the same model of the Three-Legged Stool and, most especially, the Creative Triangle. Just as this underpins my own work in programming and developing festivals, my role as a mentor to a growing number of young musicians and other arts professionals is also rooted in the same methodology.
Please contact me for further information or enquiries about any aspect of my work in creative arts management, either hands-on or advisory, as facilitator, teacher or mentor.