Chartered Management Institute: In my opinion

Darren Henley, managing director of Classic FM and a CMI Companion, believes that relationships between commerce and culture can yield benefits for both sides.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

At a time when caricatures can quickly gain a grip on our collective view of the world, it's easy to categorise those who are successful in business as greedy, cynical and only in it for themselves, while those who make their living working in the arts must, by the same token, be well-meaning, naive and unworldly.

Both analyses rely on wild generalisations and a simplistic view of life. Of course, there are many brilliantly creative individuals with strong social consciences working in business. At the same time, the arts world is packed with highly entrepreneurial people who can digest a bal-ance sheet just as well as they can read a Wagner opera score.

Commerce and culture have been bedfellows for centuries, with many of history's greatest artists being championed by far-sighted philanthropists who made their money in business. But in the past, the arts were the junior partner in this deal. They often relied on rich benefactors to finance their work, and there was a sense that once the cheque had been written, that was that.

Today, though, the relationship between artists and arts organisations on the one hand, and businesspeople and businesses on the other, is far more complex. Rather than it always being a one-way street, the tangible benefits now flow in both directions, with a far greater recognition that, properly harnessed, a vibrant cultural sector can deliver measurable long-term benefits to regional identity, civic pride, personal achievement and, ultimately, a business's bottom line.

The arts can change people's perceptions of both themselves and their surroundings. Although, at first sight, these may not be measures that set the pulses of hard-hearted financial directors soaring, it is clear that in places and organisations where partnerships between industry and culture thrive, the benefits to businesses are manifold.

Take Liverpool, for instance. As the 19th century dawned, the city was second only to London as a vibrant and economically important place in England. It is remarkable to think that in the early 1800s, 40% of the entire world's trade was passing through Liverpool. This spawned a new merchant class, which financed the museums, concert halls and galleries that remain an architecturally important part of the city today.

In the 20th century, the city faced more economically troubled times, but Liverpool's designation as European Capital of Culture in 2008 was the catalyst for huge investment. The city council was visionary in increasing its funding of cultural institutions such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, as was Arts Council England, whose stabilisation programme enabled the orchestra to turn itself into a cultural business and to grow and thrive in both artistic and financial terms. The Liverpool Phil and its dynamic young Russian chief conductor, Vasily Petrenko, were at the forefront of a group of venues and performing ensembles that set about redefining expectations of artistic excellence in Liverpool's cultural life.

At the same time, there was a radical overhaul of infrastructure on the ground. 'Liverpool One' is a large-scale 2008 development by the Grosvenor Estate featuring retail, leisure and hotels. Gone are the rundown streets; in their place are gleaming new shops, restaurants and apartments that would make any European city proud. It has changed the face of Liverpool for the better forever.

Those working in the arts have become more adept at sharing their knowledge and creativity with individuals in the business sector. In his book Maestro, based on his 'Music Paradigm' workshops, the US conductor Roger Nierenberg shows that there are parallels between the role of an orchestral conductor and the leader of a business. He argues that conductors need to have a clear vision for their players' success; they need to listen carefully to their players; and they need to be able to translate their agenda into directions that can be easily understood and executed by the players - pretty familiar challenges for business managers the world over.

For the past decade, the City of London Sinfonia has been delivering training programmes that use music as a way of exploring behaviours and attitudes in business. Both companies and orchestras need to contain people who can work in harmony, knowing who is leading and who is following. They must be able to listen and to communicate without actually saying a word, always hitting their deadlines, while retaining the highest standards. Companies that have sent their employees on the programme report an increase in creative thinking, better communication and stronger leadership as a direct result of working with the musicians.

So if you relax by listening to Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending of an evening or take in an art gallery at the weekend, now is the time to engage your organisation with the people who actually create the art that you enjoy. And if the closest you come to culture is that carton of milk languishing at the back of the office fridge, perhaps it's time to begin your journey of discovery. You can't imagine what you're missing - yet.

CV: Darren Henley is managing director of Classic FM and the author of 19 books about classical music and musicians. He is chairman of both the Music Manifesto and the Legacy Group for the Government's National Year of Music. He sits on the DCFS/DCMS Music Programme Board and the steering group for the In Harmony music education project. A member of the independent Creative Industries Task Force set up by the Shadow DCMS team, he became a CMI Companion last year. Henley is also vice-president of the Canterbury Festival and sits on the Business Development Board of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

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