Is an artist a cultural entrepreneur? Luna Phuong speaks to Dorothy Wilson to find out.

The answer might be varied but for Dorothy Wilson, Chief Executive and Artistic Director at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), there is no difference between an artist and a cultural entrepreneur. WHY? Just find out if you patiently read until the end of this post.
As part of the Cultural Entrepreneurship module at BCU, we have an amazing chance to get in touch with practitioners working in media and creative industry to explore challenges and opportunities for cultural entrepreneurs surrounding a number of issues, including intellectual property, management of creativity and innovation, leadership, investment and finance, networking capabilities and social enterprise.  After several emails, I have got an appointment with Dorothy of MAC in a sunny afternoon, when I came along with my schoolmate, Emi.
Welcoming us was an agile woman in her fifties. With a sonorous voice, she broke the ice: ‘What can I do for you today?’ I started our talk by asking Dorothy about her starting time with MAC and the journey up to now. Dorothy surprised us by her amazing career before becoming artistic director of the region’s arts center; she used to be a professional singer and then an art festival producer, an art development officer for local authority and working for Arts Council England in London.
During 22 years devoting for MAC, she found it a really interesting place which allows her to fulfill in the job she does and ‘hopefully makes a little bit different’. The reason, as Dorothy shared, she still stays with MAC after quite a period of time is because every day is different. The day before, Dorothy started her work at 8 am by a meeting with her board members and following by a morning meeting with her team, the artistic curators and then a meeting with marketing department and then a discussion with finance department of the business development and finalizing budget for the next 3 years. After all the internal meetings she did a little bit with catching the emails.
Artist is cultural entrepreneur
When I asked her about the difference between an artist and a cultural entrepreneur, Dorothy firmly said: ‘There isn’t any difference. There’s a perceived hierarchy, I don’t think it’s real, I think it’s perceived between artist to work in the studio and don’t connect with people in the real world. I don’t think many artists can survive like that these days. Most artists are regarded as keenly intelligent and highly creative people but without entrepreneurial skills, sometimes they can be then themselves but in some ways honestly, they won’t get their works shown, they won’t get their works seen’.
For Dorothy, there is not only a model but many models for the term ‘cultural entrepreneur’. ‘People can make those things happen are all, to one degree or another depending on their particular skill set, are all entrepreneurs. ‘Cos they all put together where they share ambition, where they share sense of direction with understanding that they develop together, and deliver together and bring the concept into the real life whatever that activity or that project might be. It needs to be a virtual circle of all of those skills, sharing an ambition and a vision, if you don’t have clear concept of something, you can’t make it happen’.
How to manage a creative team?
‘You have to trust people’, for Dorothy as the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of MAC, she has to rely on very good people and then work with them to ensure they understand what’s Mac’s vision and mission. She trusts her team to use their creativity to work with each other and has a very light touch on all of that work. Dorothy knows that her job is not having finger tapped into everything but creating an environment in which other people can develop their own distinctiveness.
Normally, if you have one director for 50 years running a theatre company, you get one particular style of work, but that’s not a sort of artistic director Dorothy is. She is sort of artistic director who helps shape lots of thing happening and make lots of people to bring creative ideas together. One of her challenge is raising fund to make things happen and make decision of which is the priority. She spends more time of conversation with experimental and innovative team because they are more likely to risk and help them assess what those works are. ‘If you don’t take risk, you never discover what may happen’, she explained.
Leadership style?
Dorothy told me she is a different kind of leader who is not usually tutorial. To manage about 200 staffs at MAC, she doesn’t ask people to do her way but give them space to be their own, as long as they are all clear about their roles and they have sufficient opportunity to touch base to make sure they do anything on time. ‘They are self motivated and they will go for their tomorrow leader. There are others who need be tutorial of everything and of course with those different types of people I have different experience as a leader’, said Dorothy.
As an ambitious person, Dorothy doesn’t like things standstill. She used to say to her staff what they are trying to achieve, what they need to do to achieve that, who do they need to influence, who do they need to work, who’s the difficult personality, how do they put them in a position that they don’t feel they are aside and give them opportunity, a lot of the work she does as the leader of the organization.
‘We are all in the bus together if you like, I’m in the driving seat but my team decides which direction to go, it’s not constant. In my experience, if you do more talking than listening, you never grow the organization, because you are not empowering the people in it, you’ve got to give people space’.
Post by Luna Phong
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