Don't Dissipate!

We were fortunate recently to spend an hour over lunch in Manchester with Jim Forrester, the Executive Director of Manchester International Festival; chair of the new cinema and theatre capital project HOME; and one of the key individuals behind the success of Imperial War Museum North. We discussed what we were up to as five organisations working together on Making It Work in Stoke, and he reflected on why the Manchester International Festival had enjoyed the success it had over the past decade. 

First a narrow focus, in MIF’s case commissioning new work, created a strong identity that they could develop and trade on. MIF has become a very clear and strong headline brand that crucially stakeholders beyond the arts - the local authority and business, can understand and support.

When he looked at our activities, with B Arts as an example, he observed that we did lots and that some of this dissipated our efforts. Dissipation was a key word. We would find it very helpful to narrow our focus and try and define what it is we do in very clear terms. Building awareness about the organisation’s role over and above the individual festivals as moments in time has been very important.

He was clear that local authority was key to bringing in other supporters such as businesses and individuals. The local authority already had the contacts and the Chief Executive or a similar figure was crucial to making the introductions.

Reporting was crucial to publicising and winning over stakeholders, MIF uses the Cambridge model of economic impact. Investing in marketing has backed up all of the above, and resourcing this properly at between 10 and 20% of turnover has been vital to MIF. 

He urged us to define try and define how Stoke likes to think, what the problems might be and what the Stoke solution might be to these. What can the arts do then? They can transform capacity and aspiration. That’s what we have to sell, in a distinctively Stoke manner that works for us.

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