New European business models for arts and culture

Creative Lenses is a Creative Europe Programme of the European Union funded project that brings together 13 cultural partners to develop new business models for arts companies. Trans Europe Halles communications director José Luis Rodríguez outlines its objectives.

Recent studies on business models have primarily focused on large organisations operating traditionally in manufacturing or e-business. In contrast, there is a notable lack of research into the practices of small and medium-sized enterprises and organisations, particularly in the creative and cultural industries. But, in today’s economic climate, the relevance of shaping a sustainable business model is becoming critical for arts and cultural groups.

It is well known that non-profits, NGO’s, arts and cultural organisations consistently proclaim that they are not businesses, and therefore business rules do not apply – so they do not need a business model. But, as Saul Kaplan underlines in his article Business Models Aren’t Just for Business:

‘If an organisation has a viable way to create, deliver, and capture value, it has a business model. It does not matter whether an organisation is in the public or private sector. It does not matter if it is a non-profit or a for-profit enterprise. All organisations have a business model…the idea that business models are just for business is just wrong. Any organisation that wants to be relevant, to deliver value at scale, and to sustain itself must clearly articulate and evolve its business model. It may be, however, that the model is implicit rather than explicit.’

Whether the business model is implicit or explicit, what we are talking about is how arts and cultural organisations can develop viable business models without compromising their artistic integrity, mission and values. And this is what the project Creative Lenses is about. During four years (2015-19) a unique partnership of 13 cultural centres, universities, city authorities, international networks and cultural agencies are working together to research and test how arts and cultural groups can become more resilient and sustainable by improving their business models and developing their long-term strategic and innovation capacities. 

The first findings of the research done within Creative Lenses show that an increasing number of arts and cultural organisations are recognising the importance of this issue; they know they need to have better business models in order to increase their value creation capacity and make their efforts more sustainable.

Creative Lenses Meeting
Creative Lenses Meeting

To do this, organisations need to effectively use and exploit technologies, support digitalisation processes, develop more sustainable strategic audience development practices, increase their financial viability, and improve their operations management practices. Of course, these new strategic and operative perspectives need to be effectively understood and integrated with the current mindset of most organisations, which are often more focussed on aesthetic and social issues.

As stressed by social designer Ingrid Burkett at Knode in one of her reports:

‘Balancing a social or cultural mission…does not mean that a viable business model cannot be developed. It is just that we need to recognise that (cultural) organisations have business models that can be a little different from an ordinary business…and to build into the traditional modelling a clear picture of the social objectives (or the mission) of the organisation, in addition to all the dimensions of the actual business’.

Being very aware of the particulars of the arts and cultural sector, Creative Lenses aims to research, devise, innovate and test new business and management models for the sector that can be replicated and then used by a wide range of arts and cultural players throughout Europe.

The project’s activities include 21 workshops, two conferences, eight forums, a 10-month ‘Catalyst’ programme for seven of the partners to test new business models, the publication of a book, a business models development toolkit, a digital benchmarking tool and new research on the sector’s specific needs and how they could be supported.

For more information about Creative Lenses visit, with the full website launching on 1 April.

Creative Lenses is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. Project partners include Kaapeli (Finland), Trans Europe Halles (Sweden), Manifatture Knos (Italy), P60 (Netherlands), Stanica / Truc sphérique (Slovaia), Village Underground (UK), Vyrsodepseio/ODC Ensemble (Greece), Olivearte Cultural Agency (UK), City of Lund/The Creative Plot (Sweden), Creative Industry Košice (Slovakia), University of Basilicata (Italy), University of the Arts London (UK) and IETM – international network for contemporary performing arts (Belgium). Antonio Lerro, Daniela Carlucci and Giovanni Schiuma also contributed to this article.