Finding New Models

“We do everything to avoid uncertainty but the irony is that’s the only place we can go if we’re ever going to see differently.” 
Beau Lotto

I’ve alway been fond of a provocation rather than a question. I’m not making a water tight case here. I don’t pretend that in 800 or so words that I can make up every analogy, that you couldn’t change my mind or affect the viewpoints expressed. What I do think, and I know others do as well, is that the subject below deserves more consideration. I hope it provokes thought and discussion.

So first up where are we at? As cultural and creative practitioners we sit at a growing intersection between practice, audience and sector. Driven in part by technology but also shifts in audience behaviour, methods of distribution and the formation of cross disciplinary practice. This creates uncertainty and fragmentation but also breeds new possibilities. Embracing that uncertainty is about challenging our assumptions and biases, broadening the different possibility spaces they define, in which we grow, and we can access. But we are not going to do that just by making new things differently, we have to look at the foundations, the models of business which are the spaces in which all these considerations come into play. Underpinning our longevity, legacy and value. It’s not just thinking about what we do, but how and why we do it. 

Now for the provocation, one that surfaces time and time again; We don’t invest enough in developing and operating new models of business for cultural creative organisations that are fit for purpose and deliver impact in this environment. We retrofit to outdated models, mostly fund projects, but not people, or exploring, re-evaluating and iterating how we might operate. Or who we work with, where we work and how we define, deliver and measure value. 

Our peers in the commercial sector meanwhile whilst far from perfect hungrily consume and assimilate a myriad of influences, applying their creativity and smarts to how they create opportunities and drive value, with an admittedly privileged, troubled but notably more agnostic than idiosyncratic approach. 

That isn’t to say there isn’t good thinking and practice happening out there, but that it can be opportunistic and happen in-spite of not because of the ecosystem we operate in. It is often siloed, and as a consequence rarely has a wider impact and understandably lacks the scope to take a truly sophisticated and wide reaching view. And of course our creative output is the way in which we explore and put things into practice but isn’t it horse before cart and myopic if that’s the predominant way in which we are briefed or able to tackle this challenge?

So let’s assume at this point you are nodding your head at least a bit. What can we drill down to, tackle and discuss, what levers, considerations do we have and maybe could gain some momentum in starting to explore and define these new models?

We need to strike a better balance in funding, go beyond projects to deliver a diversity of value and success by investing in people, practice and the space we need to re-think, innovate and define how we work. And this isn’t just about trying to change the familiar cultural faces. It’s also about the smaller agile organisations and bringing into existence those we need to see. They can define this new model, approach, and collectively have an impact in collaboration with others. 

We need to think beyond our silos and explore and define models in a wider cross sector and international context. Our community is small but it’s global, our audience the same. Our methods of distribution are fragmented, finance is complex, with myriad competing interests often defining the work instead of the audience. And we are an immature market so we (funders, producers, venues) need to adopt a coordinated, global outlook and form the community and models that enable us to tap into a wider market and audience.

Equally the cultural sector does not likely hold all the inspiration and answers for its own challenges. We need to look outside of our sector. Not just for inspiration and cases of how we tackle models of finance, operations and distribution but also to opportunities to operate at a mutual intersection. Diversifying our sources of revenue, audiences and opportunity.

We need reassess how we extract, deliver and communicate value. Dare I say be a bit more aggressive. Yes what we create and it’s impact on our audience is paramount but what other services, products or assets do we have sitting in front of us? Ones that perhaps those in other sectors are already exploiting. We should define shared values across sectors, recognising what we deliver, particularly for the commercial sector. We have to measure and communicate our success in terms others can buy in to. Not just so we can speak to those in other sectors, but also so we can collectively communicate the inherent value we bring as a sector, to drive funding and support.

Most of all we need to work together to facilitate this body of work. Nothing I’ve said here is the job of one part of the ecosystem. Each of us has a role to play. Whether that's funding and supporting the work and organisations necessary or being open, sharing knowledge, data and results to grow a market and iterate models rather than owning a slice of a smaller less effective one.

Culture is the space for public imagination. We are privileged to reflect back to people the world they live in, to enter into and create dialogue. We can speak to more people, more effectively and with greater certainty of our future if we address the uncertainty in how we go about it. Build organisations that through virtue of being less siloed, operating in a shared-space and addressing contemporary and more diverse thinking as businesses own their own futures, defining and shaping the spaces and culture we operate in.


This article was commissioned by Audience Labs as part cross-industry consultation commissioned by AHRC exploring the emergent creative and economic possibilities at the intersection of performance, culture, technology and innovation.

This contribution was written by:

Tom Burton - Head of Interactive, BBC Studios


Tom is a multi-award-winning Interactive Director, Executive Producer and Industry Leader.  He’s worked for the past 20+ years at the intersection between technology, creativity, and innovation. Multi-disciplined, he has worked globally across commercial and cultural sectors with individuals and organisations from Oculus, Google and Magic Leap to AHRC and Arts Council. Delivering large scale live experiences and ground breaking immersive content to individual artistic pieces. He's founded theatre collectives to teams within large organisation's. Is currently Head of Interactive at BBC Studios and also consults and mentors with organisations and artists. He’s was nominated as a BIMA100 Challenger and New Thinker, advises BAFTA on the immersive industry, chairs the immersive council at BIMA and has spoken for Apple and RCA to Design Week and NYCs Future of Storytelling. 

Image: Eve - an experiment in AR ballet, choreographed by Kristen McNally - Audience Labs in collaboration with Google Creative Lab at the Royal Opera House