Creative sparks: the rise of the enterprising artist

There is creativity at every turn in RCS and bringing ideas to life requires skills which extend far beyond the concert hall, theatre stage or workshop.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland welcomes a plethora of imaginative thinkers through its doors, bursting with original ideas. Harnessing that creative enterprise and guiding students, staff and alumni is the RCS Knowledge Exchange (KE) which sits within the institution’s Research and Knowledge Exchange department, providing a curated creative enterprise programme.

“We work in a co-curricular manner, supporting the work which is going on at RCS,” says Deborah Keogh, Knowledge Exchange Manager. “Knowledge Exchange is an area which is developing very quickly across the higher education sector. It’s about the institution’s relationship with the wider world and how our experts engage with that world. It’s about public engagement, collaborative working and innovation.

“Now more than ever, with the numbers of freelancers in the sector growing every year, artists need to develop the basic business skills to move their work and ideas forward, such as, costing and pricing their work, valuing their time, expanding their networks, collaborating to respond to opportunities.”

One of the major additions to the RCS calendar has been Make It Happen, an initiative which encourages new creative enterprise projects and supports existing ones. From a pilot project in 2017 to test the waters, the scheme has developed into two considerable strands; Make It Happen Month and Make It Happen Fund.

Make It Happen Month takes place each November (the same month as Global Entrepreneurship Week) and offers a series of events to help get ideas, projects, companies and collaborations off the ground. Make It Happen Fund is a micro-funding initiative that provides recent graduates after 2017 access to a competitive funding pot to help them bring their ideas to life.

BA Digital Film and Television graduate (2017) Conor McMahon received funding to develop an online presence around his short film, Spaceship.

“The fund was essential in establishing an online presence for the film,” says Conor. “Once this was set up, I saw an immediate increase in interest, owed to a professional image being established and creating a buzz around what the film was about. I’m deeply thankful for the support of the Make It Happen Fund.”

Lucie Hendry (BMus Traditional Music 2018) and Rebecca Amphlett (MA Scottish Music 2018) received funding to support the production of their duo’s debut EP and music video. “The Make It Happen Fund has allowed us to take a significant step forward as a duo in making our music available to a greater audience,” says Lucie.

MA Musical Theatre (Musical Directing) graduate (2017) Shonagh Murray obtained funding to help with the recording and production of an EP for theatre company Fearless Players’ original musical Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard.

She says: “Without the support from the Make It Happen Fund, our EP would not have happened and we would not be reaping the benefits today. The process of applying for the fund was simple, clear and perfectly timed with our recent graduation. Make It Happen Fund is a great endeavour for engaging recent graduates and helping to give them a leg up at a crucial point in their early career.”

At the heart of the RCS Knowledge Exchange team is collaboration and that led to the emergence of the SHIFT project, a partnership between RCS, The Glasgow School of Art and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the University Innovation Fund, the programme is designed to help artists and performers hone key skills in a bid to ease the transition to professional life.

SHIFT is open to RCS students and recent alumni and takes shape as an intensive development week of workshops, talks, and creative activities.

“At the beginning of the first SHIFT Summer School, we asked delegates how many would be interested in setting up their own business and numbers were fairly low,” says Deborah.

“Fast forward to the end of the course and that had transformed as participants had been given a steer on the basics of setting up a freelance practice or company and the benefits of that on their creative output.”

Part of the role of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Team has been influencing the wider enterprise development scene in Scotland. RCS contributed to the development of a new strand of the Converge company creation programme – Creative Converge, targeting innovative new business ideas from staff and students of creative industries programmes across the Higher Education Institution sector in Scotland.

In June, Creative Converge held a live pitching competition in Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket called Pitch to Your Peers. RCS lecturer Elizabeth Jenkinson triumphed in the Creative Challenge category to win Best Pitch of the night. Under the banner of Singsation Games, Elizabeth is developing a series of fun, video games designed to help people explore the potential of their singing voice and made it to the final five of Creative Converge.

Staff are also given the opportunity to make their ideas a reality via RCS’ Athenaeum Awards, a funding scheme of up to £3,000 to help kick-start projects with new partners or provide write-up time to complete ongoing research.

Meanwhile, RCS alumni from drama, dance, production and film backgrounds will soon be able to apply for the Bruce Millar Graduate Fellowship, a major funding pot of up to £10,000 to develop single arts, creative industries or research and development projects over a 15-month period after graduation.

Also among the considerable output from RKE are regular Exchange Talks, a series of public seminars in which members of staff, academia and the wider professions share their insights on art, society and issues impacting communities. Knowledge Exchange can also assist by offering tailored, one-to-one support to students, staff and graduates, from answering questions about intellectual property to help with funding or being put in touch with the right external partner.

“One of the key components of this work has been getting interest and engagement from our staff and students here at RCS. As the creative industries sector in Scotland is one of the key industry sectors, new opportunities emerge for performing and production artists. We want to ensure that we are helping to equip our community to access these opportunities, adding to their extensive skills and talent, by providing access to useful information, tools and workshops and offering a bite-size learning experience to support their endeavours.”

Black and white portrait of Nick Kuennsberg

I’m absolutely delighted to see the growing engagement of RCS with the world of work and particularly start-up companies. The fact that so many of our faculty in every discipline are professionals in their respective spheres means that our students learn not only their craft but also become aware of their future world of work. RCS is increasingly keen to ensure that all students understand the challenges and risks and learn about the various routes to a successful career.

The emergence of SHIFT, now available to all undergraduates and recent postgraduates, the stimulating programme from Knowledge Exchange, the support for the development of individual creative enterprises through the Make It Happen Fund and month-long programme of events, and the various opportunities for funding mini projects through to start-up companies combine to provide an invaluable platform.

I manage my own business life through a one-person trading company. I’m also engaged in reviewing aspiring entrepreneurs and their nascent business ideas whether under the Converge scheme, awards by Women’s Enterprise Scotland or the Royal Society of Edinburgh entrepreneurial fellowships. At the same time, I support start-up companies as both a member of business angel syndicates and as a mentor. These activities give me the opportunity to help individuals and to understand the opportunities that are open to them.

My personal ambitious hope is that every single RCS student engages with one or more of the opportunities available to them so that they can emerge from their years of study and performance at the Conservatoire with a clear idea of what is ahead and even the base for their own creative enterprise, whether individual, group or even multiple platform. Business is not a dirty word and all RCS graduates should have a clear understanding of what is necessary in order to succeed commercially as well as artistically.

– Nick Kuenssberg OBE, Chair of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

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