One of the main aims of Shape Art’s Transforming Leadership programme has been to support creative individuals, agencies and organisations to explore ways of sustaining a radical practice while also building successful creative careers or businesses.

Our approach was to combine progressive culture theory with ‘classic’ business approaches, and consider how this apparently contradictory relationship can be a source of innovation and success.

Radical creative approaches naturally seek to solve problems and make impact through cultural interventions. It is this ingenuity that is so valuable. When we face significant problems, whether we approach them from a formal business perspective or a creative angle, the bigger the problem the bigger the potential for radical action.

Business models can be problematic because, at their core, they focus on monetising creativity. For ‘outsider artists’ lack of income and lack of business is problematic too, risking the sustainability of the very radical practice they are trying to maintain.

David Hevey's landmark protest photography, 1990s
David Hevey’s landmark protest photography from the 1990s

We wanted the cohort to realise the value of their own stories, experiences and perspectives, and the potential benefits of reclaiming their ‘outsider’ status. One way to highlight this potential was by looking at Arts Council England (ACE) bids. ACE faces a problem of diversity: it wants to reach non-traditional arts users, but cannot do that without people like us – the outsiders making with and for the margins.

We worked with the cohort to improve bid-writing skills and apply them to ACE funding applications. The group, who had previously been serially unsuccessful in applications to ACE, achieved an almost 100% success rate.

Together, we also wrestled with and imagined new forms of ‘leadership’, from co-authoring creative models, to the ways gaming can and will change the arts landscape, and what Shape can do to experiment, encourage and help lead the progressive elements of such developments.

We wondered if leadership in fact means taking your creativity as close to the political movements of the ages as possible, to create works that speak about the way we live now, and that are more relevant to wider audiences.

David Hevey leading the NDACA Team Collecting the Radical Disability Arts Movement Heritage Strories and Works
David Hevey leading the National Disability Arts Collection & Archive team Collecting the Radical Disability Arts Movement Heritage Stories and Works

One participant, the CEO of an organisation, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The Transforming Leadership sessions have been transformative…our organisation has grown (in its annual turn-over and project success rate), and it has had an invaluable impact on the personal growth and wellbeing of its leaders.”

Read interviews with three artists who took part in the Shape Transforming Leadership programme:

Shape Arts Q&A: in conversation with Martin Moriarty of Inky Cloak

Shape Arts Q&A: in conversation with artist Poppy Nash

Shape Arts Q&A: in conversation with Liam Hevey

Shape Arts Transforming Leadership Programme 2020-2022 explores the ways in which radical creatives and organisations can survive, thrive and grow sustainable creative production models in difficult times. Delivered with support from a-n.