Report Money focused? Cultural entrepreneurship and change of perspectives

Cultural entrepreneurship and change of perspectives
Erfgoedarena / Heritage Arena
12. April 2017 - 20.00-22.00 hrs. - Reinwardt Academy Amsterdam


Money focused_Heritage Arena 12 04 17.pdf

Report Erfgoedarena Money focused?  Cultural entrepreneurship and change of perspectives

(pdf downloadable available bottom of this page)


103 participants were attending this vivid exchange of practices and ideas on the topic of cultural entrepreneurship, including the international partners from Italy and UK, who were in the Netherlands for their international project meeting of the EMPHOS-project.

This Erfgoedarena was chaired in an inspiring way by Marc Pil from the Reinwardt Academy, also involved in the EMPHOS-project. He led the ‘Pre-Erfgoedarena’ at 17.00 p.m. as well, where about 20 students gathered to get ready for an active participation during the evening. This pre-session was already raising a lively debate 


Introduction on the theme and on EMPHOS

After welcoming the audience and finding out more about their backgrounds, Marc started by telling how difficult it is to describe entrepreneurship. He quoted a very recent definition for entrepreneurship in museums by Amanda Vollenweider (thesis Nyenrode Business University, 2017):

“ To have the courage to see opportunities from a business perspective to give new meaning to a collection, and so enter into new commitments with society to maximize societal effect.”

To read the English summary of this thesis:(pdf downloadable available bottom of this page)

Seeing opportunities is an aspect of entrepreneurship in general, but maximizing the effects in society makes up the specific cultural part. It is about creating values in both material and immaterial ways. So not only about money, but also about learning and profiting from each other. We are responsible for the future of our shared heritage and this requires a different mentality and different business models.

Bob Crezee, EMPHOS-project leader, gave a short introduction to this European Erasmus+ project. ‘EMPHOS’ stands for Empowering Museum Professionals and Heritage Organizations Staff by cultural entrepreneurship training and research. Participants are the University of Bologna, Goldsmiths University in London, Ciape in Rome, Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht and the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam - all of them represented here tonight.

The EMPHOS partners started one and a half years ago to compare the state of entrepreneurship in museums and the heritage sector in each country. Subsequently they carried out 15 very different case studies, which are available on the website now. Next step is working towards a training for medium level workers, and creating a so called competence framework, listing the specific elements and skills necessary for an entrepreneurial approach at the required level. See

But what does tonight’s audience think about cultural entrepreneurship? Marc invited all participants to contribute by typing words on their smartphones, using the given ‘Mentimeter’-code. This resulted in a fast moving word cloud with the following outcome (nb. ‘Plint’ is the name of the project of students in the Reinwardt Academy-minor on cultural entrepreneurship):


Benefits of entrepreneurship.

Panel interview with representatives of the 5 Dutch case studies

Marc introduced Mr. Ad Punt, director of the Waterliniemuseum. Punt confirmed the complexity of all the political powers that were involved in the making of the new museum. Now the museum is run by Nieuwland, a commercial party, but other parties are also still involved. For 2016, the first year of their existence, they received 38.000 visitors, just a little less than the target number of 40.000.

Marc asked whether a commercial organization like Nieuwland can run a museum. Punt answered that this is difficult indeed. Almost all museum workers are volunteers, but still there are many costs and little income. So Nieuwland tries to compensate by earning money through other activities on the fortress, like renting out for parties and offering a (subsidized) re-integration training program to people who need care or are unemployed. It is a challenge to find a good balance, but Punt is convinced that the location of the fortress offers great opportunities.
In the daily governance of the fortress the museum works parallel to the rental services and the re-integration team. Punt explained that he deliberately keeps these three parties separated, each with their own targets, so they are encouraged to work hard for their own business.

Mrs. Dimphy Schreurs from Museum Catharijneconvent told the audience about their sponsored curators. At the moment three staff members are endowed, their wages are paid for by private families. How does it work? Schreurs explained the philosophy behind it: always taking small steps, starting from what they already have and always focused on the content. The museum invests in building and maintaining relationships (‘we drink a lot of coffee’). Step by step they present projects to possible sponsors, that both need extra attention but also appeal to this very sponsor. For instance a protestant family pays for a curator researching the protestant collections. In case any sponsor stops the cooperation, the museum has several back-up scenarios, so they do not need to dismiss the endowed curators. Also in other ways the museum Catharijneconvent has chosen an entrepreneurial approach, for example in huge national projects on religious heritage, as long as it matches their identity and targets as museum.

Cobra Museum is now earning 70% of its own income. Mr. Bert Mennings gave two examples of how they manage to do this. One is ‘Cobra Global’: the museum rents out exhibitions to other countries, like in Dubai. The other is ‘Cobra Entrepreneurs’: they sell bonds to companies in order to finance temporary exhibitions. If the exhibition reaches the target number of visitors, money is returned to the buyers. If not, the museum keeps the money (did not happen yet). By this method the museum is transferring the risks. Mennings explained that it is not just about money, the marketing perspective is crucial too, since the participating entrepreneurs raise a lot of free marketing for the museum. According to Mennings it is all about creating value for your partners, and this not only material value, the immaterial values are equally important. So he encouraged everyone to discover these values in each single cooperation.

Mr. Bert Holsappel from the Utrecht Dom Cathedral told about the challenges of a monument raising enough money to pay for the maintenance. The Dom is first of all a church, but open to the public every day, with help of 200 volunteers. Lowering numbers of members in the congregation (like in most churches) and low interest rates on savings bring in less money than in earlier days. This made the church aware of the importance of becoming more entrepreneurial. They managed to raise a lot of income through donations and recently through a successful crowd funding campaigns ‘Carry the Dom’ ( Valuable networks have been built in the city, for example among music lovers attending the weekly concerts. With a record of 384.560 visitors in 2016 and many donations the Dom manages to cover the maintenance costs, but now new strategies are necessary to collect the required matching part in government subsidies needed for a restauration of the monument – a considerably larger amount.

Since the representative of the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam had to cancel for today, researcher Mr. Lennart Stoelwinder reported on this case study. The Hortus has to find a balance between the growth in visitor numbers versus the risks for a living collection. Crowd management is therefore a main issue. They are now considering admittance on time slots for example. Recently they have invested in closer relationships with the neighbourhood.

One of the main issues discussed with the audience was whether there is a difference between business and entrepreneurship. Some of the answers:

  • Holsappel: making profit is not our goal, but we need to be entrepreneurial to realise our goals.
  • Schreurs: also museums are selling a product and try to make money, but what the museum keeps is not ‘theirs’, it is ‘ours’ (=society). Profit is not a goal in itself, our goal is to get visitors amazed and discovering something about themselves.
  • Punt: business is an activity, entrepreneurship is a mentality, seeing possibilities. So being entrepreneurial leads to business.
  • Menning: there is not so much difference between business and entrepreneurship, as long as you keep your goal in mind. Open up to different sectors and try to find common ground. 

This part of the Erfgoedarena ended with a kind of ‘commercial break’, with Roman Sol, student of the Reinwardt Academy, advertising his start-up online platform ‘Culture-Match’, a way of contacting others who are interested in visiting the same cultural event. The app will be launched within a few months. Click here for more information.

The essence of entrepreneurship: comparison between countries

Panel interview, with Mr. Luca Zan (University of Bologna, IT), Mrs. Louisa Hrabowy (Goldsmiths university, London, UK) and Mrs. Arja van Veldhuizen (Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht, NL). What is specific about cultural entrepreneurship in these countries?

Zan noticed through the EMPHOS-project how different cultural entrepreneurship is understood in the three countries. As for Italy, museums were strongly rooted in governmental structures and only recently the policy has shifted towards a more entrepreneurial approach. Several larger museums got new directors, many from abroad, bringing experience in cultural entrepreneurship into the Italian system. Zan described the state of transition taking place now, and the frustrations raised, since the bureaucracy prevents steps forwards. Like the new director who finds out he has no influence on the financial matters, nor on the human resources in his museum. Zan introduced the term ‘Bureaucrazy’ to describe the Italian context. 

Hrabowy explained that the UK sees 'cultural entrepreneurship' from a public policy perspective as supporting cultural organisations to 'survive and thrive'. The government is showing recognition that there have been public sector funding cuts and are supporting cultural organisations and enterprises to become more entrepreneurial in the face of cuts. The recent 'Culture White Paper' launched in 2016 is the latest cultural policy document/agenda for the UK. The paper focuses on four themes, the one relating to cultural entrepreneurship titled 'cultural resilience, investment and reform'. Policy initiatives include a UK commitment to establish a Commercial Academy for Culture to help cultural professionals develop entrepreneurial skills and the exploration of various tax breaks and incentives to support the cultural sector (such as tax relief for museums and galleries to develop new exhibitions and tour the country.) Government-sponsored organisations alone have increased their ratio of fundraising to grant in aid as a proportion of total income from 22% in 2009/10 to more than 55% in 2014/15. So you could say it's working?

Van Veldhuizen noticed the changes in perspectives towards cultural entrepreneurship in The Netherlands. Not that long ago it was rather money focused, partly caused by reduced government support. It was important to get money from commercial parties, in exchange for services.

Many colleagues in the heritage sector were - and still are – reluctant towards entrepreneurship. They want to keep full control and are afraid to make concessions in exchange for money. They do not want others to influence their policy.

Now there has been a change in thinking from money focused to people focused, from ‘I get this and you get that’ to cooperation and investing in mutual relationships. How can we profit from each other?

In reaction to a comment from the audience Van Veldhuizen confirmed that there are huge differences in attitude towards entrepreneurship between the three countries, but she notices often how big they are within countries as well, for example between larger and smaller museums.

The upcoming EMPHOS pilot course

Marc gave a short explanation of the next step in EMPHOS: the preparation of a pilot course. This course will not be for the managers, but for the middle level in organisations. Like the coordinator of the volunteers, the shop coordinator, the leader of the exhibition team. If this middle level understands what entrepreneurial thinking means, the whole organisation will gradually get a more entrepreneurial attitude.

The pilot course will run in Utrecht in November/December and in Italy a little later. So now the EMPHOS-team is looking for the best ever content. The audience was invited to give in entries answering the question ‘What do you think your co-workers need to learn?’

Nb. the resulting word cloud not only shows the success of Roman Sol’s short ‘commercial break’, but also the football competition that some of the attendees were very much aware of...


Column of Teun Kersten, student Reinwardt Academy

Mr. Teun Kersten is part of the ‘Plint’-students in the minor ‘cultural entrepreneurship’. They have been working on a case in a new building district on the Cruquius island in Amsterdam east. They looked for ways to make the new area more attractive for people to start living there. They did so by using the history of Cruquius to make the area more interesting , but also make people feel connected to the Cruquius area. Kersten concluded with an ethical question: the major real estate company expects an increased value of the apartments because of this link to historical meaning, but did the students now contribute to raising the gap between haves and have-nots?

You can read the entire statement (pdf downloadable available bottom of this page)


Final remarks by Roy Cremers

Mr. Roy Cremers concluded the evening by presenting a short reflection. Cremers is director of the crowdfunding platform, which recently started a cooperation with the Mondriaan Foundation. He picked a few quotes that struck him most:

  • The importance of relationships. We should learn more about consumer-relation management. He liked the sentence ‘entrepreneurship = building relationships’.
  • Creating value for partners, and: also immaterial values are important.
  • It is all about mentality. You are an entrepreneur, or you aren’t. So you cannot become an entrepreneur, but you can learn entrepreneurial thinking.
  • From Italy: not money is the problem, but the ‘bureaucrazy’.

Talking about crowd funding Cremers noted that first the emphasis was on ‘funding’. Many users looked upon mainly as an alternative way of getting money. But the ‘crowd’- part is far more important. The more connected you are with your donors, the more ambassadors you have who will act as donors.

Mr. Zan was mentioning the human resources aspect and Cremers stressed the importance of people. If you ask a CEO of a start-up business, they will always tell you that their employees are the key-factor for success. The cultural sector could learn from this.

If you want to know more on the possibilities of crowdfunding and the partnership with the Mondriaan Fonds, click here (in Dutch). 


Photos: Sanne Witkamp 

Report: Arja van Veldhuizen -Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht



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