Financial sustainability for the arts and culture in Greece: Is it possible? Cultural Manager and Interior Architect Maria-Louiza Laopodi has made it her mission to see that it is.

During times of economic strain, artistic and cultural government programs are often the very first programs to be denied funding. In Greece, the majority of businesses felt the shock of the crisis, yet they were not solely funded by public money. Many cultural programs funded exclusively by the government were abandoned. The income of these artistic projects was not balanced between public funding and private organizations.

This reality, along with the consequences of the economic crisis in Greece on Laopodi’s work was the impetus for her quest to explore more effective funding and managing models for arts and culture. In 2013, Laopodi lost her job as an interior architect and wondered:

“Why did a professional like myself, with a good record of product management in the culture & design field lose her job?”

She says, “What struck me the most is that people like me wouldn’t lose a position because they didn’t do their job well, but because their funding was stopped.” In Greece the political and financial situation is so unstable, that she did not trust fundraising positions that were unlikely to ever be compensated.

When the crisis hit, many important cultural and educational programs were cut from the school system. “Some very narrow-minded people decided to cut Arts & IT classes at schools in order to save money when we made the IMF deal,” Laopodi says, “especially in recession times we need to open up the intellectual horizons of young people…Combine Arts & IT and you could structure a whole curriculum for schools around these subjects. If we ban our children from critical thinking, we ban any possibility of our society to develop.”

Confronting the great need in Greek society for a rejuvenation of Arts & Culture programming, along with the destructive and inefficient financial model in place, Laopodi began to brainstorm. She began to consider that an entrepreneurial approach to the cultural sector would better benefit artists and managers. The passive acceptance of donations and government funds was proving to be unsuccessful.

Maria-Louiza Laopodi

Laopodi began a blog titled “Cultural Entrepreneurship News” which aims to find possible solutions for financial sustainability of the Arts & Culture. The blog became an arena for research and discussion on improving the methods of funding for cultural programs.

Laopodi has used the blog to also set up events which she moderates, named Culent@Athens. They are comprised of one hour presentations followed by one hour conversations focusing on specific themes regarding cultural entrepreneurial issues. The theme of the fourth and latest Culent&Athens event on the 19th of June was ‘Education and Cooperation for Cultural Entrepreneurship’. Selected speakers included Professor at University of Minnesota Duluth Olaf Kuhlke, and PhD Lecturer in Cultural Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam J. Aldo Do Carmo Jr. After the event, people are encouraged to network with one another. The next Culent&Athens event is being organized in collaboration with the Croatian Association of Cultural Tourism, and will take place in Croatia.

Laopodi notes that each event marks an eye-opening reality for attendants that the Arts & Culture sector is evolving into a market. There is often a dynamic energy in the room, an excitement about the possibility for change in the industry.

Additional goals for the blog are setting up collaborations from China and Australia to report on Cultural Entrepreneurship news from their respective locations, in order to track cultural developments globally. While Laopodi began to focus on these issues due to the Greek crisis, she has decided to explore the global conditions of Arts & Culture sustainability as well.

Director of Andrew Senior Associates Ltd., UK Andrew Senior stated in an interview in the Culent blog, “Artists should make money to keep being free as artists.” Laopodi stresses that this is such a fundamental truth, yet many assume that artists are meant to survive with very little means. She says, “We can consume art, but somebody has to make money. We cannot ask artists to become entrepreneurs.”

“I see that the old paradigm of some elite intellectuals hidden in a room deciding about what people should consume in Arts & Culture is dead.”

Laopodi says that the motivation to promote art is not as strong when funding is given by primarily once source. “We received money to create exhibitions and we didn’t focus on promoting the event so that people would buy tickets- since we had funding, we didn’t bother.” Cultural managers must take initiatives to focus on marketing and promotion, which ends up benefiting the artist and society to a greater level. She says, “Going from passive to active in cultural organizations translates for me into working harder on audience development instead of chasing donations and government funding.” In this way, she explains, a manager is more in tune to the artist’s and audience’s needs. She continues, “I see that the old paradigm of some elite intellectuals hidden in a room deciding about what people should consume in Arts & Culture is dead.”

Laopodi also founded Cultinet, an online platform which helps match Artists with Managers, in order to cultivate a productive collaboration in the Arts. While the Culent blog is a platform for research and discourse, Cultinet is a platform for cultural entrepreneurship in action. Laopodi says her blog was like a “research diary” and a forum to discuss issues with fellow cultural managers. Cultinet distinguishes itself as a pragmatic resource for artists and managers alike.

She intends on bringing together the arts professionals that require complimentary services. Artists can provide good, quality work, and managers do what is necessary for this work to be promoted. The need for art in society exists, Laopodi asserts, so with effective management, people can be provided with thought provoking and moving artistic work.

“My intention is business,” she says, “This online platform is to make sure art is sustainably produced because I hope and believe with management promoting good art, that it will affect society. I know what I’m building now will have small results, but in the long term it is going to reach people.”

Laopodi sees an awakening within the Arts & Culture community ever since the funding disintegrated. “We need more time to see how this will lead us to something else. Time, discussion, and thought which are disruptive to the existing system can eventually help the creative sectors to thrive.”

Laopodi says, “The art market spends huge sums of money on very few artists, yet there is also public art, art for education, for example…it’s a social and human need, and it cultivates the spirit.”

For more information visit Laopodi’s sites www.culent.com and http://cultinet.com.