Since working in academia, I have used my personal experience as a cultural worker to interrogate the nature and characteristics of cultural entrepreneurship. I am conscious of the challenges associated with cultural work, such as the insecurities of self-employment and freelance work, yet I am unconvinced by some of the critiques of entrepreneurial modes of work. Of course, the criticism is not directed at cultural workers themselves, rather, it has focused on recent cultural policies, in particular from New Labour’s period in government. As an educator as well as a researcher, I have been grappling with the contradictory premise of both teaching for, and critically analysing cultural entrepreneurship. This has been the starting point for my (part-time) PhD at the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick.
My PhD examines the role of personal agency in the cultural worker’s experience of entrepreneurship. It is a response to a call for further empirical studies capturing the lived experience of entrepreneurial cultural work (See Banks, 2006; Gill and Pratt, 2008; Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011; and Steyaert and Hjorth, 2006). I am inspired by an emerging literature which seeks to re-invent entrepreneurship by placing it within a wider social context rather than focusing on the lone entrepreneur (eg: Richard Branson). I have investigated gender and entrepreneurship, being ‘enterprising’ for counter-cultural activities and the potential for ‘good’ work (morally, ethically and practically). I draw on the academic disciplines of cultural studies, cultural policy studies and entrepreneurship studies as a context for this empirical study.
The lived experience of individual cultural entrepreneurs is set within the context of Birmingham’s (UK) cultural industries milieu and framed by New Labour’s cultural policies. I investigate this as a ‘space of possibilities’, an environment in which cultural workers have the freedom to act but within the constraints of a common system of references and a framework shaped by local actors, agents, institutions and policies (Bourdieu, 1993, p.179). The cultural entrepreneurs I analyse have to navigate this milieu, responding to it in their individual ways. I reveal personal circumstance and agency as playing an important role in negotiating individual positions within Birmingham’s cultural milieu.
My methodological approach enables me to gain personal insights, revealing tensions and informal connections shaping the cultural entrepreneurs environment. The distinctiveness of the approach aims to reveal highly personal experiences and subjective positions set within the context of a relatively small cultural industries community in Birmingham; a community in which I have been immersed for a number of years prior to this study. I draw on my knowledge of people, networks and of local policies, exploiting my position as part of Birmingham’s cultural industries community. The cultural entrepreneur’s capacity for reflexivity emerges as a means of subverting or negotiating entrepreneurial modes of work. Day-to-day activities are revealed to explore self-management and self-exploitation. Identity and myths are challenged by discussing ideas of performing the entrepreneur, or counteracting popular stereotypes. In ‘gossiping’ with interviewees, the importance of Birmingham as a creative milieu is revealed through places, acquaintances, networks and opportunities. Evidence of Bourdieu’s forms of capital, cultural, social and symbolic, are analysed as a means of exploring the cultural entrepreneur’s position. Power struggles are evident but not necessarily transparent, in the fluid relationship between policy makers, formal institutions and the informal communities of entrepreneurial cultural workers. The extent to which individuals ‘buy in’ to the local policy framework can be difficult to identify given the pragmatic manner in which cultural entrepreneurs operate. The needs of a practicing cultural worker can be about identifying with a bohemian identity as much as it is about successfully negotiating publicly funded work. My research approach encourages individuals to construct their story within this dynamic context, a space they shape as well as being shaped by it.
Following this research I seek to further investigate experiences of entrepreneurship through several focused studies which I outline below:
Firstly, the conjunction between activism and cultural entrepreneurship manifested in the work of young black women engaged in developing alternative networks. I am interested in the manner in which the language of enterprise is utilised to enhance entrepreneurial opportunities but also to address inequalities in the cultural industries.
Secondly, the creative city agenda is Birmingham has an emphasis on the city’s diverse communities and cultural practices. Yet, representations of BME cultural activities seems patchy or tends to favour the same organisations linked to established funding streams and networks. Are these the only cultural activities taking place in Birmingham? Is there a hidden or as yet uncovered level of activity produced by the BME community?
Finally, as a result of my PhD research I have identified gendered perspectives in cultural entrepreneurship manifested in the process of being entrepreneurial, in the decision to start a business and in the networks for female entrepreneurs. In this context I ask how women experience cultural entrepreneurship. In particular, what role do networks such as Girl Geeks play in articulating new identities and enhancing opportunities for ‘good work’?