Arts Conference Speech at BITC Azerbaijan

David’s arts conference speech at the Baku International Theatre Festival (BITC) in Azerbaijan focused on creative business opportunities for the arts.

His speech was entitled “Theatre, Multiculturalism and Globalisation: Creative Opportunities for the Arts” and he presented examples from his international experience as a business adviser in the arts, cultural and creative sectors.

Specifically, he spoke about:
– How we can now reach larger audiences and thereby increase people’s access to theatre and the arts, using new technology to broadcast live theatre.
– How we can access new sources of funding at a time of “austerity”, ie cuts in governments’ support for the arts, using crowd-funding.
– How we can devise and implement new business models that suit the objectives and requirements of the arts.
– How we can use both ‘a-Creativity’ and ‘i-Creativity’ in harmony; artistic talent combined with ingenious ways of doing the business of the arts.

The full text of his arts conference speech is below.

David's arts conference speech at BITC Azerbaijan

David also delivered a training workshop for managers, directors and producers working in theatre and the arts during his visit to Baku. ‘Creativity and Business: New Opportunities for Theatre’ discussed the opportunities mentioned in his speech, plus several other opportunities in the 21st century.

Dr Garayev Abulfas Mursal oglu with David Parrish

During his visit to Azerbaijan, David met the Minister of Culture and Tourism Dr Garayev Abulfas Mursal oglu. They discussed future collaborations and David presented the Minister with a copy of his book.

Speech: Theatre, Multiculturalism and Globalisation: Creative Opportunities for the Arts
David Parrish

We live in interesting times. The world has never seen the extent of multiculturalism and the degree of globalisation we have today.
We live in exciting times. We have opportunities that people a few generations ago could only dream about.
Let’s use these amazing opportunities for the benefit of theatre and the arts.

I bring greetings from the United Kingdom and I am delighted to be with you all today, to share my experience, research and ideas about the opportunities for Theatre and the Arts.

Yes, there are challenges we need to face, but I believe the opportunities outweigh the challenges.

I say this based on my own background of having worked in the arts and cultural sector for most of my life. As a specialist creative and cultural industries adviser, I have worked with hundreds of cultural enterprises and creative businesses in more than 40 countries around the world. I have learnt from their creativity in their studios – and also from their creativity in their business offices.

Today I will briefly outline some of the new opportunities for theatre and the arts.

• We can now reach larger audiences and thereby increase people’s access to theatre and the arts.
• We can access new sources of funding at a time of “austerity”, ie cuts in governments’ support for the arts.
• We can devise and implement new business models that suit the objectives and requirements of the arts.
• We can use both ‘a-Creativity’ and ‘i-Creativity’ in harmony; artistic talent combined with ingenious ways of doing the business of the arts.

Larger Audiences and Increased Access to Theatre and the Arts

An exciting example from the UK is an initiative from the National Theatre: ‘National Theatre Live’. Based in London but receiving funding from the Arts Council of England and other bodies, the National Theatre has a duty to serve all of the people of England and the UK. Its objectives are not only artistic excellence but also increasing access to theatre.
National Theatre Live has been described as “the best of British theatre at a cinema near you”. Its performances are broadcast live to audiences in cinemas throughout the UK and overseas. The project has broadcast more than 40 performances from the National Theatre and other theatres. The Barbican Theatre’s production of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch was seen by 550,000 people. Not many theatres have performed live to audiences of more than half a million people!

New Sources of Funding at a Time of Austerity and Government Cutbacks

Financial constraints in many countries have resulted in reduced state funding for theatre and the arts. Clearly, this is a problem. However, new funding opportunities are emerging in the form of ‘Crowd Funding’. Two of the biggest online crowd funding platforms for creative projects are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These are both based in the USA and there are many more similar organisations around the world. New Zealand has several of its own and I visited Talaka, a crowd funding and crowd sourcing enterprise in Belarus earlier this year.
A theatre project that I helped to fund personally on Indiegogo is a production by Epic Theatre Exchange. Their project involves two classic theatre pieces, one Sanskrit, one English, shipped between continents. Sakuntala is a Sanskrit play by Kalidasa. They have achieved 116% of their funding target and have raised $5,791 US Dollars for this multicultural and international project.

New Business Models in the 21st Century

Theatres for the 21st Century’ is a report on sustainable business models for New York’s smaller theatres. It takes into account recent developments in technology, funding and social habits to offer exciting solutions to the challenges facing smaller theatres. The report refers to ‘Audiences as Participants’ recognising that today’s audiences are no longer prepared to be passive recipients of culture – they want to be actively involved as commentators and even as creators.
Another opportunity is the sharing of ‘back office’ resources including financial management, administrative functions and online publicity and ticketing.
In Liverpool in the UK I have been involved in a successful project to help arts organisations to survive and thrive.
Liverpool City Council commissioned me to devise and deliver a programme that we called Fit for the Future. The project helped over 100 arts organisations become more financially sustainable, entrepreneurial and creative in terms of enterprise.

Creativity – both ‘a-Creativity’ and ‘i-Creativity’

The word creativity is strongly associated with artistic creativity and there is no doubt that artists of all kinds are highly creative. Yet there is a more general kind of creativity that we can find in all fields of human endeavor – ingenuity, lateral thinking, being innovative and problem solving. This potential confusion about the two aspects of creativity provoked me to make a keynote speech about it at TEDx Napoli. The new word “a-Creativity” refers to purely artistic creativity whereas “i-Creativity” is about a more general ingenuity.

In theatre and the arts we can use both a-Creativity and i-Creativity. We can be creative in the studio and on the stage, of course. But we can also be creative in the office, in the way that we run our enterprises. We can apply creativity to the way we generate income, to the way we engage with audiences and to the way we collaborate across cultural and national boundaries.

I call this combination of artistic passion and smart business thinking “T-Shirts and Suits”. This metaphor is also the name of my book ‘T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity’ which I am proud to say will soon be published here in Baku, translated into Azerbaijani (Azeri).


In conclusion, we are living in an age of rapid change. Globalisation and multiculturalism have changed the world we live in, and will continue to do so. At a time of change, there are dangers and there are opportunities. Let’s not fool ourselves about the dangers. At the same time we must seize the opportunities.

If we are prepared to think creatively, in our offices as well as in our studio, we can take advantage of these opportunities. In this way our theatres will produce more great work, collaborate across national and cultural boundaries, and reach audiences we could never even imagine reaching in the past.

In this endeavor, I wish you every success.

Shaig Safarov and David Parrish at BITC in Baku, Azerbaijan

The Baku International Theatre Festival was organised by Mr Shaig Safarov and his colleagues. (Photo of Shaig Safarov and David Parrish above.)

Arts Conference Speech at BITC Azerbaijan