Points North: Brent Woods, chief executive of The Media Centre
Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
This week it’s Brent Woods, chief executive of The Media Centre in Huddersfield. He says it's not just organisational culture that shapes the personality of tech businesses - the wider arts scene has a significant role to play.
When the economic climate was at its bleakest and ‘austerity measures’ was one of the most-quoted phrases in the media, the more immediate concerns for tech businesses were, understandably, things like clients’ budget cuts or the impact of the skills shortage on capacity levels. The Government slashing the grants it gifted to Arts Council England was probably way off the radar.
However, in 2016 – when initiatives such as Tech North are gaining momentum and the world of commerce has an invigorated level of buoyancy – the influence of arts and culture should come into sharper focus.
Tech firms need to understand how important the arts are to the sector. Yes, film and music may make Saturday nights a little more interesting, but there’s a more direct business benefit too.
Art drives innovation. It stimulates creativity, collaboration and inspiration – qualities that successful tech businesses cannot live without.
In fact it’s no coincidence that, as a social enterprise within the digital sector, The Media Centre reinvests a large proportion of profits into the local arts and culture scene. This isn’t just because we want to cement our position at the heart of the community – we truly believe artistic creation feeds innovation and stimulates a more vibrant and capable business environment.
If we look a little wider, the UK is internationally renowned for its pioneering presence in the fields of engineering, manufacturing and technology at the same time as having a global reputation for excellence in arts and culture. There is an intrinsic link between the two.
The arts promote creative thinking, playfulness, experimentation and collaboration, all of which are crucial in the increasingly fast-paced world of tech. And increasingly it is the arts and culture sector that is showing us how to use technology in ways never imagined, to problem solve, for instance.
Whether we realise it or not, arts and culture shape the principles we value as individuals. Cultural heritage, even on a local level, can define the enterprising spirit that drives us in business. If we look at Huddersfield for example, a passion for invention, going against the norm and a commitment to hard graft date back to the industrial revolution, yet these ethics still set the tone today.
So what else could tech businesses learn from the arts? Peer review is important, particularly if the spark of an idea requires some nurturing. This collaborative approach to knowledge transfer is acknowledged in the digital sector but fear of the competition can sometimes stifle real progress. In the same vein, clustering should be embraced rather than it causing such anxiety over the theft of IP.
Some people find this entire subject matter a little ‘fluffy’, failing to acknowledge the relevance of the arts in the world of commerce. But we only have to consider the desire to inhabit office space with a difference, for example, to see that people want to be inspired in their work, not just their personal lives.
I also believe that networking events which take place in vibrant environments, where delegates can interact, debate, learn and reflect, typically reap better yields than the somewhat more conventional, formal, sales-focused meetings.
Diverse, innovative art and cultural experiences should be supported by the state, but if we are at risk of a cultural deficit as a result of policy changes, we need to consider how funding gaps will can be filled.
With the arts at the centre of our culture, communities and economy, investment in them through sponsorship or philanthropy helps to build progressive and cohesive communities, an enriched workforce and a stronger local economy. I would encourage everyone to see those as handsome returns.