How To Organise A Cultural Event On The Topic That Is Not Hot?

Serhiy Zhukovskyi, founder of a one-day Classical Music Festival in Kharkiv, cultural project manager and board member of Culture & Creativity Association*, talked with us about challenges of the cultural sector, mentioning a couple of typical mistakes one might do when trying to get financial support for art projects.

Classical music in a bar

Worldwide we have only 3 official days dedicated to music. The oldest and least know to the general public is 1 October. Ukraine do marks it at a relatively high level, up to a ministerial one, but it is limited to rather narrow circles of audience. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that it is the day of classical or academic music, which is not that "hot" for the public.

The second day is celebrated in June. For instance, Kharkiv started to really mark this music celebration in a big way only in 2014, while the rest of the world knows about the annual Fete de la Musique (The World Music Day) since 1982.

The third date I'd like to mention is the Street Music Day, it's the youngest in this group. It's marked in May and even in Ukraine you can attend its festivities in different cities and towns.

While the latter two music days are more or less celebrated, the first one is not that upscale of a fest. It is still confined to Philharmonic halls or Opera Theatres; here everything is chamber-sized – small and with limited audience. So I wondered if I could do something to get classical musing "onto the streets".

The concept was to organise concerts in a Philharmonic Hall, Opera & Ballet Theatre and Music Academy Hall. However, additionally we threw a number of lectures in different and quite unexpected locations. With that we have prepared a set of performances, namely for those people in mind who almost never come across classical music. We tried to re-format classical music to let it be heard in ... bars, where the audience would have never expected to hear something like a classical performance.

Go simpler as it's cheap

There are countless opportunities in the field of culture, numerous musicians and musical places. But somehow they are totally disconnected and there's literally no communication between them. Despite the fact that they are players in the same game. If you show them how to support each other, their joint projects will definitely turn out to be stronger and more successful. Well, at least in terms of the audience and media attention. There are concerts in the Philharmonic concert hall every day. Joint concerts in two academia concert halls are less common, while a concert in a Philharmonic concert hall, opera and some pub constitute plainly a non-existent practice. For media this will definitely be a hotter stuff that will naturally attract them as it will be so much more interesting to write about something that unusual and unique.

In music field in general we see a certain trend towards simplification and minimalism. Why is it so? Imagine you have an orchestra of 40 musicians, or jazz band with 12 performers and one DJ. The audience pool is the same and it can buy tickets for a performance. What would be cheaper, how do you think? The commercial aspect is integral for any market as well as a certain trend that sets that market going into a certain direction.

Classical music in the media space is losing big time vs. popular music. The reason is that nobody is working with classical music at the level of professional management. It costs more and generates less profit to certain people. And with our market in the stagnation phase professionals leave it for the markets were they see this demand, i.e. they go overseas.

Kharkiv has quite an interesting case study. Trumpeters HeartBeat Brass Band spent about a year playing street music, few times you could listen to them in nightclubs. Later on, they decided to level up their management side to a professional level. They started participating in different festivals, getting real feedback from the audience. They would make money in clubs and then invest them in the development and professional growth. Classical musicians quite often follow a set logic: I studied for years and tomorrow I ought to become a superstar. But how many such superstar musicians can you name?

To make classical music popular, to turn it into a mainstream you have to play it in easy-to-reach places. To popularise any cultural phenomenon you have to talk about it at every corner.  

Chain reaction

With an idea you can never know where it would lead you to. We started in 2014 with the Day of Music that transformed afterwards into a multitude of other projects. There came the Street Day, because we really wanted more interaction with the city on the Day of Music. Then the Street day branched another project for those who love history – the History Night. That is a set of lectures that takes place from 10 pm till 6 am throughout the city. The project is already two years old and it sprouted other similar initiatives in other Ukrainian cities. In its own way the Street day helped to create the Museum Map of Kharkiv, because it turned out to be in demand. Now people are turning to us asking to do something they invented, as they see that there is indeed a way and opportunities to do it.

If you are organizing a large-scale festival, more likely than not you will deal with loads of communication tasks. People themselves will let you know what they want to do. You will just have to manage it, help and develop these projects. People simply join you when they have or see an idea.

When organising the first Day of Music we were investing our own funds into the equipment and everything connected with the stage work. Now, as we often are doing events together with the city and donors, we have an opportunity not to pay for this part. To a certain extent this happens because of a well-thought-through planning and clear management principles. You have to: write a letter to the Ministry, get yet other letters from the Department of Culture and Oblast Department of Culture, go to the Philharmonic Hall and arrange for the stage time way beforehand (at least half a year before the event date), so that you will be in the general plan, make arrangements with the other venues where you want to organise something. It is through the dialog and the search for common interests that you achieve the most. As for the musicians, we approach them with the offer to give them a real opportunity to promote themselves.

Catch the wave! Don't lose the moment!

Culture is a factor uniting all of us. It can genuinely strengthen a nation. Of course, it is way easier to find differences in people, as it's not that simple with the search for common features. Well, the common foundation is that thing that the culture so generously offers us. Cultural managers must use it and be swifter and get there before politicians do, because otherwise there won't be much left to unite.

As an example let's remember the times when fans of Rap and Rock music were constantly on fighting terms with each other. Though only till one day an American producer Rick Rubin decided to unite and mix RUN-D.M.C. and Aerosmith. Both sides loved it, they started to listen to their opponents' music. Thus, if at first there was only one profitable niche and another one just as profitable, with this new change the market widened just along with the profit growth. So what was the point in fighting, if both or them have so much to offer?

Donors or tickets

European Union offers funds for projects in the field of culture, then there are Cultural Bridges by the British Council, initiatives by Goethe-Institut. These are the biggest available funding sources but there are many others. With all that in mind, you should understand how much you need. And here comes the modern challenge of all cultural managers: they cannot calculate how much it is that they need.

You can do calculations for any type of work. However, nobody does this professionally in our country, as there's no market for it. It naturally forms when there are clear rules of play within the set directions.

If we talk about the Day of Classical Music, you can raise funds for it, but it will be rather for promotional stuff and advertisement. You can source these funds from the city or local sponsors. If it is a Summer Festival, you will have to spend a lot for the stage. You will never be able to cover all the personnel-related costs from the raised funds, and if you do manage it, then you should look for another sponsor next year as the previous one will want nothing to do with you for what is the point of investing in something that will never return to them in the form of a profit?

Until the festival has a measurable and real number of audience ready to buy the donor's product, this donor will never give you a cent. It's wiser to stay away from festivals if you have no clear picture as to who is your target audience and how you are going to sell this target audience to a donor. Any donor is looking for real input-into-profit conversion. 

You can attract funds, but you will never manage to run your festival 50 years in a row for somebody else's money. Any external funds should be seen as investments. While the main and predominant part will still depend on you. This can be anything from advertisement and catering to merchandising, tickets or anything else. The more successful this is, the more successful the culture will be.

*Association "Culture&Creativity"

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