Gigbeth director and winner of the 2008 Young Musical Entrepreneur of the Year Clare Edwards believes the not-for-profit sector can benefit from an injection of entrepreneurial spirit
Three years ago, with an arts and music background, I was working for the Learning and Skills Council.
It wasn’t the average brief; I was in charge of co-ordinating an arts-based educational conference in Birmingham – there was no other position like it in the country.
It soon became obvious that a conference alone – successful as it is – was not necessarily the only way to inspire and educate people about the potential of music.
Sitting around talking about it is one thing but staging an actual event alongside that, was more like it – and so the ‘Gigbeth’ festival was born.
Digbeth was the perfect setting for a festival for so many reasons: namely its massive multicultural mix and great venue potential.
The conference was already making a name for itself and attracting high profile speakers such as Joan Armatrading and Feargal Sharkey.
So in Gigbeth’s first year we exceeded all expectations. Huge crowds flocked to the festival, MTV turned up and it was a resounding success.
However, success meant we’d actually opened up Pandora’s box.
In year two, everyone wanted to be involved on the back of the event’s success, yet we only had the previous year’s scope.
I wanted everyone involved too but it soon became clear that we couldn’t repeat the same event on this scale and something had to give. On top of that, we stood accused of ‘selling out’ because MTV’s presence had attracted national acts, so we’d apparently lost the community focus.
But 2007 saw 70 per cent local acts and that ratio continues in 2008.
It’s a double-edged sword but my argument is Birmingham is now exposed to a wider national audience and we’re on the map.
Fast forward to January 2008 and here I am the freelance director of a hugely successful multicultural music festival and winner of the national 2008 Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year.
Organising a festival of this scale is no mean feat and my role has changed.
Being an employee meant many of the people working on Gigbeth were used to me spending lots of time with their different organisations when I had a salary working for the LSC.
But, while I am paid for what I do at Gigbeth, my time has to be spread out among more people.
Some commercial events of this scale are brought together in a matter of months but as a not-for-profit organisation Gigbeth is very different.
From the safety of salaried post, I was encouraged in the early stages by support from Business Link West Midlands. Winning Young Musical Entrepreneur of the Year in June only elevated Birmingham’s status even further.
Gigbeth has successfully harnessed the partnership of the public sector with funding from Birmingham City Council and Arts Council, business support from Business Link and an entrepreneurial spirit and business model which means I’m very close to securing a commercial sponsor for this year’s event.
And unlike similar commercial events, we’re non-profit-making and we’ve achieved what we have by virtue of natural local talent.
What we have now has come from a very organic place and will continue to do no matter how big Gigbeth gets.