This December it will be the five year anniversary of the publication of The Producers: Alchemists Of The Impossible. Commissioned by Roanne Dods (at the time Director of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation) and David Micklem (Artistic Director of the Battersea Arts Centre), it is collection of interviews with fourteen leading producers working across film, the visual arts and the performing arts. Remarkable practitioners all, The Producers is full of insight. The introduction very clearly states why the book was created:
The producer is a role that has struggled to establish itself in the arts. Yet at this time of massive social, cultural and environmental change, perhaps we have never needed them more. This book is based on the belief that producers make an extraordinary contribution to the arts – to the artists whose ideas and creativity can be harnessed and realised by these people as no others, and to the public whose engagement is the inspiration for the producer’s mindset and approach.
While, half a decade on from the launch of The Producers, the role may still be under-championed, it is at least recognised as a significant element in the delivery of creative work. However, when it comes to this wobbly world of digital innovation in the arts, the same is not true. There’s a lack of discussion around the role of the digital producer. And this is a very real problem indeed.
In the context of the cultural sector, a digital producer is a person who can simultaneously hold the artistic, technical and business strands of a project. The role is more than just transactional project management: a digital producer has the translational leadership abilities to be able to talk to and inspire not only a project team but also an arts board and a journalist. S/he recognises that innovation is important but risky. S/he understands that the technological and organisational components should not obscure the human.
There are not enough of them in this country. We need more.
We need more digital producers because in this maelstrom of money, with all this attention on ‘digital innovation in the arts’, they are the missing pieces of the jigsaw who will tip the scales in favour of projects being successful. There are plenty of so-called collaborations between arts organisations and digital companies. But they often fall over or under-deliver because project partners have very different objectives, aren’t able to understand what each other is saying, can’t share what needs to be done next.
Digital producers who are brought into a team solely for the purpose of developing and delivering a project will by definition only have the success of that project as their objective. Their multiple literacies and the adhocracy that they flock around a project will allow the impossible to become achievable.
I am constantly being asked by arts organisations – sometimes explicitly, sometimes via a pleading look in their eyes – for a silver bullet that will solve the impossible “how do we do more with digital” question. I think the closest thing to a real answer that I can give is: work with a producer who you trust, and empower them to get things done.
I am pretty sure there will be growing demand for digital producers. I hope that many of the applicants to the forthcoming round of Nesta R&D include one in their pitch. However, I suspect it’s not demand that’s the problem, but supply. This is a relatively new specialism, and while there are clearly some talented digitally-savvy people within our cultural organisations, they are either trapped in linear communications roles and / or aren’t able to make the jump and start working as independent producers. Clearly there is the need for talent development processes to fill this gap. It’s not going to happen by itself.
Kate Tyndall, the writer of The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible, says in her closing statements:
My personal hope is that this book can help in a process where policy priorities include not just a focus on the individual artist and on institutional or organisational structures, but on the producer’s role as well, whatever structural form that takes. My view is that there should be a greater producer-led infrastructure in this country across the arts, and that producing talent should be spotted, nurtured and responded to, much as artistic talent is. We should all be eager to help the new generation of producers emerge across the range of landscapes, contexts and nooks and crannies which inspire them, and to create the structures that will empower their potential. They are amongst those who will help unlock the possibilities and complexities of the paths that lie ahead.
Hear hear Kate. Now that digital innovation is flavour of the month – and will be for some time to come – if we continue to ignore the producer gap, we do so at our peril.
You can read The Producers: Alchemists Of The Impossible online here.
Image credit: fimb via flickr