Entrepreneurship and the Creative Industries: A qualitative study of attitudes towards entrepreneurship and enterprise education within Northern Ireland’s visual arts and theatre sectors.

  • Adrian Margey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is based on a focused ethnographic study of Northern Ireland’s visual arts and theatre communities which took place over the period of one year from October 2010 to October 2011. The study has been conducted against a backdrop of creative industries rhetoric that demanded the arts sector become more independent in the interests of self-sustainability. The study also coincided with a global economic recession and a reduction in public spending by the UK Government.

The endeavour of this thesis is to demonstrate attitudes towards entrepreneurship within the visual arts and theatre sectors in Northern Ireland and to investigate the potential for moving artists and arts organisations away from a culture of dependence on grants and subsidy to one of financial independence through entrepreneurial self-reliance. With around one-third of all self-employed first degree graduates in the UK coming from creative arts disciplines, the thesis uncovers the current state of and attitudes towards an enterprise curriculum for visual arts and theatre students in Higher Education in Northern Ireland. The Research Questions were: 1) Do Northern Ireland’s visual arts and theatre communities feel part of the creative industries concept and what is current thinking around the role of the creative industries in the social and economic development of the region? 2) Is the concept of entrepreneurship relevant to the arts and if so, how can enterprise development principles best be applied to the commercialisation of artistic talent? 3) To what extent is a business and marketing focus being adopted by individual artists and arts organisations in Northern Ireland and what effect is this having on audience development and artistic programming? 4) By examining current opportunities for entrepreneurial learning within Higher Education Institutions in Northern Ireland, what are the attitudes from educators, students and industry on creative enterprise education and what provisions should be made to better equip students from an arts background with the appropriate skills to make a contribution to the creative economy?

A series of face-to-face semi-structured interviews and focus groups was used to build understanding about the phenomenon of art entrepreneurship in its real life context and to identify the perceptions of government policy interventions designed to promote enterprise in Higher Education and build the local creative industries ecosystem. A sample pool of individual artists, arts administrators, students, beneficiaries of the Creative Industries Innovation Fund and educators was drawn from the disciplines of visual arts and theatre. The sample also encompassed representatives from arts and economic development agencies and appropriate government departments in Northern Ireland. This qualitative approach emphasised voice and subjectivity (Silverman, 2010: 6) to uncover the qualitatively different ways in which people experience and think about art entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland.

The findings position the subsidised and commercial arts at the heart of the entrepreneurial creative industries ecosystem, interacting with and nourishing other high-tech, high-growth sub-sectors and playing a lead role in urban regeneration and attracting tourism to the region. The findings show that although some artists and leaders of non-profit arts organisations struggle to identify themselves as traditional economic entrepreneurs, many recognise the need to link artistic creations to markets and consumers in order to ensure the commercial viability of individual artistic practices and organisations. Interviews revealed income diversification, achieved through market, product and revenue diversification as key to commercially viable arts organisations and artistic practices in Northern Ireland. However, pursuit of these diversification activities is restricted by the under-resourced nature of the arts sector. The findings recognise the Creative Industries Innovation Fund as a key policy intervention that has been exploited by the Northern Ireland Government to catalyse the growth of a more entrepreneurially self-reliant arts sector in the region. The thesis also identifies how Higher Education and policy-makers might respond to current and future enterprise education needs among Northern Ireland’s visual arts and drama students in order to enhance their individual and sector’s economic potential. Although this study is expressly focused on the Northern Ireland context, it provides a useful test case for wider application in arts communities across the world.
Date of AwardSep 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorDavid Johnston (Supervisor) & David Grant (Supervisor)

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