Katie Flaherty was employed by DMU to run a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the Phoenix in Leicester that aimed to develop an audience strategy and a high quality arts programme that would help position the venue as an international centre for digital arts. As a consequence of the project, Phoenix has secured more than £450,000 of new grant funding and been recognised as an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation. Katie spoke to the National Centre about her experience taking part in a KTP and the benefits of such partnerships.
What is Phoenix and how are you involved with the project?
My KTP set out to raise the international profile of Phoenix, a new £21m digital media centre in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. Phoenix had opened its doors as a state-of the art facility with arts cinema, digital media gallery, production studios and education suites. However, it needed to position itself nationally and internationally and this was beyond its expertise because it had a limited audience engagement plan and digital arts programme.
“I was delighted to win the Business Leader of Tomorrow award in 2012. The Universities Minister David Willetts presented me with my prize which was a fantastic accolade.”
I was employed as the Digital Arts Development Officer responsible for working with leading researchers at De Montfort University to improve Phoenix’s knowledge of emerging creative technologies, its management of digital arts and on developing new media for audience participation. This would interest non-traditional arts audiences and community groups in participating in its programme, promote employment opportunities for those with creative skills and develop Phoenix’s capabilities and reputation in the world of new media art and creative technologies.
What were the circumstances that led to DMU employing you to run the project?
I graduated from Loughborough University in 2008 with a First Class BA Hons degree in Fine Art and began my career working as a Sales and Marketing Coordinator for John John’s Limited in London. The company is a fine arts consultancy with an international reputation for the preservation and presentation of fine art, it also has a vibrant arts and education programme including exhibition, talks and residencies. This was a creative business and I gained experienced in strategic planning, marketing, sales and project management.
At that time I was interested in the impact that digital and creative technologies was having on arts organisations and wanted to be part of an organisation that was ensuring it was ‘fit for purpose’ in our digital age. When I saw the opportunity advertised in 2010 to coordinate a digital arts programme at a new media centre and to have a strategic role, I jumped at it. At the interview I had to present how I would develop an international audience for a new digital arts festival in Leicester and impressed the panel enough to be offered the role.
What challenges have you faced whilst running the two-year project at Phoenix?
No sooner had the project begun in May 2010 Phoenix ran into difficulties. A restructuring forced a change in management and left fewer resources to achieve the intended project outcomes. I had three different company supervisors within the first six months of the project which proved to be quite a testing time, especially as the KTP programme is very fast paced.
How did you overcome these challenges?
The restructuring caused uncertainty and the first six months of the project was extremely challenging but ultimately this led me to have a more strategic influence within the company. I successfully adapted the initial analysis and KTP plan to the significantly reduced resources and I focused on seeking alternative funding streams to fill the gap. I focused on restoring direction and momentum to the KTP, adapting the plans to drive an audience development strategy for the digital arts and capitalising on a significant new opportunity through the Arts Council England (ACE).
It was this work in the early stages of the project that subsequently underpinned Phoenix’s survival and growth to achieve National Portfolio Organisation status with Arts Council England and wider recognition among local, national and international communities. I became the primary contact for key stakeholders such as ACE, and my work extended the reach of the organisation by developing strategic relationships with stakeholder groups in the region, nationally and internationally.
“The restructuring caused uncertainty and the first six months of the project was extremely challenging but ultimately this led me to have a more strategic influence within the company.”
How did Phoenix seal the partnership with Arts Council England?
The tighter public funding environment provided new opportunities for Phoenix in the digital arts. Faced with a major contraction in its budget, Arts Council England (ACE) initiated a strategic review of its portfolio of funded organisations. In November 2010, organisations were invited to reapply against a revised national strategy, which emphasised digital arts among other aims.
Non-funded organisations, such as Phoenix, were also able to apply to become one of ACE’s new National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs). The analytical and research work I conducted at the beginning of the project underpinned Phoenix’s application. I worked closely with ACE to identify exactly what Phoenix would have to achieve to maintain NPO status and to establish its leadership in the digital arts.
Against stiff competition, Phoenix was successful and received excellent feedback on the vision expressed in the proposal. As a result, Phoenix enhanced its reputation, demonstrating potential to take a leadership role in the digital arts, as well as generating new income to develop an outstanding digital programme.
How valuable has the KTP programme been for you?
The KTP has such a fantastic track record in supporting recent graduates to secure a senior management role in their sector within a short period of time. It is a managed process with a history of success, so my advice would be to trust it, throw yourself into the programme whole heartedly and be prepared to work extremely hard. If you are fully committed to the programme the rewards follow.
During the project I significantly enhanced my CV gaining an MSc at De Montfort University and a Chartered Management Institute Diploma in Management and Leadership. I also spent three months of the project in Sydney, so I certainly maximised all the opportunities that were presented to me!
After the project I secured a senior management role within Phoenix and I have been working as the Business Development Manager ever since. I have been in this role for two years now and I continue to apply the knowledge I gained during the KTP.
“The KTP has such a fantastic track record in supporting recent graduates to secure a senior management role in their sector within a short period of time.”
What did winning the “Business Leader of Tomorrow” award mean for you?
I was delighted to win the Business Leader of Tomorrow award in 2012. The award ceremony was a great event at Westminster Park Plaza Hotel in London and the Universities Minister David Willetts presented me with my prize which was a fantastic accolade. For an independent panel of leading business people in the UK to recognise my potential as a future business leader gave me great confidence and has motivated me to reach the very top!
De Montfort University, Phoenix- Film and Digital Media Centre and main project funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Technology Strategy Board and the Economic and Social Research Council.