Marketing for Art’s Sake

July 28, 2010

Marketing art really isn’t the same as marketing toothpaste, declares Dr Suzette Major, EIT Hawke’s Bay’s new Head of School, Arts & Design.

“The mentality doesn’t work,” says the arts marketing expert.  “Artists create for myriad reasons – it’s not just about money or the profit motive.  A lot of marketing stuff doesn’t gel, and you need to understand that to market it.”

The distinction reveals much about a woman who has built a career aimed at reconciling the often conflicting interests of practitioners of the arts and the world of business.

Suzette clearly finds the challenge fascinating and appealing, although she admits there have been times when she has had to walk a fine line.  Having developed a third-year paper in arts marketing for Waikato University, for example, she found she had to adopt somewhat different slants in lecturing to students doing bachelor degrees in business and the arts.

She experiences no inner tension however, embracing a love of business and a passion for the arts with equal fervour.

Her own artistic background is classical music, but she hit a roadblock in considering study for a degree in composition and detoured into a Bachelor of Management Studies.

When friends studying for fine arts degrees sought her advice on filling in funding applications and asked her what was meant by a target market, she realised that creative practitioners needed to understand basic business principles if they were to establish successful careers as artists.

Suzette went on to do her honours, master’s and a PhD.  The topic for her doctorate was The Marketing of Ideas.

“I am fascinated by connections and applications of business philosophy to creative endeavour without compromising artistic integrity.  Most of my career has been based on that.  My academic publishing has been in that field.”

Such was the demand for her marketing expertise, that Suzette – who held senior lectureships at Waikato University and Deakin University, a teaching fellowship at Victoria University and consulting positions at Wintec and Toihoukura – made the transition from the academia to the world of art-related business, establishing her own Raglan-based consultancy.

Attracting artists from throughout New Zealand and Australia, it grew so big that, in 2003, Suzette and two other women – all with business backgrounds and passionate about the arts – set up Arts.Biz Ltd, a company that advises and mentors creative practitioners.

Now she is keen to apply her 15 years of academic and business experience to assisting EIT graduates find their place in New Zealand’s flourishing creative industries.   Suzette sees this as a team goal and, with that in mind, she wants to harness the “phenomenal talent” of staff at EIT’s School of Arts & Design.
As an example of that, she points to the recent Creative Hawke’s Bay Invitational Exhibition staged at the Hastings City Art Gallery.

“The exhibitors included eight EIT staff – past as well as present – and EIT graduates.  To have such a huge contingent from the school says a lot about the skills and talents of the people here.  It’s quite breathtaking really.”

Suzette’s initial focus is on getting to know EIT staff, the school and the institute’s processes and systems.  Her next step will be to talk with the community.

“I still don’t know who’s who,” she laments.

“It’s strange for me to be in a region where I am not connected and part of what’s going on in the arts community.  It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage.  I’ve got the point of innocence to see things in a new light but I’m very used to being in a position where I pick up and phone and speak to the manager of a local arts centre, for example.”

Part of her role, as she sees it, is to make the connections between EIT’s Arts & Design School and the arts and design industry.   She also wants to see the school establish a strong sense of its own identity.
“Every other art and design school is having to work out its place in the current creative environment and we too have to grapple with that.

“Where do we fit?  The simple answer is I don’t know.  To answer that involves not just me but everybody here.  My role is to work with them and collectively work out what our identity should be in the flourishing New Zealand creative industries.”

And all of this, says Suzette, is a real adventure.  “It’s a challenging position that combines my strengths and my passion for arts and design.”