When Arts Hacks Hackathons

by paradoxig

Once Covid started, hackathons started too. Art and creative industries were massively affected (different cultural sectors more than others) and they showed interest in the digital world. Finally, startup-ers said, let’s take a glimpse into the creative field, and Hack the Culture. Little did we know that the difference between worlds is so big, that startup-ers might end up with….being hacked by artists.
Hackathons are popular methods to both foster internal innovation or to develop startups.
Basically in a couple of days and nights, you are supposed to develop a prototype and make some testing. We organized and participated as mentors or jury in countless hackathons with or without different verticals (each their own specific specificity).
But, Hacking Culture definitely had its own story. Not many hackathons with this vertical were organised, so there is not really extensive experience in this field. There are many reasons for that.
Firstly, during the previous 10 years, when the world turned tech-savvy, Arts and Creatives Industries proved quite resistant to change or said, “we don’t really need all this digitalisation”.
Secondly, it is a specific language that is hard to understand on both sides – startup world and the artsy world.
Thirdly, a huge part of the art field is massively supported via public funds- be it governmental, local or EU funds, a huge amount comes from here (although not all – some private funds are also engaged via sponsorships or donations, and some artists do sell their products and services). That also means the industry is not pushed via market mechanisms to be utterly competitive in order to survive.
Fourthly, art showed some level of aversiveness toward the word “profits”. At least on a discourse level.
Fifth, there was also less interest from the tech field into the art industries, as they are considered marginal, relying heavily on funds and grants, and well, so not really ‘interesting’ from a business perspective.
And here we come.
A Global Health Crisis makes the first baby-steps to unite art and culture with techies.
How it went?
Well, in a nutshell, it was like a clash of cultures, each field talking a strange language. But putting language aside, there are different mechanisms.
Of course, we cannot generalise at 100% there are exceptions, but we are talking here about the majority.

Project vs Product
Startups are thinking of a product that is solving a problem people are facing, can scale and generate revenues. Find the ‘penicillin’ for the problem, test it continuously with customers, till you get it right – this is more or less a product mentality. Many cultural actors are thinking in terms of projects. This is mainly because for years and years the field functioned like that. EU Funds, private denotation, sponsorships. All is about financing projects that have a beginning and an end. Cultural workers are running after these funds in order to survive or supplement private funds. This has also long-term impact on the mentality:
project thinking is short term (“lets win this grant now”),
is focused on spending money not making money, (how to share and spend money according to the initial budget in this type of project is no obligation, no interest to make money )
-it doesn’t not thrive towards something that can lasts
ideas are generated internally – “we, a group of artists, think that…this should be done”
in many cases, in time, cultural workers learn to be moulded on grant descriptions (depending on the finding line often more of applicants improvise solutions)
Now, it is almost impossible to shift in a couple of days to shift from project thinking to product thinking.

Grant vs investment mentality
Everybody needs financing, but financing has different forms. Grant, funds, loans, investments, they are all different mechanisms of financing. And again needs different attitudes.

Startups develop products, and they understand that they have to pull something in: time, money, so on. CoFounders usually get financed by friends, families and fools in the first stage. After they are looking for investors, who can pull in money, and expertise. Also they understand that investors not just want money back, but for the shares they want also way much more money than those that were pulled in.
So, the mentality is: I am getting investment, that will help me grow, and make more money – and return more money to the investor.

Culture is quite different. Usually projects are set up like: calculating the costs, and that is the price tag they want. Take it or leave it. Nobody is thinking really in terms of generating revenues. The thinking is how to get bigger grants because: more money, more impact, more projects in the future. In most grants, there is a line called: ‘financial-administration capacity’ – that means you are able to spend money properly. That means a cultural worker is focused on getting more and more funds, via more and more applications, so that in the end, s/he can jump from an application where s/he receives 10.000 euro to an application where s/he can receive 1 million. You just have to prove you are able to spend.

So, can you imagine a cultural worker when a startup-er tells that “so, the first investment is 20.000 usually for 5% from the business”?
Artsy person thinking: “why the hell would I do that?
First: 20.000 – not so much, i cannot even pay 3 people.
Second: why would I give an investor that? Better apply for a 50.000 grant”.
Startupper person thinking: “these people never don’t understand entrepreneurship…”

Because, years and years of functioning in this type of a system, provided 2 absolutely different mentalities, simply put is as such: the grant mentality has become about getting money to spend money, investment mentality is about getting money to make more money.

Of course, we cannot generalise, but still we are talking about majority. And the differences do not stop here, and in a further chapter we will highlight other types when we speak about the managers and their attributions, and roles; about markets and their functioning, about the attitude towards innovation and technical persons, and abilities of scaling up.

So, stay tuned with us in the next few days!

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