It’s all change for the MAC
How merging artistic instincts with a business focus is the plan for the future of belfast theatre
We believe that culture and the arts are the foundation of any modern society. In Belfast, the MAC is at the forefront of regenerating the Cathedral Quarter and the wider city. Like other vital services, the arts sector has felt the financial strains of austerity and the tightening of the public purse.
We will always make as strong a case as we can that the arts are a service just like infrastructure, education and health, and deserving of public funding and public support. A city that values its cultural offering is one that is outward looking, progressive and ambitious — and that’s exactly the sort of society that we all want to live in. That mission is central to the MAC’S ethos.
At the same time we are keenly financially aware and are making strides towards a model of sustainability that involves not only public funding but increasing our own means of income through corporate relationships, commercial activity and even bringing a spirit of entrepreneurship to how we run our organisation.
The creation and enjoyment of excellent art is at the heart of our business model, but we also have a commercial side to the business which we are further developing.
The MAC opened in 2012 and in the short period since has hosted ground breaking exhibitions and shows including David Hockney, Gilbert & George and Andy Warhol. We have attracted over two million people through our doors and we have forged a new Belfast institution.
Now, six years on we have come to a point where we can assess what we know about our customer base, about how to meet their existing needs and how to attract new visitors to the MAC. We are essentially moving into the second phase of our evolution. That means planning for the long-term and doing all we can to ensure our long-term sustainability.
There are some concrete examples of this new spirit of entrepreneurship. We are currently in the process of bringing our cafe, bar and hospitality business in house.
We have a full understanding of what our customers want and need and we think we are well placed to deliver that.
So, a number of changes are on the way — we have brought in some new staff, re-designed our food offering and looked at our service style to create an experience that we hope will work better for the MAC and our customer base — new and old.
Last month we remodelled our ground floor theatre into the Luminaire Club. This was an investment which allows to move beyond traditional theatre-style seating to a cabaret format.
Since the opening of the MAC we have developed strong and lasting relationships with corporate Northern Ireland.
These connections have resulted in successful sponsorships for our shows, engagement programmes with schools that have been directly funded by local companies, and importantly the development of a significant venue hire business.
In a very short time the MAC has become the venue of choice for business seminars, team meetings, product launches, formal dinners and awards ceremonies.
Our aim is to ensure we maximise the potential that exists within this fantastic and versatile space in our corner of the Cathedral Quarter. As Belfast grows, our strategic plan will ensure that income from commercial venue hire will grow also.
It is not widely appreciated that the arts sector delivers a significant return for what is a small budgetary allocation from the public purse. This economic impact is driven by job creation, visitors spending on hotels, restaurants and transport, the purchasing of goods and services locally as well as the attraction of foreign and direct investment.
Without that public subvention we would not exist and certainly could not provide the arts programme and economic impact we do. By merging our artistic instincts with a business focus, we can help ensure the MAC impact is here to stay.
International Day of the Girl, celebrated earlier this month, highlighted that a staggering 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in the education system. There was a rally of support globally from celebrities who used their voice to highlight this issue.
They all recognised that, when girls receive an education, amazing things start to happen. Poverty goes down. Economies grow. Families get stronger. Babies are born healthier. And the world, by all accounts, gets better.
Undoubtedly, education unleashes a young person’s potential, nurtures their imagination and is fundamental in opening an endless world of opportunities for future career prospects.
Businesswomen know better than anyone that children are our future, and a great economy will come from an education system that values the potential of each and every child.
Our children’s education needs to include and recognise the importance of values, ethics, attitudes, teamwork and problem-solving, and as business leaders our continued commitment to these principles will guide us to achieving success.
Indeed, in order to produce the skilled, dedicated and talented employees and entrepreneurs that our future economy needs, we need long-term investment in our education system.
This is impossible without a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland, and this lack of leadership is really letting our children down and having a potential detrimental impact on the future economy.
Currently women remain under-represented in higher positions of power within the workplace, and I was disappointed and ashamed to learn that only two of Northern Ireland’s top CEOS are female.
I really can’t see how we address this issue if our leaders do not regroup for the wider good and if businesses do not step up and support women to achieve their full potential.
It is no secret that gender-diverse workforces are good for business — a 2015 Mckinsey report found a correlation between gender-diverse companies and better bottom line results. In fact, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective industry medians.
The Northern Ireland Gender Diversity Charter Mark, which was launched last year, commits businesses to support the progression of women. The charter has achieved support from some of Northern Ireland’s leading businesses at a senior level, which have recognised that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all employees and at all levels of the organisation — in particular, from CEOS and those in senior roles.
Too many organisations are missing the mark on gender equality efforts by focusing gender initiatives solely on changing women.
These individualistic approaches to solving gender inequities overlook systematic structural causes and reinforce the perception that these are women’s issues, effectively telling men they don’t need to be involved.
At Women in Business, we want men to join the conversation and have a seat at our table. Without the avid support of men, significant progress toward ending gender disparities is unlikely.
We strive to include men as we strive for gender equality. For example, our awards are taking place on November 8 and this is not an exclusive event for females. We urge men to join the debate and be part of celebrating all of the amazing women that are part of our business network.
As the chief executive of one of Northern Ireland’s most powerful business networks, I am calling on our leaders to respect the power they wield and prioritise our children’s educational needs — it is through them that we can change behaviour and achieve a truly diverse workforce.
Businesses must also step up to the plate — not only is a gender diversity good for business, it is the right thing to do.