Culture Night involves hundreds of arts and cultural venues across the island of Ireland and overseas, who all open until late for one night only, with hundreds of free events, tours, talks & performances for families and friends to enjoy. So how did it all begin and what can Culture Night teach us about innovation?
There is no such thing as an original idea!
Culture Night, when introduced to Dublin in 2006, was not a unique concept or a unique idea. It was a model that was borrowed from Copenhagen where Kulturnat (Culture Night) had already been running successfully for 12 years, attracting over 300,000 local and international visitors to the city each year.
Dublin was not the first European city to replicate the Kulturnat model from Copenhagen. Cities like Paris created the White Nights concept in 2002, which now attracts in excess of 900,000 visitors, and successfully internationalised and branded the concept through a network of international “White Night” cities stretching from Rome to Montreal.
Culture night fits neatly with the assertion by David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity, that “we don’t need more great ideas; we need to spread the great ideas that we already have”.
Solve the problem by taking a human-centred approach
To produce an idea with immediate appeal in the market-place, the single best thing you can do, according to Innovation as Usual authors, Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, is to identify a significant unmet need or problem that customers share. Research conducted by Temple Bar Cultural Trust over many years confirmed that people in Dublin were looking for a more flexible approach to visiting the cultural venues around the city.
Public awareness of the diverse cultural offering was very low, people didn’t know how to find out about what was going on and the opening hours were restrictive. By adopting a truly “outside in” perspective and empathising with needs of the public, Culture Night directly removed the very obstacles that had been preventing people from participating more fully in the cultural life of the city.
In this sense Culture Night, with its extended opening hours and high profile promotional campaign, created an experience that opened the floodgates for thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds to create a cultural experience, on their terms, for one night.
Try early and often
In an attempt to prototype the model in an Irish context, in 2006 an initial Culture Night was run in Dublin with total of 40 organisations only opening until 8pm and with seed funding from the Department of Arts of €20k – you don’t need big investment to kick-start breakthrough innovation.
This event attracted over 40,000 people and with further support from the Department of Arts and a small number of Local Authorities in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, Culture Night rapidly grew in Dublin to over 100 venues and expanded to 4 counties in Ireland by 2008.
By 2011 Culture Night was in 28 towns and counties across the island of Ireland and in Irish arts centres in New York, London and Brussels. Having a credible investor on board such as the Department of the Arts was also critical in attracting the support of other key partners such as Dublin Bus, Fáilte Ireland and local authorities.
Innovation comes through Collaboration
We live in a connected world and collaboration is crucial to the success of innovation. While co-operation with other organisations in the same industry may seem counterintuitive to competitiveness – the simple fact is it’s not.
While it seems obvious now, at the time the contemporary and eclectic nature of the cultural offering in Temple Bar, such as the Project Arts Centre or the Contemporary Music Centre, sat awkwardly alongside the more classical offering of the national cultural institutions such as the National Gallery and Natural History Museum.
But thanks to Temple Bar Cultural Trust, a mutually beneficial collaboration was choreographed between these two worlds based around a shared need to build audiences and raise profile.
The role of the “Innovation Architect”
Being an innovation leader or “innovation architect” is different to being an innovator. It is about creating an environment that helps people to engage in new behaviours – new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. Having successfully played its role in Culture Night to create a new way for the cultural organisations on the island of Ireland to collaborate around the needs of the public, Temple Bar Cultural Trust, in the final stages of its existence, can be proud of the legacy it leaves behind.
Developing the Right Business Model
The opportunity to commercialise Culture Night in Ireland remains untapped, with heavy reliance on public funding. If we look to the Copenhagen business model for Kulturnat, we see a different picture. Having started out as a totally free event for the public, Kulturnat brokered an enviable partnership with the rail, bus and ferry providers in the city allowing visitors to avail of free public transport on the night.
How did they do this? Through the introduction of a small charge for the Kulturnat information pack which contains the programme and a badge which identifies you on public transport. While undoubtedly improving visitor satisfaction and engagement, this initiative has also generated hundreds of thousands of euro for the organisers of Kulturnat, an independent collective of cultural organisations, which is re-invested back into the event.
Much work remains to be done in Ireland in order to fully realise the commercial potential of Culture Night, though having media partners such as RTÉ will no doubt help to leverage any future sponsorship opportunities that might present themselves – depending of course, on how the event develops in the future.
Culture Night shows that innovation is worth doing because through it, people can make the world and the workplace a better place to be.
Don’t just take my word for it – go out and enjoy it!
Gráinne Millar is Director of GM INNOVATIONS and a founder of Culture Night.