The Growth of an Idea

by Mariapaola McGurk, Managing Director of The Coloured Cube

In February this year I was honoured to be invited to speak at the 20 year anniversary of BASA. I spoke about The Coloured Cube, its growth and approach, but mainly about the value of the creative process and creating new methods of funding and partnerships:

The Coloured Cube Block Logo

3 years ago I had an idea, the idea very quickly got a name: The Coloured Cube.

First Logo of the Coloured Cube

What if our exhibitions and galleries were not so deeply based on the white cube model? What if exhibitions were not mainly surrounded by middle/upper class white participants and reflected the country’s diversity?

An idea… with no body, no business plan and absolutely no idea what the hell that meant in practical terms, but a strong belief that this mattered. The idea grew and from that initial question came many more relating to the visual arts silos, our funding models, NGO’s vs. profit based businesses, how can this sector grow?

You see – one sincere idea often leads to another, which leads to another and eventually a network of both the tangible and intangible is created.

Gone are the days where a linear pre-determined approach is the way to succeed, to gain momentum and support. Gone are the days of a top down approach, of submission, of secrecy and ownership…and gone are the days that the art sector has to prove its value to society!

The irony is that it is only us, the creative sector, that have to realise this and change our approach to funding, projects, clients, scope of work and our true worth!

Collection of Millenials

A generation of millennials are entering the workforce. They don’t work as the systems demands:

– They change jobs regularly
– They don’t want to work 9am-5pm
– They don’t want to do the same job day in and day out
– They want immediate recognition
– They want to do work that matters
– They love the idea of open source, collaborating and sharing ideas
– And money just isn’t enough of a motivation to give up the above points

Just go through that list one more time….
Millennials sound a lot like a group of artists to me!!

Art Boxes containing people

Us, in the creative sector, force ourselves to squeeze into the requirements box for funding. We obediently tick the correct boxes and do as we are told: we have to – we need the money to keep doing what we do, but what if we actually hold the solutions that industry, corporate and government are struggling with just by the very nature of how we do what we do. If we started realising that our true value is not just in our output but rather in our process, then we could start negotiating new approaches to partnerships, clients and funders.

Let me explain with an example:


Artists (the ones who have learnt the game of proposals) look for the key points:

1. Project must be in a rural area
2. Project must educate on a social issue
3. Project must be no longer than 3 months
4. Project must have a city rep on board

The artist then starts compiling a group of people who can help tick those boxes. The group get together and (usually over a bottle or two of wine) they navigate their way, their ideas and creativity into a tight, little box and create the required project.

They submit, get funding, do the job and see another month of paid rent.

What has not been fully realised is the true value that group of creatives could offer that funder. In their approach to fit into the requirements box they have created a high performance team that has the ability to potentially ignite, charge and aid corporate, government and industry regarding issues such as:

– Millennials and how to deal with them
– Diversity in the workplace
– Morale and team building
– Hearing staff and giving them a true voice
– Public engagement and community impact
– Plugging into context, clients and their needs
– Relaying complex content to a broader audience/public

It is the creative approach to thinking and ideas that is invaluable!

Old Funding StructureDemolishing of Old Funding Structure


So how do we work at The Coloured Cube and what is our approach to clients, collaborators and funders? 80% of our income is from clients and not funders but in many cases the approach is the same. Every client or funder does not experience the traditional approach of a linear funding model which runs directly from funder to project but rather joins our network of organisations, government, business, corporate and academia. We continually look for ways to better their objectives as well as our own.

I will give one example of a project that we initiated exactly one year ago. This is only one project that we are working on and at any given time we are working on 4 to 5 projects. A year ago we wanted to move into a workshop. We could afford a 250m^2 workshop but we wanted a 500m^2 workshop so we decided to propose to a client of ours a solution to a problem they were experiencing: over 100 master architectural students with no workshop. Of course in the long run the university would solve this, but in the interim we offered a solution where the students would have access to our space, machines and trained staff at a monthly fee for the service. They agreed to a 12 month pilot contract. In the last year we started working on a network around the concept of The Creative Co-Lab, always with the initial client’s best interest at heart – as well as all the new partners and collaborators! Currently the Creative Co-Lab looks like this:

Step 1 of Preferable Funding StructureStep 2 of Preferable Funding Structure
Step 3 of Preferable Funding StructureStep 4 of Preferable Funding Structure

It has become a space that has a variety of industry, small organisations, artists and academia involved. It has become more than the initial proposal and I believe because of that we have just signed our second 12 month contract with GSA and will start our MAKER WORKSHOP SERIES this year in collaboration with PPC cement, Autodesk, AMT Composites and Precious Plastics. As the Creative co-lab grows, so do the benefits to the primary client.

We live not only in dynamic and exciting times – but in an incredibly fast paced, ever changing country. Let’s become the pioneers of this change and create new approaches, not to funding, but to partnerships.

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