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Réjean Peytavin has been working on creating a smartphone app that enables people to change their perception of time by giving them the percentage of the day left.
However, Mr Peytavin is not an entrepreneur, he is an artist. The Frenchman’s venture is being helped by a start-up incubator programme called Les Réalisateurs, hosted by Audencia Business School, based in Nantes, with the support of the local fine art school.
Although Mr Peytavin plans to charge for the app and is working with manufacturers to develop a device that can also present time as a percentage, the motivation is not profit. “The goal is to change behaviours and the way people are working, not make money,” he says.
Incubators based in business schools are not new but Audencia’s approach is different in that it recognises that artists need entrepreneurial skills as much as any business founder. The aim is to help the artists concerned become “artrepreneurs”, who can live from their art by working with business.
“The idea for us is to teach artists to fish,” says Laurent Noël, an associate professor who manages the incubator, alluding to the proverb that says if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man a fish you feed him for a lifetime.
For Audencia, the facility has an additional role as a teaching resource for students majoring in cultural management on their business degree courses. This year, three have been assigned to act as coaches to artists resident at Les Réalisateurs.
Among them is Marie Gueudet, a second-year student on Audencia’s masters in management course. She has been helping Baptiste Masson, a graduate from the National School of Fine Arts in Nice, to find corporate sponsors for a model of the upturned oil tanker Erika, whose sinking off France in 1999 caused an environmental disaster.
“What we are trying to do is change the perception of artists among companies and create relationships between the two,” says Ms Gueudet. “Hopefully companies will see this as a good thing.”
Coaching artists also provides valuable experience for Ms Gueudet, who is hoping for a senior executive role at a major art institution after completing her studies at Audencia.
“Artists don’t know how to communicate with companies,” she says. “When they talk about their work they use words most people don’t understand.”
Les Réalisateurs was the idea of Fabrice Hyber, a French artist who started collaborating with companies on creative projects when he was aged 20. His work has included a 22-tonne soap moulded in a truck, a project that was supported by Chimiotechnic SED Idéal, a Marseille-based cosmetics manufacturer.
“You can be afraid of a company when you are an artist,” he admits. He says his experience has taught him that companies can help improve the final artistic work.
My Hyber has been co-operating with companies on art projects for 12 years. “It is a romantic idea to think that artists are working away in their studios to produce something very expensive without support,” he says. “What I felt was that companies need to be more involved.”
Is it a compromise for artists to work with corporates? “It depends how an artist chooses to work with a business,” Mr Hyber says. “They can really discover what companies are about, not just what they think they are about. I don’t think it is really changing the work itself.”
Mr Hyber also believes that a business school is a good place to help artists prosper. “Management of students at a commercial school, it is part of the cultural richness of a city like Nantes,” he says, adding that another aim of the incubator is to help smaller companies reach artists, not just the big companies that can afford to commission sculptures and paintings for their offices.
“They can give companies new ideas to change the way they are working,” he says. He believes artists can help business to think bigger with provocative works of art. “The students of management can do an exercise that makes them think about how it is possible to make a dream,” he says. “They open their minds.”