The Art of Risk is a collaboration between the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds and Opera North. An initial symposium took place on 26 June 2014. Hosted in the Howard Assembly Room, the event brought together people from a range of backgrounds to explore the pitfalls and creative potential of risk through presentations, discussions, provocations and performances. Keynote speakers included the writer Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey, the theatre and opera director Annabel Arden, and Anna Higgs, Commissioner and Head of Digital at Film4.

To find out more about the thinking behind the event, see this article in Arts Professional and this blog entitled Is it time to start taking more risks in the arts and beyond? (2)

A series of provocations explored the pitfalls and creative potential of risk.

In this provocation, Maria Balshaw, Director of the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery, talks about cultures of risk management: a subject that is very pertinent to many of the discussions at our #ArtofRisk conference last week. For Maria, really good risk management does not nullify risks, but rather draws together the right expertise to allow ‘really bold, brave things’ to happen.

In this provocation, BBC 6 Music DJ Mary Anne Hobbs discusses the risks that come about when more experimental artists find themselves with an opportunity to move into the mainstream. She cites the electronic musician James Blake as an example, recalling the time that he signed a major deal with Universal. Initially, she worried that this might put him in a situation where he may have had to ‘radically compromise’ what he was doing. She continues, ‘I worried enormously about the fact that creatively he wouldn’t ever be able to achieve what it is he set out to do, but I was completely wrong to have any doubts’, noting that when his second record, Overgrown, won the Mercury Music Prize in 2013, ‘he did it completely on his own terms’.

In this provocation, Howard Marks talks frankly about how he abandoned academia for a career as a drug dealer, and the false sense of security that came with ‘getting away with it’. As a fugitive traveling with a false identity, Howard found himself increasingly willing to accept risk as a normal part of his day-to-day life.

In this provocation Maria Balshaw, at the time the Director of the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery, reflects on a high-risk event that was created by Marina Abramovic and performed by Kira O’Reilly, arguing that ‘you need to be scared sometimes because out of that comes really magnificent art’.

In this post Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, gives a very balanced account of the place of risk in contemporary dance. She argues that ‘if you don’t take risks, you’re putting yourself in a position to be forgotten’ and that risk-taking can become even more necessary in times of economic uncertainty, as ‘those who are cautious can sometimes find themselves disappearing’. At the same time, she recognises that irresponsible risk-taking can have potentially disastrous consequences for creative organisations.

In this provocation the DJ Mary Anne Hobbs talks about her arrival at Radio 1 and the advice she received from her ‘unofficial mentor’, John Peel, about risk. Mary Anne also talks about leaving Radio 1. At the time many saw this as a huge professional risk, but it was one Mary Anne felt compelled to take.

‘There isn’t actually that much risk in being a professional gambler’ argues Mike Knight, who explains his statistical approach to risk in our latest provocation.

Howard Marks is a former drug smuggler and the author of the best-selling autobiography Mr Nice. In this provocation Howard argues that taking risks ‘injects a lot of fun and adventure to life’ and reflects on risk-taking in animals.

Maria Balshaw is Director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery. In this provocation, Maria argues that ‘the economic downturn has been an impulse towards taking risk’.

James Drife is Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Leeds. He is a former Vice-President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and is currently an editor of the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology.


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