Introducing The Culture Vulture!


A cultural champion for the North East with a penchant for colourful street food and gin... Meet one of the first people I connected with when I moved to the toon, Rachel Horton of The Culture Vulture. She talks to me about what inspired her to start up a company focussed on helping creatives to embrace their inner entrepreneur, and why the North East still has so much to offer in the way of the creative sector!

Explain to us what The Culture Vulture is and what inspired you to set it up?

The Culture Vulture is a creative and cultural North East Champion. I work with cultural organisations and creative businesses on business planning, project management, event management, marketing, digital marketing, programming and audience development. I also run my events for the cultural community, work with and promote artists and of course, explore, attend and discover cultural things going on in the area.

I was inspired to set it up because I started getting work in particular areas, which living, breathing and loving the cultural sector. I had always strived to work in enterprise and entrepreneurship and gathered as much experience in this area as possible and loved it, but my creative autonomous nature found a real sense of purpose, passion and home in the cultural sector – without realising, all this work, activity and experience was positioning myself in a particular way. I became the person in my social circle people would ask where to go, what events were coming up, new venues and emerging artists and when people in the cultural sector wanting someone to work on business planning, events, marketing, commerciality – they’d think of me and when SMEs and creative businesses wanted someone entrepreneurial And so the Culture Vulture was born.

Why do you think there is a need for The Culture Vulture in the North East?

The work started coming in, hinting at an opportunity... my gut told me there was so I just went with it…..the response since I’ve started it, has been overwhelmingly positive. There seems to have been a real gap in both the cultural sector and enterprise sector for someone coming along, doing things unashamedly my way and championing what I champion whilst delivering on quality, performance and commercial stuff too.

How do you think the creative sector is going to evolve in the next 10 years?

The creative sector is in a state of flux at the moment; it’s transforming, evolving, changing and it feels like a fantastic time to be a part of it. The focus is all on commerciality, sustainability, viability and ensuring legacy elements for the future – people now get the importance and impact economically, socially and environmentally of the sector. But the problem on the table is for many – how do you make an often funding-dependent sector keep growing when the funding stops or is hit and miss.

I’m seeing creative and cultural organisations restructuring and looking at income generation to support other areas of the organisation. I’m seeing more and more artists, galleries, venues and creatives seeking to learn more about enterprise behaviours and skills. I see more and more entrepreneurial and game changing cultural organisations launching onto the scene and making a name for themselves, as they are disrupting the norm and doing something new.

In the next ten years, I see the sector moving gradually away from a “protective, survival” mode into a bolder, enabled and empowered sector which I want to be a part of.

What is the biggest mistake you see young creative entrepreneurs making and how do you suggest they get around that?

I’m all for making mistakes….that’s how you learn and if you are in the habit of “avoiding” in order to not make a mistake, then you’re in protective risk adverse mode. Make “strategic” mistakes….go with your gut and have confidence in yourself. I see many people held back by fear, they worry about the unknown, dislike unpredictability, see change as very difficult….. I’ve conditioned myself to love working in that sort of environment and I’d encourage others to do the same; this only happens if you constantly push outside of your comfort zone.

What are your favourite cultural events around the North East?

I love going on my own to places (is that odd?); I like to really absorb things, experience them and make sense of them on my own. I love going to things with other people, as I get different perspectives, inputs and opinions – seeing things through their eyes.

Favourite events – I’m really enjoying theatre and performance at the moment….. you know when you gradually stop attending something for absolutely no reason and go to one thing and it reminds you how much you absolutely love it; complete theatre love affair.

Otherwise anything – I attend a lot of things – a real variety of scale, mediums, types – some mainstream, some hidden undiscovered gems and everything in between. I go in with an open mind – I love having a good time, doing something cultural feels like “me time” unless I’m actually working it but even then I’m enjoying myself as I love my job, I LOVE learning about artists and creatives, seeing their work and discovering someone new is just brilliant.

Have you got any tips for digital marketing and social media?

I get a lot of work now in this area and it’s funny how self-perception works; I’ve always just been me on social, bit addicted and for my own business and activity, I really invest time into it. I guess, it’s that experiential learning on the job….. as over time, people now come to me for marketing and social campaigns. They watch the accounts I manage, like what I do, the different voices I build, the impact back onto the business and project.

My Three Top Tips

· In a world, where “scheduling” is such a handy tool – so many people see social as an activity – 3hrs in the week, looking and scheduling content and then it’s “tick” – they’ve done it. Yes of course, that is important – content selection and generation is key – but don’t forget the real time stuff. Real time is engaging in the here and now with your audience, re-sharing content, engaging with others, watching social trends and using them….. it’s that real time data and engagement that creates relationships, that teaches you about your audience and identifies opportunities.

· Who are your social influencers? Who are the people in your industry, sector etc, that have influence and power within your audience and market – bloggers, experts, people in strategic places – identify them and try to figure out some mutually beneficial collaboration or as I do, I’ve often spent months or even years, investing into those relationships, getting to know them etc so much so – many of them, I’d class as friends now or feel like friends, because we’ve been connected for so long.

· What is your digital marketing and social media for? What is the end game or call to action there? For me at the moment, I’m experimenting, I’m engaging and I’m developing my audience – it’s not about pitching for work, showcasing what I do or any of that. I want an engaged audience and so I provide interesting content that showcases and champions the sector and artists whilst ensuring visibility in particular channels and mediums….. my personality, values and voice may be alllll over The Culture Vulture – but it’s not about me, it’s about championing others.

You're all about community and promoting culture in a fair and responsible way: why do you think this type of ethical entrepreneurship is so important?

So recently, I completed a degree at Northumbria University – Entrepreneurial Business Management and through reflective assignments, I realised how important my values, my passion, my sense of right and wrong is to me in business. I’m not in the business of lecturing others on their behaviour – but I’m no wolf of wall street- yes I can perform and make a lot of money, but that doesn’t interest me or get the fire in my belly burning. What does, is the fact, I can in my own way, make a difference whilst doing what I love and championing something that I love.

If you work with me, I’m all about fairness, transparency, trust, I’m fiercely loyal…..I know what feels right and what type of activity, businesses and people that I want to be involved with and engage with.

Within my business model, I am building in a mentoring scheme supporting students or people willing and wanting to learn about business, events and the cultural sector. I actually receive a lot of emails from students from Northumbria from creative degrees – and I love that I can help and take time out, to hear all about their fantastic projects and aspirations.

I also provide one to one support for artists on things like social, marketing, business planning, resource management and strategic planning alongside, providing a friendly a ear to talk to, for free. Being an artist or creative is very similar to being an entrepreneur – you often work alone, can feel challenging and many artists are now (due to the economic climate) struggling to be commercially sustainable or need to behave more like a business and don’t have that skill set. Well, I am happy to help and of course, happy to champion!

Favourite quirky shop in the North East?

The North East is really disappointing shopping wise at the moment – I don’t know whether it’s my age or the trends, but I don’t like anything. I’ve started buying things from places like Hobbs, Laura Ashley and John Lewis….. which makes me feel middle aged – but honestly, some hidden gems in there that I’ve just fallen in love with – weird, clashy, bold - perfect for me.

I love vintage
– most of the things I buy now, are vintage finds and pre-loved. I’m the sort of person, that LOVES shopping, as clothes feel so entwined with my identity so for me to buy – I fall in love. I fall in love at least once a week.

Favourite place to eat in North East?

As a coeliac, it’s a toughy sometimes – but I’m really inspired by the lovely Canny Food’s Emma – I met her properly at the beginning of this year and I hadn’t realised that due to my dietary needs, I just went where I knew was ok and had stopped experimenting or trying new places. Canny Food’s blog is a feast of veggie and vegan food (I’m not veggie or vegan) but she goes everywhere and the food scene up here is mint – she reminded me, how many lush places there are.

As a busy bee, I’m a fan of food on the go (I know that’s baddd!) but I need to be healthy etc. I put on three stone through University, which has dropped off after leaving and my energy levels are transformed – so I love pop-ups and on the goes, that serve vibrant, colourful plates, lots of veg, lots of crunch and I am big meat and fish eater – I’d pick meat over carbs any day. I’m also passionate about supporting local and independents…… so alllll about that.

But check out Canny Food’s blog….she knows where it is at!

Favourite art space in the North East?

There is a sneaky new art gallery in Heaton, which I’m going to next week……so I will let you know, as I think it might be my new favourite.

I love Side Gallery – they often have photography exhibitions there and I love that – it’s also something I can pop out and do in an hour on my lunch or something, so feels good for mind, body and soul.

I love Ampersand Inventions, Breeze Creatives and Vane…. Beautiful spaces. I was lucky enough to receive a guided tour around them recently.

Of course, this sounds like I’m biased but I swear I’m not – I love the gallery space at Gateshead Central Library. Karolynne Hart, programmes that space (she’s a lovely lady, good friend and amazing boss) and she select exhibitions that are SO diverse and different – but has managed to build an accessible ethos into the gallery; it’s grown into the heart of the community there and all walks of life, go into that space to appreciate and comment on the art. And that to me, is a sign of a brilliant art space.

What advice do you have for any aspiring female entrepreneurs who might want to start up their own business?

You will get to a point in life, where you may feel like I did, that for the past two decades either you or those around you have been pushing you like a round peg into a square hole – uncomfortable, doesn’t fit, overwhelming and doesn’t feel right. You may have pondered that question – “why can’t I be like everyone else?” and you may have people around you asking why you seem adverse to doing things that you’re supposed to in life at the right time….and those same people will ask you, why you seem unhappy when you conform on the treadmill….

One day, you will realise that your gift and strength is that you are a round peg, you will proudly tell people proudly and unashamedly that you’re a round peg, you being a round peg will make complete sense to you and you will feel extremely happy inside whilst everyone else is doing their thing, that you are doing yours as a round peg…..

So advice: Seek out inspiration everywhere, be the change you want, be the leader you wish was leading you, listen to your gut, don’t compare yourself and remember, life can feel like a treadmill – it’s absolutely ok to hop off and do your own thing, or to take a rest and a walk in the park…..

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