5 mins with…Matthew Jarratt of Matthew Jarratt Consultancy

We chat with Matthew Jarratt founder of Matthew Jarratt Consultancy. Matthew specialises in advising businesses and organisations on commissioning artists.

Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?

I’m Matthew Jarratt, and I run a consultancy where I advise business and organisations on commissioning artists. Often this is within new build projects, whereby artwork (large scale sculpture for example) is incorporated into the build but also cultural strategy across the UK and China. Businesses are often curious about how to work with artists, but aren’t quite sure where or how to start, my role is to broker that relationship and put the right people together.

What time does your day usually start and end?

It’s pretty much emails from 7am onwards, meetings at lunch and through the afternoon and then cultural events and openings in the evening – the cultural sector does a lot of networking in the evening!

What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?

I really enjoy being with artists in their studio, finding out about their processes, what they are working on and what ideas they are thinking about. Least enjoyable generally, is whenever I have to deal with people who focus too much on a problem and not enough on a solution. Arts projects are all about figuring something out, how to make IT happen, you have to have that agile mentality in this sector.

What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)

I had a very enjoyable fourteen years working at the Arts Council in North East England and Brussels, Belgium and had a rather unique role using small amounts of EU funding to lever larger budgets from the public and private sector to commission arts projects. When I set my own consultancy up in 2013 I planned to do more of the same between the North East and Europe but a chance meeting led me to China and now a large proportion of my work is in China, which has a rapidly growing arts and culture sector. Best laid plans!

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I have always felt there was a gap between the business world and the art world – both sectors are interested in each other but my role is finding a way for them to work together in a way that works for both sides. For instance, I have consulted on a great deal of projects with Alumno Developments around the UK. Alumno are a good example of how a business can develop mutually beneficial partnerships with arts organisations. Alumno develop very high spec projects, but their instinct was to commission something special for each project. My role is to determine what that something special is; public art pieces that respond to the local area, make a connection with the community and are sympathetic to the aesthetics and design of the building. I find interesting artists to work alongside, then commission poetry, sculpture or installations which often becomes the focal point for the scheme. The process has become intrinsic to how they work as developers.

How did you fund your business?

I used my redundancy money from Arts Council, and had some early support to work in China, I have managed to keep overheads very low, which certainly helps.

What has been the biggest challenge for your business?

A lot of my projects are related to new buildings so business confidence in the region or local economy is important, and of course, that’s fragile at the moment.

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?

In the creative/cultural sector I think there are challenges around creating profile or building a reputation. There are many great micro- businesses around but it can be hard to spot them and hard for them to get noticed.

Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?

I had a challenging experience working with a museum in New York where we should have spent more time to really establishing what was expected from each other– there is a lesson when working internationally that we sometimes think we are on the same page but there are often many many more differences in business cultures and expectations that you might first imagine!

What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?

I think that the quality of face-to-face relationships is still so important. Certainly when working in China there is a lot more emphasis on building relationships within a team through social gatherings and in particular eating together. I’ve never started a project in China without several dinners where business isn’t discussed but people get to know each other – by contrast I’ve done projects in the UK where you meet once and get straight into budgets, timescales and delivery.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?

To start working in China someone told me to go and visit, come back and tear up the business plan, go again to meet the same people, then go again and projects might then start – that’s is exactly how it worked out for me. So, I think the advice there is that despite the hyper-connected world we live in, there really is no substitute for building great relationships, in real life.

Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?

I may have said ‘No’ to more things. A lesson to any entrepreneur is don’t be afraid to say no.

What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?

Food and travel and family. My wife Wendy also works in the arts so a lot of what we do is focussed around cultural events, busman’s holiday really!


Matthew Jarratt, Matthew Jarratt Consultancy,, Twitter @JarrattMatthew