‘Part of the manager’s job is to bring money into the arts’




Barrett Wissman has been very busy this week attending every show at the ongoing Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival (ADMAF), which his firm, IMG Artists, is producing. This in itself is unusual for a businessman, but Wissman, who is chairman of global artist management firm IMG Artists, is fortunate enough to be able to bring his passion into his job. Emirates Business found out what else IMG Artists is doing in the region.


Tell us about your plans. Are you looking at starting your own festival here in the UAE?


We’re planning to open offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the next few months. We have a lot of different projects in the works. ADMAF is obviously a long-term project, and we want to break out some of that programming during the year. We’re also looking at the idea of local festivals here, not necessarily in classical music, but other areas of the arts, even film. Nothing has been finalised yet, however.


What investment are you looking at?


That’s difficult to say – in the past couple of months for one festival we’ve had 10 to 20 people working here at all times, so it will be a significant amount.


The UAE is now making cultural headlines worldwide, with the likes of Art Dubai and ADMAF. What do our cities need to do to be considered seriously as global art capitals?


I want to distinguish between the development of art markets and the patronage of the arts. The classic criticism of the Emirates has been that arts events have been used as tools to promote real estate. There is nothing wrong with that, it increases the perception that the arts are important. However, while it is easy to build buildings and opera houses, these need to developed as spiritual centres that can attract artists. There is a strong need to invest in growing talent and in educating people about the arts.


What I have found in Abu Dhabi, with the ADMAF, is a passion for the arts and a wonderful atmosphere that provides the right platform for the arts to grow. Finally, there is a need to steer clear of fostering a culturally imperialistic atmosphere, dominated by the West.


The Middle East has so much to offer and combining the two is what would be truly fantastic.


We’re seeing more money coming into the classical arts now, by way of sponsorship. Why should companies invest in the arts?


A lot of money seems to have moved from sports to the arts in recent years. While sports sponsorship is almost a real science now, entertainment sponsorship is a new and open field. Part of that has to do with brand promotion and corporate social responsibility, but the arts are also seen as supporting the community. Companies are leaders of their communities and need to show they support education and the development of people who work for them. By founding an orchestra, for instance, UBS shows they represent excellence across the board and in everything they do.


What’s the potential for Arabic classical music in the global arena? Do you want to promote these artists internationally?


Yes certainly. I’m thinking about it as we speak, and I have been speaking to the Iraqi oud player Nasser Shamma about playing at one of the festivals we organise. I would certainly like to do a show of Arabic classical music at our events.


Doesn’t classical music lose out to pop music? What can the industry do to raise its profile and bring in more audiences?


What I think is really important, and we’re seeing it with events like ADMAF, is festivals that combine the arts in a rich and interesting mix. So audiences may come in for dinner, cooked by a famous chef, but attend a concert that exposes them to something they wouldn’t go to otherwise.
While there’s no need to pander to the public, it’s the responsibility of people in the business of running arts institutions to come up with new ideas. Sometimes it’s a communication gap.


You’re the largest shareholder in IMG Artists. Do you struggle with philosophical questions about making money from the arts? Aren’t the two mutually exclusive in an ideal world?


No. We don’t make a lot of money in this business, we’re not a gas company. But it is a constant struggle attracting good people and, like any company that wants to excel at what it does, we need the best people working for us. The notion that people have to suffer for the arts is not correct. In the process, if we can connect a corporate sponsor with a great arts event, why shouldn’t we make money from doing so? In the long term, I believe we are stimulating growth.

If the classical arts are to survive, they need funding. Historically speaking, companies like ours did not get involved with corporations, but when, as managers, we have so much information about performers and arts institutions, it is our job to use that knowledge to bring money into the arts. So at IMG Artists we do not just collect the commissions that come in, but also facilitate the patronage of the arts. Art has to happen for art’s sake.


What’s on your iPod?


I don’t have one. One problem with technology is that people just stick their faces into their computers all day long. For me, live performances are incredibly important – all the tapes and computers and televisions in the world cannot be a substitute for a live concert.



Barrett Wissman

Chairman, IMG Artists


American financier Wissman owns a majority stake in IMG Artists, which manages the careers and tours of the finest classical talent – among them the Bolshoi Ballet, Joshua Bell and Anna Netrebko.
Co-founder of the internet investment firm eVentures, he cultivates a low profile, but make no mistake, this forty-something is passionate about art and has a Master’s in music. With IMG, he has founded several musical festivals around the world.