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Interview with a Belgian in the UK

29 April 2015

Philippe Rixhon

Philippe Rixhon is a Belgian entrepreneur at the junction of the arts, business and technology who runs his own London-based company. Before focusing on the arts, Philippe spent twenty years managing successful and innovative projects for major companies in ten countries and worked in the IT domain. He currently publishes and lectures internationally to pass on his expertise to people who intend to launch a business in the arts.

Could you describe your current professional life to our readers? 
I would define myself as an art entrepreneur since I am working in the arts and as an entrepreneur. I focus on music and to a lesser extent on theatre. As an entrepreneur, I run my own companies which produce arts in various innovative ways – relying on collaboration, partnership and high tech.

How did your career evolve over the years, starting with your initial training? 
I was a privileged student. I studied philosophy and engineering in Belgium. Then, obtained an MBA from an American university, and many years later, attended theatre schools. In between, I pursued a high tech career. Twelve years ago, I decided to seriously focus on my favourite “hobby” - the arts. It was important for me to have a deep understanding of at least one artistic form before entering the field professionally. I choose theatre and went to three different schools: at the ‘Centre d’Etudes Théâtrales’ in Louvain-la-Neuve where I was extremely lucky to be taught by three of the very best French professors. Then, I went to Moscow to study acting and to England to learn directing. I’m not a set designer, an actor or a director but I needed a much deeper knowledge. Ten years ago, I took the plunge and established my arts enterprise.

Your career has changed direction more than once. Why did you want to mix technology, business and arts in your companies?  
I’m not sure it was intentional. Opportunities and experiences shape a life of collaborations; you are obviously influenced by partners and associates. 32 years ago, my company was focused on technology. 9 years later, traders, lawyers and accountants joined me and consequently the company became more business-oriented. 12 years ago, I embraced the arts. We set off with 4 partners. 3 were musicians, I was the only one with a theatrical background, and we then naturally operated in the field of music.

Part of your work is to teach and inform people who want to launch a business in the art domain (in your website for example). How do you think your expertise in the mixed domains of technology, business and arts helps people to develop their own business? 
The success of my enterprise is based on a combination of arts, technology and business. Many people excel in just one of those areas, so the key message is “team”, how it works and what are its necessary conditions. We recently gave a series of master classes in Kuala Lumpur. We were 9 speakers, no teachers, all practitioners. On “stage”, we represented different skills. We were all associates of the same company, exemplifying what we were preaching: a team of complementary skills working together. That is our key message to the arts community. Very few artists are both artist and businessman or businesswoman. If you are an artist and want to succeed in the arts, you better have good friends who are lawyers, businessmen, accountants, etc.

You have traveled a lot (Belgium-UK-USA-Switzerland-Middle East). Does it help you in your professional life? 
I have worked with extremely different types of people and always thoroughly enjoyed it. And when you enjoy something, you become better and better at it. And because you improve, you enjoy it more and more. I have worked in many countries in Europe, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and spent a considerable amount of time within American companies. It’s not so much traveling that I enjoy but rather working with different people.

You run a successful company in the UK. Does your work ever take you to Belgium? Have you have completed any projects in Belgium? 
Of course! I have major projects in Belgium and run a small high-tech office for music in Kortrijk. One of our projects in Belgium is called Singing Cities, in fact it’s a European project. The programme has been developed in Brussels, Berlin, Gateshead in England and Namsos in Norway. Our main Belgian partners are BOZAR in Brussels, Koor&Stem in Antwerp and A Coeur Joie in Namur. Last September, we had more than 50 concerts in Brussels. I’m often going to Belgium for business and I am very happy to have reconnected with my country through artistic projects. I’m also working on the production of a play written by the Belgian playwright Paul Pourveur. The play has been translated into English and will be produced with Flemish actors. The Belgian connection is strong.

Can you foresee yourself ever settling in Belgium again? 
I don’t foresee myself settling anywhere. I am a nomad. I go where my life is, where my family is, where exciting projects are. I am getting older and our daughter is growing up. She might decide to make her life elsewhere, and my wife and I might decide to wind down. Could we live in the same country as our daughter? Probably. Where is that country? I don’t know! I am definitely Belgian and British, and I love working in both countries. I think I will have projects in Belgium for the rest of my life.

We saw that you have projects like a Dutch play with a team of English actors, why do you mix cultures and people? 
Originally, the play was commissioned by a Dutch theatre company and written by the playwright Paul Pourveur, a Belgian of Walloon descent who grew up in Antwerp. It became very successful in The Netherlands. Then, it was translated into French and directed by Philippe Sireuil at the Théâtre National of Belgium – also to much acclaim. It has been produced in Germany and France, but never in England or Flanders. Paul and I decided to give it a try. The title of the play is‘Shakespeare is dead, get over it!’. Indeed, there is no better title to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death!

Actually, the director is from Cyprus, the sound artist from Germany, and we will also perform in Hungary. I don’t actually plan all that, that‘s how life goes. If I had to select my strongest single skill, it would be team-building. I love doing that. Often I fail, but I also regularly succeed and that is very exciting.

Can you tell us about any of your future projects? 
That’s a good question, which I cannot answer easily. It is not a matter of secret, but it’s the nature of artistic work. We work on a pipeline of projects, some of them started years ago. Films, musicals and operas have extremely long gestation periods. It is the same for what I do. For the moment, I’m definitely not taking on any new projects. I have more than enough! Singing Cities is a huge project. I’m working on music formats, on concerts, and on a new type of music competition. That will keep me busy for years to come!

Would you like to add anything else? 
Two points, really. I have been privileged to grow up in Belgium between 1956 and 1982, in a wonderful family, with access to a very good education and within a fostering social environment. When I reflect on my life so far, much is based on that solid base. I wish that Belgium, and many other countries, continue to offer their youth such a solid base and a bright future. They are not automatic but the result of lots of effort and commitment. And, travel shapes youth, as the saying goes. I would encourage more Belgians to travel and explore the world, because there is much richness in exchanges and interconnections. Traveling Belgian professionals, artists and non-artists, tend to be very successful – because sharing, listening, speaking and collaborating are the true essence and benefits of proper travel!