Entrepreneurship in Translation, Part 1

Conrad_Gessner_LexiconWith some frequency, I am asked to provide a definition of “arts entrepreneurship.” I have a short working definition (the cocktail party version is “Arts entrepreneurship is entrepreneurial action in the service of art”). I’ve written longer descriptions of arts entrepreneurship practice and defended the concept against assertions that it does not exit. One question I am sometimes asked – the answer to which is embodied in the cocktail party response – is “how is arts entrepreneurship different than any other sectoral form of entrepreneurship?” Are the actions of an artist starting, for example, a new collective gallery any different from someone starting a new dry cleaning company in the shopping plaza down the street?

This is the question that has been occupying my mind as I teach a graduate course in arts entrepreneurship. You can read here about how we are using the Osterwalder Lean Canvas for business model generation and Steve Blank’s video lectures about it to explain entrepreneurship writ large. The translation of this method, tested and proven in the technology sector, for the arts is the challenge I face as the instructor/facilitator. In facing that challenge, I am keeping art at the center (or trying to) and applying a process from one domain to a domain with different (and sometimes unique) economies associated with it.

Big_Day_Out_(8392285402)This week’s class will include an overview of the 9 blocks of the lean canvas as well as an introduction to Blank’s directive to “get out of the room” in a process he calls “customer development.” For my course, we translate “customer” to “audience” or “community.” Thus, when we talk about “getting out of the room,” it is to talk with our audience members or potential audience members and members of the communities our students want to serve.

There are other points of translation, but this seems the most important – and why this lean launchpad technique could be really useful for artists and the arts generally. The customer development process isn’t (only) asking potential customers what they want, what it is really about is testing hypotheses. Think about what this could mean for artists: it could mean bringing audience in early to a development process, it could mean partnering with a community to develop work that might be interesting and useful to that community, it could mean minimizing financial risk while still enabling artistic risk.

I have often heard my friend Aaron Landsman preach a gospel of “do less with more.” This idea of doing smaller bits, developing and testing them — and getting them right — rather than trying to be all things to all people right out of the gate, aligns well with the lean Launchpad method: fail early and often, iterate your concept, and keep getting out of the room to see if anyone else cares.

(Photo “Big Day Out” by Eva Rinaldi, Creative Commons license)

Posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, Higher education | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Which I Review the Theory of Public Goods

Sep11mem.ParkNYBecause “art is a public good” is an oft-used trope for justifying public funding for the arts, every so often I like to review Samuelson’s seminal work on the topic, “A Theory of Public Expenditure.” (It seems, lately, that reading mid-twentieth century economic theory has become something of a pastime, or, depending on the author and topic, a class prep necessity — but I digress.) In his seminal 1954 paper, Samuelson does not refer to public goods as “public,” instead defining “collective consumption goods” as those goods “which all enjoy in common in the sense that each individual’s consumption of such a good leads to no subtraction from any other individual’s consumption of that good” (p. 387). Mancur Olson (1965) makes the important observation that “collective goods can only be defined with respect to one specific group” (p. 14 fn.). He cites a parade in making this point, noting that for the group of apartment dwellers who look down upon the street, the parade is a public consumption good, but for those who buy a ticket to sit in a seat in the reviewing stand, it is a private consumption good.   He defines public goods as a specific type of collective goods that are “the common or collective benefits provided by governments” (p. 14). Other theorists do not necessarily make a distinction between collective goods provided by the government and those provided by non-governmental institutions as long as they are non-excludable and non-rivalrous. This is where the implications of public good theory intersect with arts/cultural policy. A work of art in a public park is clearly indivisible and, if provided by government, meets all potential defining characteristics of a public good – it is non-rivalrous, indivisible, and provided by government. What about public funded performing arts, however, in which individual seats are sold – or even given away. Now the consumption of the good is both rivalrous and divisible. Can it then be considered a public good? There is a continuum of indivisibility between purely private and purely public goods. Margolis, in a comment to Samuelson’s essay, cited public education as an interesting example of the indivisibility characteristic. Whereas one might argue that the education of a student in a school is a divisible benefit, the positive externalities of education to the society as a whole are indivisible.

I was brought back to this literature by a discussion on a friend’s facebook page about “theatre as a public good.” While the theatre seats might be divisible and even rivalrous (i.e., if I sit in it, nobody else can), the positive externalities of theatre — as well as other types of cultural production – are themselves a public good. When theatre – as well as other types of cultural production – connects with its community and serves its collective needs, one can argue (as I do here and elsewhere) that it is a public good.   The challenge, then, is for artists is to make work that truly DOES serve the public good and for advocates to clearly articulate its public benefit.

Casson, in the weighty Handbook of the Economics of Arts and Culture, explains it better than I:

Culture is an intangible good. Cultural values and beliefs can be shared, which indicates that culture, like knowledge, has the properties of a public good. The fact that one person holds certain beliefs, for example, does not preclude another person from holding these same beliefs too. There is no rivalry in the consumption of culture (p. 364).

For further reading:

Casson, M. (2006). Culture and economic performance. In V. A. Ginsburgh, & D. Throsby (Eds.), Handbook of the economics of art and culture, Volume 1 (pp. 359-397). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Margolis, J. (1955). A comment on the pure theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 37(4), 347-349.

Olson, M. (1965). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

Samuelson, P. A. (1954). The pure theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 36(4), 387-389.

Samuelson, P. A. (1955). Diagrammatic exposition of a theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 37(4), 350-356.

Samuelson, P. A. (1958). Aspects of public expenditure theories. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 40(4), 332-338.

 

 

Posted in Arts funding, Arts policy, Culture and democracy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Through the Eyes of my Students

There have been several blog posts recently that assert that there is no such thing as arts entrepreneurship or that artists are artists not entrepreneurs, as if those two roles are mutually exclusive. It is not surprising to read that I disagree (as my comments on those posts attest). I started a new semester teaching arts entrepreneurship last week. My students certainly seem to think that arts entrepreneurship exists. In this first week, students are asked to read the introduction to Anne Bogart’s “And Then, You Act” and Barry Hessenius’s interview with Aaron Dworkin and then respond to this prompt:

In our first class session, we discussed the nature of entrepreneurial action. In the first week’s reading, Anne Bogart discusses the artist as a cultural actor (i.e. one who undertakes “action”) and Aaron Dworkin serves as an example of such a cultural actor. Combine these two concepts to describe what it means to be an “arts entrepreneur.”

"What is Arts Entrepreneurship?" - List generated by Spring 2014 students

“What is Arts Entrepreneurship?” – List generated by students in THP352, spring 2014

Despite the fact that some may argue that arts entrepreneurship is indefinable or that it is somehow a false construct, my students came up with some pretty great descriptions and definitions. Anonymized and with the class’s permission, I excerpt from a few of the responses here:

 

  • Both artists make it clear that being an entrepreneur means to take action. No matter how you define your art or what you will bring to the table you must make it stand out, not only as your own creation but also by figuring out a way to show the world that it is a necessity. They also make a point of connecting their art to the community.
  • An arts entrepreneur does not solely rely upon emotion or personal conviction. Rather, the arts entrepreneur utilizes her creativity, skills, and passion to take action and create change.
  • To quote Krog’s recollection out of Bogart’s book, “the job of the poet… is to remember where the water holes are.” To me, this sums up what it means to be an arts entrepreneur. It is somebody who uses the arts to construct humanities future narratives in a way that is both relevant and important to helping that society grow. Having an ability to recognize and seize a moment in our culture that requires examination, is tremendously important in helping us define good and bad as a whole.
  • Without the passion, why persevere to effect real change through the arts–but without a clear, direct, refined focus on a common problem that has real-life, concrete solutions, any arts entrepreneurial effort is unsustainable
  • What it takes to be an entrepreneur is passion, ideas, ability to adapt and take action, create, willingness to try and try again, focus along side the nurturing of creativity…. Art Entrepreneurs take the shared experience that we have throughout our lives, and combine that with artistic vision and inspire, challenge, and fulfill a need. Enjoying the arts in today’s world often isn’t enough; artwork also needs to . . . innovate, which inspires.
  • Taking action, being well prepared, and seeing true value in one’s own work/art is what it means to be an Arts Entrepreneur. In order to engage in an art you first must love what you are doing and put it at the center of your life.
  • Can’t an arts entrepreneur find a way to make their work and passion relevant? I feel like that is probably the ultimate challenge for the arts entrepreneur and can often lead to failure if the market need is truly not there.
  • The direction a person needs to go in order to be an art entrepreneur would be to act on…personal, social, or ethical values. “You act from a direct experience of the environment,” stated by Anne Bogart in And Then, You Act. Believing in what you’re creating is only the first step. You must then market yourself for the economical and social situation you find yourself in; you must put in the effort and the time to either fail or succeed.
  • In order to be a successful arts entrepreneur, one needs to have three essential abilities: the ability to create passionate, impressive art, the ability to sense the needs of a market, and the ability to take action and risk on those needs.

I am feeling pretty lucky that I get to have these 24 smart, creative people in the room with me twice a week!

Posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, Higher education | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

On Blogging

Wrote every blogger ever, “It’s been a while since I posted something here.” I have always avoided starting a blog post that way because it’s basically a social media dead-end. Put another way, as the dated cliché goes, “if you don’t have something to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Adolf_Hölzel_Der_LiebesbriefI was thinking about this recently as I wrote up guidelines for my arts entrepreneurship graduate students who will be blogging their experience in the course. Why would I require them to do this? Blogging will help them build public communication skills and reflect critically on their work and that of their classmates in an intentional way. For some, it will build technical skills related to working with a new social media platform. The blog can even be a platform for marketing the arts-based venture they will be launching as part of the course.

More than anything, blogging is and requires discipline; the exercise will help them build a content creation “habit.” As I wrote to my students in their instructions,  “Form and grammar are very important, but content is Queen!” I really admire people who are able to post meaningful content every day – although I note that daily bloggers often post content derived, aggregated, or in reaction to original content created by others.

So, yes, perhaps you’ve noticed, “It’s been a while since I posted something here.” It’s not for lack of something to say – but rather lack of something to say here.

To my academic colleagues, I say this: Have a terrific fall semester – may we and our students have something original to say!

[Image: Der Liebesbrief, Adolf Holzel; public domain]

Posted in Higher education, Technology and arts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An Art Adventure

As part of my ongoing research program on arts incubators and their success metrics, I recently traveled to Washington to do some field research at Mighty Tieton, a for-profit creative enterprise incubator in the rural Yakima Valley. I also made a visit to Ellensburg, WA and couldn’t miss a chance to spend some time in Olympic Sculpture Park.  All, in all, it was an art adventure.  In a departure from my usually text-heavy postings, and in celebration of the waning days of summer, I share some “artventure” pictures with you:

Yakima Valley orchards and vineyards as seen from Naches Heights

Yakima Valley orchards and vineyards as seen from Naches Heights

Inside Goathead Press, one of Mighty Tieton's resident enterprises

Inside Goathead Press, one of Mighty Tieton’s resident enterprises

Tieton Mosaic's sampler

Tieton Mosaic’s sampler

Dick and Jane's Spot, Ellensburg

Dick and Jane’s Spot, Ellensburg

More of Dick and Jane's

More of Dick and Jane’s

 

The Ellensburg Bull by Rich Beyer

The Ellensburg Bull by Rich Beyer

Another amusing sculpture from Ellensburg's public art program

Another amusing sculpture from Ellensburg’s public art program

The Clymer Museum in Ellensburg featured an exhibit of decorated cattle skulls to be auctioned at the upcoming rodeo.

The Clymer Museum in Ellensburg featured an exhibit of decorated cattle skulls to be auctioned at the upcoming rodeo.

My favorite is this "gem" by Don O'Connor

My favorite is this “gem” by Don O’Connor

 

Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa

Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa

The weathered steel of Richard Serra's "Wake" were reminiscient of the shipyards just on the other side of park.

The weathered steel of Richard Serra’s “Wake” were reminiscient of the shipyards just on the other side of park.

 

The art adventure was great -- but I also got to enjoy this beauty...

The art adventure was great — but I also got to enjoy this beauty…

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Arts policy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pitch Too Far in San Diego

Kelsey Kessler pitchingThe program I direct, the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, was fortunate last spring to benefit from a new program of the AZ Commission on the Arts, Art Tank. Modeled loosely after the tv show “Shark Tank,” artists and organizations entered a pitch competition at four different locations throughout the state to receive grants of up to $10,000. The program is designed to incentivize “business unusual,” and to provide organizations both large and small a way to fund their innovative ideas. It proved to be a great way to seed innovation. The pitch-for-funding idea can go to far, however, especially if goals and processes are not in alignment, as appears to be the case in San Diego.

Rather than granting funds to artists and arts organizations through a peer-review process administrated by a local arts agency, arts organizations, chambers of commerce, veterans groups, any nonprofit make two minute pitches directly to members of the county board of supervisors.  Individual supervisors then fund the organizations whose pitches they like from a discretionary fund called the Community Enhancement Program (CEP). You can read about this unusual approach here.

What could possibly go wrong?

[Image of ASU's newest softball recruit Kelsey Kessler from the ASU Softball website.]

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Arts funding, arts infrastructure, Arts policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Forest Lessons: Persistence, Resilience, and Cooperation

I was fortunate to have recently taken a long walk in Redwoods National Park. As I looked carefully at the towering redwoods, lush ferns, and soft mosses, I began to see in the forest ecology a metaphor for an entrepreneurial one; an ecosystem that exhibits behaviors that support entrepreneurial success. There had been a fire in this part of the forest. It’s damage could be seen everywhere, sometimes subtly appearing as shadow in the bark of a tree, and sometimes more obviously in a hollowed out stump (granted this “stump” could be twenty feet high and eight feet across).

persistent treeDespite the damage and the threat to their environment, the trees persist.

Resilient tree

 

 

Sometimes, their resilience is surprising as new trunk grows in a slightly different direction from what at its base appears to be dead wood.

 

cooperative tree

 

But even as a tree dies, it feeds the ecology of the forest providing a supportive home for smaller plants to thrive cooperatively.

 

 

Now imagine that this isn’t just an entrepreneurial forest ecology, but an ecology of arts organizations. What are those stalwart arts organizations in your community that persist despite the occasional crisis? Which have found a new direction when its original mission proved to be no longer tenable? And, when an arts organization is dying, can it find a way to shelter the growth of new, smaller organizations or individuals, perpetuating a healthy ecology for the future?

 

 

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, arts infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment