With 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.
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.