Curb Creative Connection, Day 3

Fisk Jubilee Singers at the CCCDay 3 of the Curb Creative Connection put on a wide angle lens to focus on topics broader than one specific sector: public policy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Before digging in to these, however, we were treated to a (too short) recital by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, introduced by the group’s director Paul T. Kwami. If you’re not familiar with this group, take a look at their history, a remarkable story of our US American cultural heritage.

IMG_1351The panel on the intersection between public policy and the creative arts was preceded by a brief – but inspiring – address from Nashville’s new mayor, Megan Barry, who took office just last week. That she took the time to meet with this group of students is testament to the importance this city places on its creative industries (not only, but most obviously, music). She talked about the intersection between neighborhoods and creative industries, a theme expanded upon by the panel that followed. She relayed that in Nashville, more than 25% of jobs are in the creative industries, but that those workers cannot always afford housing here. Making both affordable housing and transportation available to creative workers (and other residents) is critical infrastructure for the city. She implied that some simple zoning changes could make it easier for artists to live and work in the same space, making it feasible for more artists to “make a living and a life,” a mantra I’ve heard before from Springboard for the Arts ED – and former Pave speaker – Laura Zabel. Mayor Barry ended her talk by suggesting that if artists want to have a voice in these decisions, they need to show up at the meetings, join boards, participate in discussions and – did I mention – show up.

This advice was echoed by Jen Cole, Nashville’s director of arts and culture, during the panel that followed that also included Casey Summar, head of the Arts and Business Council, and Craige Hoover, a developer. Moderator Rachel Skaggs pointed out that all three sectors of the economic system were represented: public, nonprofit, and commercial. All three are concerned with how affordability relates to creative workers and by extension the entire creative economy. Each panelist offered a piece of advice to the assembled students:

  • Show up at the (boring) planning meetings (Jen Cole)

  • Get cross-sector training (Casey Summar (who earned a BFA in photography before getting a law degree))

  • Don’t apologize for being an artist (Craige Hoover)

The innovation panel that followed lunch featured two entrepreneurs who have launched businesses within the last five years. Although both businesses were related to the music industry, the technical specifics of what they are doing were actually less interesting than the fact that they did it. The last panel, on entrepreneurship, likewise featured young entrepreneurs, all four of whom had launched their businesses through the Project Music accelerator. Each of the four, although phrased differently by each, talked about how their businesses were solving a very specific problem that they had identified and that they were able to attract investment and develop their products by clearly articulating the problem and how they were going to solve it. Richard Jacobson, founder of DART Music noted regarding investors, “it is the act of solving a problem rather than potential ROI that energizes them – then we can have a conversation.” Channing Moreland, who started her business, EVAmore, while a still a student at Belmont said it was really important to look beyond the bubble of your college campus and “start to see problems and that maybe things can be better.” This problem identification and articulation approach is critical to the design thinking methodology that is foundational to our own “Curb program” launching next year, an MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership. Michael Amburgey described entrepreneurship not as “growing the revenue pie” but “finding ways to create new pies,” a turn of phrase I will no doubt be repeating in my arts entrepreneurship classroom. Finally, Sam Brooker talked about passion and how that has to drive everything one does as an entrepreneur.

Throughout the day, students had opportunities to work together on their case assignment and develop a pitch for repurposing a song from the Curb catalog. The pitch showcase that resulted was an opportunity for the students to apply what they had learned over the course of the 2 ½ days to a hypothetical but realistic situation. The students engaged with multiple platforms, intellectual property issues, negotiation, audience engagement, and more.

A highlight for me was the faculty caucus that closed out the convening. While the students caucused with organizers, the faculty met together to do the same. It was the first time all the faculty representatives had sat down together and it was energizing to be with such a committed, diverse, and creative group of colleagues. Community colleges, liberal arts colleges, an HBUC, and several regional and national universities were represented. I look forward to working with this group on a faculty advisory committee for next years gathering.

As befits any gathering of students, faculty, and creative professionals, a terrific meal followed. If you’re ever in Nashville, check out The Row Kitchen and Pub. Many thanks to Mike Curb and Jim Ed Norman for their vision, drive, and hospitality in making the Curb Creative Connection an impactful and enjoyable event for students and faculty alike.

You can read about Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

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Curb Creative Connection, Day 2

Blonde on Blonde coverBack in my hotel room, I’m still geeking out on the fact that I spent half the day in the studio where Bob Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde. This is a city rich in cultural history and we experienced some of that heritage today. But Day 2 of Curb Creative Connection was really a crash course in the music industry and the changes it has seen and is seeing now, with the student’s case exercise threaded in throughout. Since my background is in theatre, there was much to learn.

It began, as any primer on the music industry should, in a recording studio, Curb Studio A. The thematic thread that was woven in throughout the day was change, especially technological change, and the ways it has affected the industry, the artists and songwriters, the distribution, and even the recording technology. Liz Allen Fey, one of the event organizers, kicked off the day by asking us to consider whether we should be addressing the symptoms of a problem or making fundamental change to the system itself, and that there is a difference between the vertical integration of knowledge and its horizontal integration. The former inhibits innovation and the latter supports it. This is the philosophy underlying the organizers’ commitment to mixing students up across schools and interests to form horizontal networks for their short term work on a case study problem and, potentially, for long term positive effect on the creative industries.

studio aA highlight of the day was observing as Jim Ed Norman, who has produced the likes of Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers, and Hank Williams Jr., record the group of 48 students laying down choral and percussion on “Way Past My Beer Time.” It was 9:15am and Norman seemed to be enjoying himself as much as the students were; there was a lot of joy in the room. We spent some time in the booth too. Jim Ed Norman talked extemporaneously and engagingly about the industry, what he loves about it and what he feels needs to change – including getting more women into the technical positions in the recording booth. (Unfortunately, the only low point in a great day occurred when Norman asked a colleague why he thought there were so few women and responded, “We’ve got the testosterone and that keeps us on top,” causing me and many of the students, both men and women, to be taken aback.) Quickly recovering, we went on to discuss everything from the camaraderie of the recording studio to the important role the musician’s union has played in protecting the rights of performing artists.

We walked around the block to Columbia Studio A, where not only Bob Dylan, but Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel, and many others have recorded. The studio has since been renovated and is now used by Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. It’s heritage and provenance made it a fitting place to hear a lecture by Wes Bulla on the history of sound recording, which included passing around an Edison wax cylinder and a variety of other historically relevant artifacts.

Mike Curb joined us for an hour of Q&A before lunch. Curb is the longest serving founder/owner of a record label, a label he launched 50 years ago. He summed up some of the changes we’ve been seeing in the industry, noting that last year 75% of the company’s revenue came from its catalog and only 25% from new product. Although he said he wants to change that proportion, when you’ve been around for 50 years, you’re bound to have a pretty deep catalog! He noted too that he sold CDs for dollars, sold downloads for pennies, but streaming is sold for small fractions of pennies. To contrast this, however, there was an undercurrent in this session and throughout the day about renewed interest in vinyl; not as a mass-market item, but nevertheless as an artisan part of the industry that is resurging.

NECThe afternoon was spent a little closer to my own wheelhouse, at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, a co-working and education space made nationally famous when Google made its Google Fiber announcement from that location. While the students worked on their collaborative project, I and several colleagues got a tour of the facility, which includes 85 desk spaces, meetings rooms, offices, and whose over 125 start-up clients have created over 450 jobs.

We then heard a nuts and bolts presentation on music publishing and how the value pie of a song gets divided up depending on its use. We heard from a songwriter and an A&R coordinator about what it’s really like to keep writing and writing and writing, and seeing only a few songs actually get cut. Songwriter Tiffany Goss advised, “You’re going to be writing so many songs, if they don’t like one, just play them another.”

The theme of change continued with a panel consisting of a radio programming director and a spotify programming exec. But by then, I must admit, I was exhausted! I left the students in the basement of BB King’s Blues Club enjoying some barbecue to spend some time writing this post. More tomorrow…

Read about Day 1 here.

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Curb Creative Connection, Day 1

Nashville_panorama_Kaldari_01Nashville panorama (public domain)

For the second year in a row, the Curb Creative Connection (CCC) is convening students from the 14 institutions of higher education that have benefitted from the Mike Curb Family Foundation’s support of academic programs in music business and creative industries. I’ve tagged along to this year’s CCC as a faculty representative in the run-up to the launch of our Curb MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership* next fall. Curb beneficiaries run the gamut from community colleges through graduate programs and span the country from Tennessee all the way west to Hawaii.

Host Jim Ed Norman (of Curb Records and Leadership Music) and his team have put together a packed schedule of activities for the diverse group of 48 students. As I write, the students are still, at 9:30pm, working on a case study exercise after having participated in an icebreaker, been regaled by songwriter L. Russell Brown (“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” among others) and Nashville historian Bob Oermann, and taken a First Amendment quiz delivered with great humor by Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center and former editor-in-chief of USA Today.

Fisk_Jubilee_Singers_1882Oermann’s lecture on the history of Nashville was timed fortuitously (for me) to coincide with the discussion of cultural heritage rights in my arts policy class this week. He recounted the founding of Fisk University in 1866 to educate newly freed slaves and the subsequent founding in 1871 of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who carried what we now call Negro sprituals up and down the country’s rivers from northern New York south to New Orleans weaving them into the cultural fabric of the entire nation. (The photo is of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1882. They are, from left to right, Patti Malone, George E. Barrett, Mattie L. Lawrence, C.W. Payne, Ella Shepard (seated), F.J. Loudin, Maggie L. Porter (seated), B.W. Thomas, and Mabel R. Lewis (seated).

Paulson’s quiz was a startling reminder of how much mis-information — or downright ignorance — about the first amendment is circulating out there. He relayed that only 4% of Americans know what the five freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment are. (If you can’t recall them all, they are: speech, religion, petition, assembly, and press.)

Russell Brown offered some sage advice to the students, dropping quotable quotes one after another, often about the relationship between art and money. Here are a few:

  • Make great music. Money is only a byproduct of it.

  • Don’t follow the market and try to be like everyone else. Just try to be great.

  • Talent is critical but it’s not as important as tenacity.

Given my interest in learning through failure (or more positively stated, experimentation), I particularly appreciated this one:

  • The person who can stand the most rejection will have the greatest success.

It was a jam-packed schedule and loads of fun! Tomorrow will include studio tours, interviews, activities, and dinner at BB King’s.

*You’ll be reading more about this new program here on Creative Infrastructure (unofficially) and on the Herberger Institute site (officially) as the program develops.

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Book Review: Building for the Arts

The following is published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

Should We Build It? Will They Come?building for the arts

Review of: Peter Frumkin & Ana Kolendo, 2014. Building for the Arts: The Strategic Design of Cultural Facilities. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 276 pages.

In Field of Dreams, the sound of James Earl Jones’s supernatural basso profundo declaration to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella, “People will come, Ray” is etched in our cultural consciousness. Less well-remembered is Timothy Busfield’s warning, “You’ll lose everything Ray.” Arts and culture leaders considering a capital building project would do better to have Peter Frumkin and Ana Kolendo on their shoulders whispering, “Seek strategic alignment,” rather than believing in either binary outcome of a fantasy. Successful cultural infrastructure projects are not fields of dreams but rather, as Frumkin and Kolendo assert, the result of the strategic alignment of mission, capacity, community, and funding.

The Cultural Policy Center at University of Chicago launched a study in 2007 of cultural building projects. The research found that there was a building boom during the period under study, 1994-2008, and especially 1998-2001, but that the increase in cultural infrastructure did not have discernible spillover effects in surrounding communities nor was there significant changes in the number of arts organizations as a result (Woronkowicz et al, 2012). When the Center’s report Set in Stone: Building America’s New Generation of Arts Facilities 1998-2008 was released, it hit the nonprofit arts funding community like a load of bricks. I immediately added its case studies, which are authored by Frumkin and Kolendo, to my arts management syllabus. Janet Brown, President and CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts wrote at the time of the report’s release, “I cannot stress enough how important this study is for our field right now… It points out how vulnerable organizations are when moving into a major capital commitment and stresses the need for realistic financial planning beyond the scope of the building project” (Brown, 2012). Many in the arts community knew anecdotally or intuitively that a new building will not solve an organization’s problems and could instead cause years of operational deficits, community acrimony, mission drift, or even dissolution. The Set in Stone report confirmed this intuition. It also promised further research, including two books, “one about the strategic management of these projects, and the other about the broader impacts these projects have on the nation’s cultural ecology” (p. 34). Frumkin and Kolendo’s Building for the Arts: The Strategic Design of Cultural Facilities is the first of these.

Understandably, Frumkin and Kolendo advocate for a strategic, rather than “field of dreams,” approach to capital building projects. They define strategic design as “the moment when an arts organization brings into alignment, fit, and coherence its mission, capacity, funding, and community to realize a capital project” (p. 10). Design, however, is a process, not a moment. Despite this semantic misstep, the authors describe that process in the more than a dozen case studies they draw upon to illustrate their proposition. More than once, we are reminded that the alignment that supports capital building success is “a continuum, not a binary” (p. 225). With one exception, the case studies included in the book do not replicate the material already published in the Set in Stone report, even when focused on institutions previously studied.

Frumkin and Kolendo use the case studies to illustrate the constituent parts of the build-or-don’t-build decision (Chapter 2) and each of the four elements of strategic design (fundraising, capacity, community, and mission, each elucidated in Chapters 3 through 6). They smartly use at least two different building types in each chapter, usually a museum or collection venue and a performing arts center or theatre. One of the more interesting pairings is in the penultimate chapter 7, which focuses on the overall process of seeking strategic alignment. Here the authors delve deep into two organizations in Austin, Texas, the Austin Museum of Art and the Long Center for the Performing Arts. By using two case studies with divergent outcomes from the same city, the reader is able to glean a richer context for the case studies, especially with regard to the local fundraising climate and potential for community engagement.

My quibble with Building for the Arts is around this issue of community engagement. Chapter 4, “Connecting to Community,” focuses on effectively managing negative reaction to proposed capital projects rather than on positively engaging communities in the strategic design process. To be truly useful to proactive arts leaders, the chapter could have, instead of focusing on managing problems, showcased a case in which the community was engaged for the good. There is such a case in the book, but it is used to illustrate the element of operational capacity, and is positioned as a negative example. However, buried in the story of Lorton Workhouse Art Center, an adaptive reuse of a prison complex, are several examples of proactive community engagement that lead to strategically successful decisions. “She [Irma Clifton] took people on tours of the facilities…She spoke to everyone she could—fellow committee members, each of the county supervisors, Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, business associations…One day, Clifton and McBride walked around the neighborhood and knocked on the door of every home in the Workhouse’s neighborhood…Their goal was to handle any and all opposition pre-emptively. ‘We didn’t want anything popping up at the last minute.’” (p. 153.). With regard to proactively engaging community, as Clifton does, arts and culture leaders–and the public managers who engage with them on cultural building projects—would do well to follow the lead of two seemingly unrelated but compatible practitioners: artists who do community engagement work and entrepreneurship guru, Steve Blank. Artists such as Liz Lerman and Michael Rohd advocate for partnerships between arts organizations and communities that develop by request, by being “invited in” to a community (see, for example, Rohd 2012) while in complementary fashion, Blank and others who advocate the “lean startup” approach, advise entrepreneurs (and by their own use of the word, Frumkin and Kolendo consider cultural builders to be “entrepreneurs”) to “get out of the building” to test hypotheses about a venture’s value proposition by actually engaging with stakeholders (see, for example, Blank and Dorf, 2012). The Workhouse Arts Center case provides an example of both of these approaches, but is not positioned as such. Rather, the management strategy advocated by Frumkin and Kolendo is reactive. They offer sound guidance for prioritizing stakeholder feedback using Mitchell, Agle, and Wood’s (1997) framework categorizing stakeholders as definitive, expectant, or latent with definitive stakeholders having varying degrees of power, legitimacy, and urgency. But, this is guidance to be applied after the fact, when community input is already being received. I wish that Frumkin and Kolendo had offered proactive guidance, readily available from both the arts and entrepreneurship communities of practice.

Although the term “arts entrepreneur” is not much used after the first chapter, its use there and, more importantly, the entrepreneurial themes engaged by the book’s case studies, position it as a contribution to the regrettably thin collection of research-based scholarship on arts entrepreneurship. Managing a high level of uncertainty, coping with unpredictable risk, and bundling resources to bring an arts enterprise to fruition are pervading themes throughout Building for the Arts. Frumkin and Kolendo emphasize the importance of the arts entrepreneur (sometimes an individual, but sometimes a small group) in driving a project home, “Absent such initiative and drive, the organizations can struggle and wallow in mediocrity for long periods of time” (p. 16). The well-wrought portraits of some of these actors in the case studies will make several of the cases useful for the growing number of professors teaching arts entrepreneurship coursework.

Despite my concern about the framing of community engagement, Building for the Arts makes a significant and much needed contribution to the broader arts management literature, too little of which is based on such in-depth primary research. The case studies can be read both in and out of the academy for lessons not only about capital building and fundraising, but also about managerial decision-making, especially in the nonprofit sector. The richly detailed case studies can be mined further for important lessons on board governance, board relations, and board recruitment. In addition, these case studies offer insight for local policymakers interfacing with arts and culture leaders and the philanthropic community. The strategic alignment of funding, community, organizational capacity, and mission advocated by Frumkin and Kolendo are transferable across the nonprofit and public sectors. The fifteen “rules” they promote in conclusion are applicable to any infrastructure project. These rules include “fund operations and endowment as you go” (p. 230), “wait to announce the building budget until you are certain you have a solid number” (p. 235), and “bringing in a star architect will increase building costs (p. 238).” These seem like common sense, but what Frumkin and Kolendo offer is qualitative evidence of their veracity, supported by quantitative evidence in the earlier research. Two of the “rules” specifically refute the epidemic of “If you build it, they will come” thinking that pervaded the arts and culture sector during the building boom: “supply does not create its own demand” (p. 240) and “a great building will not lead to artistic excellence, but a powerful and compelling artistic vision can lead to a new building” (p. 241). Ultimately, this is the alignment that needs to exist: the powerful and compelling artistic vision with….everything else.


Blank, S. and Dorf, B. (2012). The startup owner’s manual: The step-by-step guide for buildinga great company. Palo Alto, CA: K&S Ranch.

Brown, J.t (2012). Set in stone. Retrieved from

Mitchell, R.K., Bradley, R.A., &Wood, D.J. (1997). Toward a theory of stakeholder identification and salience: Defining the principle of who and what really counts. Academy of Management Review, 22(4), pp. 853-886.

Rohd, M. (2012). The new work of building civic practice. Retrieved from

Woronkowicz, J., Joynes, D.C., Frumkin, P., Kolendo, A., Seaman, B., Gernter, R., & Bradburn, N. (2012). Set in stone: Building America’s new generation of arts facilities, 1994-2008. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

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Arts Incubator Evaluation Variables

[In this post, I share an excerpt from the conclusion of my study on value creation in and evaluation of arts incubators.]

When I began my research on arts incubators as the financial crisis was waning in 2012, it appeared as though arts incubators were on the verge of becoming a national phenomenon that could meet both artistic and economic development goals simultaneously. Policymakers expressed strong interest in the phenomenon. However, the post-recession surge in incubator activity appears to have plateaued as new programs face the same challenges of revenue generation faced by their clients and, perhaps, because arts incubator impacts, especially indirect community development impacts, are as yet unproven.

My research opens the black box of incubator operations to find that they create value for client artists and arts organizations both through direct service provision and indirect echo effects but that the provision of value to communities or systems is attenuated and largely undocumented.

The primary recommendation that arises from the cross-case analysis is for arts incubators to adopt an ongoing program of formative and summative assessment that can be used to foster organizational learning and lead to evidence-based decision-making. Adapting the families of variables advocated by Mian (2011) for the evaluation of university technology incubators, I suggest that arts incubators evaluate their processes, their output performance, and the impact of the value created in the context of their strategic priorities and organizational goals. The table below suggests some variables that could be evaluated at the process level, output level, and value-added level across the strategic priorities articulated by the incubator stakeholders I have interviewed over the last year.

evaluation table

[Please note that this material has not yet been vetted for publication by the peer-review process. Thus, your feedback on this research-in-progress is most welcome]

Related posts:

What is an Arts Incubator?

A Brief Update on my Incubator Research

Arts Incubators and Theories of the Firm

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Begin with the Middle in Mind

grant bookI was recently turned on to David Grant’s “Social Profit Handbook” by the arts program director at the Tremaine Foundation, which supports some of the research we’re doing in field-based arts business training. The premise is deceptively simple, an organization should ask itself, “what does success look like?” and then step back, or as Grant says “take mission time” to ask: Hey, how are we doing? in a process of formative evaluation guided by a self-generated rubric. Too often, we evaluate success (whatever that means) after the fact: after the workshop, after the program, after the grant activities are completed. Stephen Covey tells us to “begin with the end in mind,” but David Grant suggests instead that we begin with the middle in mind: what does it look like to be on the road to success rather than what does it look like in the rear-view mirror.

rear view mirror

Grant advocates for “assessment practices whose primary focus is to improve outcomes rather than judge them” (p. 4). In the formative assessment practices he describes, “information arrives in time to help improve or adjust performance, as needed” (p. 37). In other words, the practice of assessment happens in the middle, where it can actual do some good to improve performance and, by extension, outcomes.

As a bonus, Grant also explains why the term “nonprofit” is killing the sector and should be replaced by “social profit.”

I really liked this book. Can you tell?

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A Brief Update on my Incubator Research

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I have been researching arts incubators and how they create value. The research is continuing, but a few thematic commonalities have surfaced through my cross-case analysis of four typical arts incubators. Briefly, these are:

  • Arts incubators lower barriers to market entry for artists or arts organizations
  • Arts incubators offer client artists and organizations a “stamp of approval” that conveys legitimacy to their local arts community and to funders
  • Arts incubators cushion financial risk, empowering artists or arts organizations to take artistic risk

Stay tuned for periodic updates….

Chaunte Howard Lowe clears the bar. Photo by Grzegorz Jereczek, CC-SA license

Chaunte Howard Lowe clears the bar. Photo by Grzegorz Jereczek, CC-SA license

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