Plans, Planning, Thanksgiving

menuI teach a two-semester sequence on arts entrepreneurship for undergraduates. The first semester is delivered in an online format and introduces students to theories of entrepreneurship as well as tools arts entrepreneurs. Students are also introduced to business planning tools such as the business model canvas and the traditional business plan. For the latter, I use SCORE’s business planning guide for nonprofits (although many of my students are developing a for-profit enterprise or creative practice). In an online discussion, students were asked to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of planning. All noted that the advantages of planning outweighed the disadvantages but many commented that planning can lead to inflexible thinking in a situation where flexibility and nimbleness are important, that is, the launch of a new business. Because the traditional business plan is a formidable document requiring significant research, writing, and documentation, one runs the risk of getting into a mindset of completion before the business is even launched! In an earlier module on entrepreneurial process, they had been introduced to the “Business Model Canvas.” The Business Model Canvas is an alternative to a traditional business plan for enterprises in early stage development. It is a tool designed to keep the enterprise flexible and nimble: hypotheses are generated and tested in an iterative process leading to the launch of a “minimum viable product.”

This discussion took place during Thanksgiving week. To what degree is Thanksgiving planning an iterative process and how much is derived from a “Menu – done!” mindset. I have been planning and cooking Thanksgiving dinners for 25 years, often two in one year (family feast on Thursday, friends’ open house on Sunday). This year is an iteration, as half the family is now vegetarian. I am using a recipe I’ve “tested” before as a “minimum viable product” in the open house format as the vegetarian main course for the family feast, and making use of the “key partners” concept that is part of the business model generation process by asking a family member to make the turkey offsite and bring it to the dinner. The “value proposition” is based on all cooking and baking being done from scratch, using fresh ingredients, including the two secret ingredients I wish for you all to have at your Thanksgiving Feast: GRATITUDE and LOVE!


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Complicated, Important, Difficult

There are a few intersecting threads of conversations – even protests – on college campuses that we would do well to separate from one-another. Conflating them obscures their importance and will likely prevent real change from happening. The intertwining is complicated, but following Roxane Gay’s lead, I’m going to try to put my perspective out in the ether. Unlike Gay’s, my perspective is from a position of White privilege; I cannot see the world through the eyes of my students and colleagues of color. What I can do is be transparent about my approach to these difficult issue.

YaleCalhoun college

Yale’s Calhoun College, named for the former vice president and proponent of slavery is one of several symbols of white hegemony that have been the subject of controversy. (Photo by GK tramrunner229)

Colleges and universities must create environments that are as welcoming and open to students of color as they are to white students in every dimension. The student body of a public university, especially, should look like the state it serves. So too should the faculty body – and until it does, the student body won’t. Even here at ASU, to which I was attracted from UW-Madison in part by its greater diversity, its almost 20% Hispanic/Latino student population (in a state that is 30% Hispanic/Latino) is served by a faculty that is just over 7% Hispanic/Latino. (I use the term “Hispanic/Latino” because that is what is used in the reports I consulted; most people I know in this group self-identify as “Latino.”)

The institutionalized racism students feel at Mizzou is real and is exemplified – not explained – by the fact that its former president (good riddance!) tried to define institutionalized racism by blaming students of color for a lack of imagination. The institutionalized racism at Yale is real and is exemplified not by the reaction of one staff member to a memo suggesting students be sensitive to cultural differences in their Halloween costume choices but by the fact that such a memo was deemed necessary at all. We should not assume students who speak out about racial inequality on their campuses are asking to be coddled but rather demanding to be served with the same respect as their white peers.

The reason such a memo at Yale might be necessary leads us to the other thread of conversation – the relationship between difficult material and academic freedom. We university faculty need to teach the difficult material about race, religion, gender, sexuality, inequality, and on and on, free from restrictions on our syllabi and our assignments so that our students leave our classrooms equipped to understand the context within which institutionalized inequalities develop. We need to have in our classrooms not only those students who are attracted by the inherent complexities of critical race studies, gender studies, area studies, but also those students who are repelled from such classes by their own ignorance and bigotry. The idea of “safe space” is important so that students can critically and deeply examine their own belief systems and those of others in their communities. But a safe space is not created by shutting down speech, it is created by welcoming all speech and supporting the speech of those who have historically been kept silent. Roxane Gay nailed it in her Op-Ed today:

I want to challenge students and be challenged. I don’t want to shape their opinions. I want to shape how they articulate and support those opinions. I do not believe in using trigger warnings because that feels like the unnecessary segregation of students from reality which is complex and sometimes difficult.

Rather than use trigger warnings, I try to provide students with the context they will need to engage productively in complicated discussions. I consider my classroom a safe space in that students can come as they are, regardless of their identities or sociopolitical affiliations. They can trust that they might become uncomfortable but they won’t be persecuted or judged.

We need to separate the challenges to free speech from the challenges to institutionalized racism so that we can maintain the first in order to combat the second.

[I decided to write down my thoughts about this after my son told me he had been part of a three-day protest at his own college library, on a campus that looks more like the world than my own with 43% students of color. I don’t know the percentage of faculty of color, but based my own observation and my inability to find the number, my guess is it doesn’t come close, which, in part, was why the students were protesting.]

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Chance Meetings on the Library Shelves

NYU's Bobst Library. Photo by davidsilver, CC 2.0

NYU’s Bobst Library. Photo by davidsilver, CC 2.0

I was a graduate student at New York University during a period in the mid 1980s when Bobst Library was converting from its card catalog to a computerized catalog. I lamented the loss of my ability to browse the card catalog tactilely. I could no longer thumb through a drawer of cards, each referencing a volume upstairs connected thematically by their Dewey decimal numbers, perhaps happening upon a resource I didn’t even know I needed until the title on the card jumped out at me (or I ended up with a paper cut). I finished my MFA and didn’t think too much about it until years later when I again encountered a university library as a faculty member at UW-Madison. There, and later at ASU, I was able to re-create the chance meeting between me and book enabled by a card catalog by browsing the actual library shelves at Memorial or Hayden libraries. Running my eyes along the shelves, thematically organized, I more often than not encountered valuable resources that I hadn’t known to search for using the online catalog.

Library stacks. Photo by ndshankar, CC 4.0.

Library stacks. by ndshankar, CC 4.0.

As over the years I focused more on research than on lighting design, I grew to love the fact that so many resources I needed were digitized because I could conduct research without leaving my home office. Lately, however, I’ve come to be concerned that as we move to all digital libraries (yes, that time will come), the chance meeting on the library shelf will be as much a thing of the past as the card catalog. In my graduate arts policy seminar last week, we were discussing a related issue: that our exposure to cultural products is being sorted by media companies who leave as little to chance as possible (we’re reading Bill Ivey’s Arts, Inc, among other texts). One student asserted that eventually the algorithms companies develop to put media choices in front of us will be so good, that we won’t be missing anything – whatever we might possibly want would be placed on our personalized cultural product menu. He may be right, but I think I may prefer the paper cuts.

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SAEE, Take 2

Downtown Columbus. Photo by Ron Reiring, CC 2.0.

Downtown Columbus. Photo by Ron Reiring, CC 2.0.

A little over a year ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education, about which I expressed some very mixed feelings. I am pleased to report that the second annual conference of the group was significantly improved, especially in the breath of attendee interests and their disciplines. Graciously hosted by Sonia BasSheva Manjon of The Ohio State University, the very short conference was introduced by an inspiring talk by artist Willis ‘Bing’ Davis, founder of the EbonNia Gallery. What was missing from the first conference was this connection between the academic “society” interested in arts entrepreneurship and the lived experience of artist entrepreneurs and their practice. As a trans-discipline, arts entrepreneurship – and by extension, arts entrepreneurship educators – need to make these connections between scholarship and practice more apparent, positioning our research agendas to extend beyond the classroom and in the field.

In that regard, a highlight of the conference for me was the final plenary session in which graduate and undergraduate students posed questions to the other, mostly faculty, attendees and then responded to their answers. The first question nailed it (and I paraphrase): what can we do to do more empirical research about arts entrepreneurship practice? After an awkward silence, I responded, “We can do more empirical research about arts entrepreneurship practice.” I elaborated that the people in the room, most of who were artist/professors teaching or learning in arts programs may not have the methodology to conduct the kind of empirical research that is needed for field-building (the plurality of attendees were, again, from music). I suggested artists and arts entrepreneurship educators who are interested in such research partner with faculty in business, marketing, policy studies, economics, etc to formulate research questions and seek answers to them.

Unfortunately, although a highlight, the discussion was not an open one. The session was very tightly controlled and overly scripted. Questions from the student panel had been submitted in advance and the attendees were told that one person would be selected to provide an answer, and then the questioner would respond briefly. Give-and-take was neither encouraged nor accommodated. This was also true of the society’s “business meeting,” at which questions were not allowed (after keeping my hand up for five minutes to ask a procedural question about the bylaws revision process, the facilitator closed his presentation with “well, we’re out of time,” so I had to just stand up and ask). For the society to mature and support the development of arts entrepreneurship as an academic field, it must not only allow but encourage open discussion and dialogue in a public format. My suggestion for next year’s host, Millikin University, is to program a longer workshop-style session at which participants work in small cross-disciplinary heterogeneous groups on defining the issues of the field and report back to the full group in a plenary session. I also encourage plenary discussion at the society business meeting – or at least the opportunity for posing questions from the floor.

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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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