I came across a website the other day of a municipally owned performing arts facility that describes itself as “the premier performance venue, arts incubator and advocate.” To actually be an arts incubator, an organization or program needs to function as such by nurturing the growth and development of artists, arts organizations, or arts enterprises (“enterprises” can be understood here to mean small businesses).
For some time now, I’ve been focusing my research on arts incubators, first on university arts incubators, and now on those in the wider universe beyond. Given the potential for mis-use of the term, I am sharing a small section from a paper I’ll be presenting next month at the Social Theory, Politics, and Arts (STP+A) conference, adapted slightly for the Creative Infrastructure readership:
Arts incubators are considered by the National Business Incubator Assocation (NBIA) to be a subset of business incubators that specifically target “arts and crafts.” A 1995 article on arts incubators examined six organizations that were “concerned with nurturing arts organizations by facilitating their organizational growth and development.” This paper notes that another type of arts incubator is designed to “provide artists with the business skills necessary to be successful in the marketplace.” A 2000 book, “Incubating the Arts” explains that arts incubators “equip nonprofit cultural groups and arts entrepreneurs with the skills, tools, and business environment necessary to meet short- and long-range objectives.” A more current and useful description is adapted from the Polish Art_Inkubator: “an arts incubator is an organization that supports future entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and artists by helping them to enter the creative industries sector. Arts incubators are a platform that empowers artists and organizations to implement their business and artistic ideas” (Art_Inkubator, 2013). This definition is particularly useful because it is inclusive of for-profit, nonprofit and individual client stakeholders, implies early stage development and market entry, thus distinguishing arts incubators from other artist services and support organizations such as residency programs. It uses the word “platform” rather than “facility” to be inclusive of both physical and virtual incubators. Organizations or programs are considered to be “arts incubators” if they provide some form of developmental assistance (i.e. a “platform,” the scope of which varies) to artists, arts organizations, or creative enterprises in early stages of development or change and call themselves or are called by others in published materials “arts incubators.” 
In other words, it’s not just a matter of saying it – the incubator has to be doing it.
 Kahn, M. (1995). An Introduction to Arts Incubators. National Association of Local Arts Agencies Monographs, 4(3) pp. 1-16.
 Gerl, E. (2000). Incubating the arts: Etablishing a program to help artists and arts organizations become viable businesses. Athens, OH: NBIA Publications
 Essig, L. (2013). Arts Incubators: A Typology of Forms and Foci. Paper presented at STP+A, Seattle 2013 (forthcoming)