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…

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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.]

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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?



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Trigger Warning: Capitalism

Trigger_lock_on_a_revolver_-_close_up_of_warningBefore Creative Infrastructure‘s hiatus (i.e. before I went on a vacation road trip through the Pacific Northwest), there was a lot of social media discussion about “trigger warnings.”  Trigger warnings are notices placed on syllabi – sometimes at the request of students and sometimes at the request of administrators – about course content that might trigger an unwanted and disruptive emotional reaction in students.  Some of the best critiques of the practice are by sociologist (and my cousin) Laurie Essig, another by Jack Halberstam, and this by Arlene Goldbard. While reading through these critiques, I coincidentally happened to be developing the syllabus for my grad seminar on arts entrepreneurship, which will be using the lean launchpad process for business model generation. As I worked on adapting lean launchpad for use in a potentially nonprofit or low-profit arts context, I decided – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that it needed a trigger warning: Capitalism.  I posted the trigger warning on facebook before my trip. My facebook friends enjoyed it so much I decided to share it more broadly here:

Warning: capitalism. Many of us have “grown up” in a nonprofit arts environment and may have a complex relationship with the notion of capitalism, especially as capital appears to accumulate or concentrate in smaller and smaller segments of the arts and the economy as a whole. Historical and neoclassical views of entrepreneurship focus on entrepreneurship as the means by which capital is invested, grown, and harvested. This may not be of interest to you. By shifting the means/end relationship from “product-for-profit” to “revenue-for-art” we can reconcile our need to make art with our need to make money.

That’s the end of the warning, but not the end of the syllabus. Students will be blogging about their experience applying the lean launchpad to an arts venture. Once we’ve set up the blog, you will be able to follow along too.

(Image: trigger lock by flickr user “Rick,” Creative Commons license)

Posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, Arts funding, Higher education | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Everyone in the Room?

I learned via twitter of a troubling occurrence at the recent TCG conference in San Diego. Rather than recount any details of it here, I point you to this piece by Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez, and also to the comments that follow it. The crux of the situation described there seems to hinge around the dis-invitation of one group from an ethnically self-identified affinity group. The episode reminded me of an important takeaway from a leadership institute I attended years ago: “The right to aggregate does not imply the right to segregate.” So, yes, people who identify as [fill in the appropriate attribute] can and should declare their commonalities, but should not do so in a way the excludes those who might not be defined by those in the group as being a part of it. After all, if we self-identify, who is someone to tell me I’m not part of your group?

Artistic_representation_of_human_ageLearning of the TCG event came on the heels of my participation in an “Imagining Phoenix” session of the “United States Department of Arts and Culture.” [1] As a member of the Phoenix arts community and a believer in the arts as a catalyst for positive change, I was excited to be a part of this event. Looking around the circle of about 40 people, I couldn’t help but notice the observable demographics of the group – there was one African-American man; a few African-American or multiracial women; one man over 50; one or maybe two women in that over 50 group; there was nobody observably Asian; there was nobody in the circle under 18. Asked to write the one thing we’d like to see in Phoenix in 2034, the African-American man left the page blank. As we went around the room, he explained that he left it blank because he didn’t see anyone who looked like him in the room so wasn’t sure that he would be here to see 2034. I realized during a group improv activity that the future of Phoenix had been imagined for people who were like the people in the room: 25-35, predominantly White, and connected with the arts in some way. When it was my turn (and I happened to be the last in the circle), the circle improv concluded, “I woke up to realize that there was nobody living in this future Phoenix who is over the age of 65.” The ideas that people expressed were energizing and appropriate for who they are, but they were exclusive to them. They were designing a future Phoenix for who they are and who they are now, bringing home to me once again the importance of having diverse voices in the room and listening to those voices.

Please don’t get me wrong, the USDAC is doing great things to imagine a more participatory and culturally literate future. My point – and I’ve written about this in relation to board governance – is that when some voices are left out of the room, those in the room may not know what they’re missing.  Had the San Diego “dis-invited” been “re-included,” I can imagine a lively discussion resulting; as it is, we will never know. I don’t always buy in to ASU’s rhetoric 100%, but there is at least one ASU slogan that I can get behind 110%:

We measure our success not by who we exclude, but by who we include.

A note to my regular readers: Creative Infrastructure will be on hiatus until August.

[1] The USDAC is not a federally affiliated agency. It is an act of collective imagination.

[image of human aging from wikicommons, Creative Commons license]

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