Translation, Part 4: MVP by MVPs

SAMThe Udacity lectures featuring Steve Blank on new venture creation are serving as a kind of textbook for my “flipped” graduate arts entrepreneurship class. Blank’s entrepreneurial process, shared by others in the lean start-up movement, advocates for getting a minimum viable product (MVP) out to its customer/audience as soon as possible in order test hypotheses about the product and to minimize risk (if you fail early, you fail cheap). My students, each one an MVP of the other kind in my book, launched their MVP on Saturday: SAM Student Art Market.

Once the students selected a date for their prototype event, they quickly translated their theatrical production experience as dancers, actors, designers, managers, and directors into the context of their prototype marketplace: these people got it done! They organized the space, procured the supplies, finalized the partnerships, recruited the artists and craftspeople, marketed, tracked expenses and revenue – they did it all – and in a very short amount of time. Most of the semester has been about translating the “business” of entrepreneurship into an arts context, but for the past three weeks, I witnessed the translation of their artist/producer skills for the business context. They capitalized on their existing knowledges, skills, and abilities, embodying the effectual approach to entrepreneurship that has been a through-line all semester.

We don’t meet as a class to debrief for a few days, so won’t do that here just yet (come back later in the week), but you can read one participant’s perspective on the course blog.

(Photo of SAM Student Art Market by Shelby Maticic)

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Barriers to Entry

I had the good fo800px-Egon_Schiele_-_Selbstbildnis_in_oranger_Jacke_-_1913rtune to spend a weekend in my hometown of New York City recently and visited several museums while there. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I trekked to the Upper East Side to see an exhibit of portraits by Egon Schiele, an Austrian Secessionist artist who died too young and whose work I have admired for a long time. Housed in an extraordinarily beautiful mansion once owned by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, the Neue Galerie was founded by Ronald Lauder and Serge Sabarsky for the purpose of exhibiting early 20th century Austrian and German art and design, much of it collected by Mr. Lauder, who serves as the president of the museum.

We waited on a line outside as entry was limited to a small number of visitors at a time. It was windy and damp, but given the unique exhibit decided to stick it out. There were two guards in the very small foyer. One guard rudely told two women to step outside to make room, while another informed me that I could not bring my water bottle into the building. No, I could not check it, no I could not pick it up on the way out; it had to be discarded. My companion and I started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. Water bottle discarded and umbrellas sheathed in plastic baggies, we were escorted to the cloakroom to check our coats and umbrellas. Standing in front of the adjacent admissions desk, we were mildly surprised to learn that the cost of admission is $20 per person. I thought this a bit steep for such a small museum and for the first time that day – but not the last – began to consider the ways in which each phase of our experience thus far created a barrier to entry; we might have stepped away at any time. A $20 admission charge is admittedly not all that uncommon. The nearby Frick Collection, for example, also has a $20 entry but is a larger collection and opens its doors on a “pay what you can” basis every Sunday, removing that particular barrier to entry. The Neue Galerie, in contrast, is open  for free only for two hours once a month on a Friday evening. An individual membership at Neue Galerie is $275! (At the Frick only $75.)

Having paid our fees, we were taken by elevator to the third floor gallery where the Schiele portraits are displayed. It is an extraordinary collection of work, which I will remember for years. A good memory is imperative, as there was a guard in each small room (sometimes two) to remind visitors not to take pictures. (Yes, one could purchase an exhibit catalog, but that does not do justice to a wall covered by two dozen or more pencil drawings, each speaking to the one beside it.) I understand fully the prohibition against photography, but its enforcement could have been more…polite. I was starting to feel like I was actually in Vienna, where I had had similar experiences. Yes, I would be allowed to view the art, but I was not made to feel welcome to do so. I was not alone in the feeling. We walked a few blocks downtown to the Met where the docent, upon seeing our Neue Galerie buttons asked if we had enjoyed the Schiele exhibit. “Well…we had a kind of outputting experience…” I started to reply when the docent said, “It’s so funny you felt that way. I tried to go the other day, but they wouldn’t let me even check my water bottle, so I just decided to leave.”

1280px-Gustav_Klimt_046The Neue Galerie’s permanent collection is on its second floor. Work by Klimt, Kokoschka and others fill what was once the grand salon of the mansion. It was here that I was saddened to learn of yet another barrier to entry: nobody under 12 admitted. I thought of this the following Monday as I visited the Museum of Modern Art, where there were groups of school children (eight-ten years old, mostly kids of color) sitting in front of Wyeth’s Christina’s World, Di Chirico’s Serenity of the Scholar, and other works, talking with young docents about the art, engaging with it, and really seeing it; some were sketching, some were shouting out answers to a young guide’s questions. I wish that they could see Klimt’s 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer up close. I wish they could see the detail of her eyes juxtaposed with the flat pattern of Klimt’s rich background. But these ten-year-olds can’t see this sublime work: there are too many barriers to entry.

(Images of Egon Schiele Self Portrait in Orange Jacket, 1913 and Gustav Klimt Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1907 are in the public domain. These small images on the screen are a mere sign; they are no substitute for the real thing)

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Student + Art + Market

Artists want – need – to make art. One of the hardest concepts to teach the young artists I teach is that when they send that art out into the world to meet its audience, they are doing so in a market environment. How can young artists learn not just about “marketing,” the skill, but about “market” as a social system? Without realizing they were doing so, the students in my graduate seminar have created an opportunity to do just that.

SAMThe primary assignment in the course is to work collaboratively to launch a venture: a venture that they ideate, innovate, and actuate. The venture they are creating is SAM – Student Art Market. Not only are they learning about new venture creation, but the students who exhibit and sell work at the event will be able to experience, albeit on a small scale, the social system of the market. They will interact with their audience, get feedback from it and, hopefully, earn some extra cash for their holiday shopping. The lesson: their work has value to people other than themselves and they can have control over its production and distribution.

Thank you Kara, Mollie, Ashley, Emily, and Shelby for creating a microcosm scale laboratory not just for your entrepreneurial ideas but for those of all the participating students.

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Guns Over Speech?

Bill_of_RightsFrom time to time, I range away from Creative Infrastructure’s focus on “thoughts and ideas about infrastructure for the arts” to other topics about which I am passionate, and this is one of those times — but not really.   The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is widely understood to mean that the state (I mean this in the sense of organized political community) cannot infringe on people’s right to speak or to peaceably gather together. It’s not until the second amendment that we get to “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” These rights came into conflict this week when Utah State University cancelled a public talk by cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, who critiques the gaming industry through a feminist lens. As I understand it, credible threats of a “bloody massacre” led Ms. Sarkeesian to request that no guns be brought into the venue but Utah’s open carry laws “the campus police could not prevent people with weapons from entering her talk.”


Somehow, I don’t think this is what the framers had in mind when they crafted the Bill of Rights. On the contrary, we need to consider that a domestic terrorist threat has shut down the ability of a woman to speak in a peaceful assembly. This is when the state is obligated to step in to protect people.

What does this mean for the arts? Imagine if a theatre in Utah or another open carry state with similar ALEC-crafted legislation started to receive threats over their programming? Would Pioneer Theatre have to cancel a production of, for example, Angels in America, if there was a threat of violence against the performers and audience? Or, should a theatre or any other organization have the freedom to keep out guns so that the right to speech and assembly are not threatened by terrorist violence? The First Amendment is the most important arts policy we have. It needs protecting.

(image of The Bill of Rights placed in the public domain by the National Archives and Records Administration)

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Translation, Part 3: Empathy

Empathy-MapOur adventure in translating entrepreneurial tools for the arts domain continued today as I introduced my graduate seminar to the concept of  an “empathy map.” Empathy mapping asks the entrepreneur to consider how potential customers think and feel, what they hear and see, what they fear, what they hope for, and so on. Although the empathy map is itself a kind of thought exercise, I asked the group to expand the thought exercise to consider what it would mean to use empathy mapping in a traditional performing arts production or presenting context. What might mean to sit down at the coffee house and get to know the people in the neighborhood before programming a concert series or trying to sell them a ticket? Rather than looking at demographic data about so-called millenials, what if an artistic director took three millenials to lunch and asked them about their fears and dreams? A focus group led by a marketing consultant isn’t good enough – empathy happens between people authentically, without a consultant mediating that relationship. There are of course people in the performing arts who engage deeply, directly, and empathetically (I think of Michael Rohd and his Sojourn Theatre or Rachel Grossman at dog & pony co, for example). It is not the norm – at least not yet – but we’re getting there, one entrepreneurial artist at a time.

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Multiple Threads of Inquiry

beautiful ottawaHurtling through the sky in a metal tube with wings, ninety minutes behind schedule, and missing the second game of the NLCS, I pause from what has been a hectic fall semester (thus far) to reflect on the conference just attended, as I usually do on flights home. (Three cheers for in-flight internet.) The itinerant “Social Theory, Politics, and Arts Conference” was held in Ottawa, graciously hosted by the University of Ottawa faculty of social sciences. The most valuable lesson I learned is that there is so much learning to do, so much investigation to undertake, so many threads of inquiry to try to weave together.

There were many concurrent sessions, so it is difficult to assess the degree to which there was a singular conference theme. I chose to go to sessions that would be most likely to feed directly into my research on arts incubators as tools of cultural policy (and their evaluation), my current teaching topic (arts entrepreneurship), or prepare me for the arts policy seminar I will teach next year. The sessions didn’t really provide answers, but rather opened up new questions, sparking new ideas for future research and teaching. Here are a few highlights:

The conference began with a ceremonial “tobacco offering” by city officials to two Anicinàpe (commonly called “Algonquin”) chiefs who reminded us in impassioned speeches that we were privileged to be on their land, land that still belonged to their people. “Cultural policy” is not an abstract concept here, it was played out in front of me. In that sense, the ceremony reflected the conference subtitle: “Understanding and Strengthening the Relationship Between Cultural Research and Practice.”

In his opening keynote, Philip Schlesinger discussed the concept of “knowledge exchange,” a methodological framework for research at a nexus of ethnography, participant/observation, and consulting. The topic raised more questions than I could scribble down at the time or have room to posit here: who “owns” the intellectual property generated in such an exchange? For that matter, who owns “culture”? (While Schlesinger noted that oligarchistic power owns culture in the marketplace, the Anicinàpe chiefs who immediately preceded him would probably disagree.) What are the ethics of knowledge exchange? Will embedded knowledge exchange scholars censor themselves to maintain their placements?

This first morning of the conference ran a bit behind schedule, so my own presentation was somewhat truncated and I was late to a presentation by my colleague (and Artivate editorial board member) Margaret Wyszomirski. Her project-in-progress is of great interest: a comprehensive and systematic review of the arts entrepreneurship literature from about 1987 to 2012 when Artivate was founded. Embedded in her presentation was a goals-based definition of arts entrepreneurship about which I will be following up with her. It was concise, clarifying, and had artistic production at its center, but I couldn’t jot it down fast enough before we went to the next slide so don’t quote it here.

A few more tasty tidbits:

  • Constance Devereaux discussed using narrative structure as a means for evaluating policy.
  • Gretchen McIntosh explained a system of contracting out and inter-organizational relationships among performing arts organizations in central Ohio that could be a model (or a cautionary tale) for practice elsewhere.
  • Lois Foreman-Warner traced some changes in corporate philanthropy in the arts from a corporate social responsibility approach to a marketing/sponsorship approach.
  • Having visited Beijing’s 798 district myself, I found Li Shao’s presentation on the artist-landlord-government relationship there fascinating, especially the willingness of the artists to be “self-disciplined” (which I read as “self-censored”).
  • Bruce Thibodeau’s presentation on “community performativity” was of particular interest for its theoretical framing in stakeholder theory and methodology of qualitative inquiry, both of which are almost precisely the same as I am employing in my current study of arts venture incubator evaluation. His presentation, like others spurred me to frantically scribble down references and citations that I didn’t already have on my own lists.

In the end, this last is what I was left with: a long list of texts, articles, websites, and research centers to look into further — many threads to pick up and weave together.

trees of ottawaAnd a postscript: Ottawa is a beautiful city, especially in the fall, when the weather is crisp but not cold, and the fall colors are at their peak. I hope to have an opportunity to return.


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Translation, Part 2

As my graduate arts entpreneurship seminar worked through the nine “blocks” of Osterwalder and Pignuer’s canvas for business model generation, a new point of translation emerged.  We realized that in the arts, key partners and customer segments are not on opposite ends of a flat map:

biz model canvas flat

The canvas, instead, should be mapped onto a cylinder, so that key partners and customer segments meet:
3d biz model canvas

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