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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Entrepreneurship in Translation, Part 1

Conrad_Gessner_LexiconWith some frequency, I am asked to provide a definition of “arts entrepreneurship.” I have a short working definition (the cocktail party version is “Arts entrepreneurship is entrepreneurial action in the service of art”). I’ve written longer descriptions of arts entrepreneurship practice and defended the concept against assertions that it does not exit. One question I am sometimes asked – the answer to which is embodied in the cocktail party response – is “how is arts entrepreneurship different than any other sectoral form of entrepreneurship?” Are the actions of an artist starting, for example, a new collective gallery any different from someone starting a new dry cleaning company in the shopping plaza down the street?

This is the question that has been occupying my mind as I teach a graduate course in arts entrepreneurship. You can read here about how we are using the Osterwalder Lean Canvas for business model generation and Steve Blank’s video lectures about it to explain entrepreneurship writ large. The translation for the arts of a method tested and proven in the technology sector is the challenge I face as the instructor/facilitator. In facing that challenge, I am keeping art at the center (or trying to) and applying a process from one domain to a domain with different (and sometimes unique) economies associated with it.

Big_Day_Out_(8392285402)This week’s class will include an overview of the 9 blocks of the lean canvas as well as an introduction to Blank’s directive to “get out of the room” in a process he calls “customer development.” For my course, we translate “customer” to “audience” or “community.” Thus, when we talk about “getting out of the room,” it is to talk with our audience members or potential audience members and members of the communities our students want to serve.

There are other points of translation, but this seems the most important – and why this lean launchpad technique could be really useful for artists and the arts generally. The customer development process isn’t (only) asking potential customers what they want, what it is really about is testing hypotheses. Think about what this could mean for artists: it could mean bringing audience in early to a development process, it could mean partnering with a community to develop work that might be interesting and useful to that community, it could mean minimizing financial risk while still enabling artistic risk.

I have often heard my friend Aaron Landsman preach a gospel of “do less with more.” This idea of doing smaller bits, developing and testing them — and getting them right — rather than trying to be all things to all people right out of the gate, aligns well with the lean Launchpad method: fail early and often, iterate your concept, and keep getting out of the room to see if anyone else cares.

(Photo “Big Day Out” by Eva Rinaldi, Creative Commons license)

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In Which I Review the Theory of Public Goods

Sep11mem.ParkNYBecause “art is a public good” is an oft-used trope for justifying public funding for the arts, every so often I like to review Samuelson’s seminal work on the topic, “A Theory of Public Expenditure.” (It seems, lately, that reading mid-twentieth century economic theory has become something of a pastime, or, depending on the author and topic, a class prep necessity — but I digress.) In his seminal 1954 paper, Samuelson does not refer to public goods as “public,” instead defining “collective consumption goods” as those goods “which all enjoy in common in the sense that each individual’s consumption of such a good leads to no subtraction from any other individual’s consumption of that good” (p. 387). Mancur Olson (1965) makes the important observation that “collective goods can only be defined with respect to one specific group” (p. 14 fn.). He cites a parade in making this point, noting that for the group of apartment dwellers who look down upon the street, the parade is a public consumption good, but for those who buy a ticket to sit in a seat in the reviewing stand, it is a private consumption good.   He defines public goods as a specific type of collective goods that are “the common or collective benefits provided by governments” (p. 14). Other theorists do not necessarily make a distinction between collective goods provided by the government and those provided by non-governmental institutions as long as they are non-excludable and non-rivalrous. This is where the implications of public good theory intersect with arts/cultural policy. A work of art in a public park is clearly indivisible and, if provided by government, meets all potential defining characteristics of a public good – it is non-rivalrous, indivisible, and provided by government. What about public funded performing arts, however, in which individual seats are sold – or even given away. Now the consumption of the good is both rivalrous and divisible. Can it then be considered a public good? There is a continuum of indivisibility between purely private and purely public goods. Margolis, in a comment to Samuelson’s essay, cited public education as an interesting example of the indivisibility characteristic. Whereas one might argue that the education of a student in a school is a divisible benefit, the positive externalities of education to the society as a whole are indivisible.

I was brought back to this literature by a discussion on a friend’s facebook page about “theatre as a public good.” While the theatre seats might be divisible and even rivalrous (i.e., if I sit in it, nobody else can), the positive externalities of theatre — as well as other types of cultural production – are themselves a public good. When theatre – as well as other types of cultural production – connects with its community and serves its collective needs, one can argue (as I do here and elsewhere) that it is a public good.   The challenge, then, is for artists is to make work that truly DOES serve the public good and for advocates to clearly articulate its public benefit.

Casson, in the weighty Handbook of the Economics of Arts and Culture, explains it better than I:

Culture is an intangible good. Cultural values and beliefs can be shared, which indicates that culture, like knowledge, has the properties of a public good. The fact that one person holds certain beliefs, for example, does not preclude another person from holding these same beliefs too. There is no rivalry in the consumption of culture (p. 364).

For further reading:

Casson, M. (2006). Culture and economic performance. In V. A. Ginsburgh, & D. Throsby (Eds.), Handbook of the economics of art and culture, Volume 1 (pp. 359-397). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Margolis, J. (1955). A comment on the pure theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 37(4), 347-349.

Olson, M. (1965). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

Samuelson, P. A. (1954). The pure theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 36(4), 387-389.

Samuelson, P. A. (1955). Diagrammatic exposition of a theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 37(4), 350-356.

Samuelson, P. A. (1958). Aspects of public expenditure theories. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 40(4), 332-338.



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