Showcase, Not Competition

idea students

The Herberger Institute student participants.

The Herberger Institute Office of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs, which I direct, just hosted its First Annual Herberger Institute Student Idea Showcase. It was a great event, with 18 students pitching ideas for everything from an app that reminds you to water the houseplants to theatre for the very young in a yurt, the latter winning the judges choice award; a visual impaired comic book artist won the audience award for her narration-enhanced Sonic Comics. For the ten years that I’ve led the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, I’ve been reluctant to produce a traditional pitch competition. This event came close, but we wanted to create an event that wasn’t only about “business,” but rather one that rewards arts and design students for their innovation, for novel ideas that have the potential for positive impact.

Idea judges

Our judges (l to r): Lawdan Shojaee, Jessica Rajko, Sara Cochran, and Bob Booker

My reticence to foster the kind of high-competition atmosphere one sees in some pitch competitions may have some basis in research. As I’ve been conducting a review of the literature on networking and entrepreneurship*, I noticed that entrepreneurial success in the arts and culture sector may be fostered by environments of low competition where networks that enable cooperation and friendship provide both emotional and business support, rather than the kinds of cut-throat competitive environments one associates with Shark Tank or high-stakes Silicon Valley VC presentations. So, we will continue to host our new event on annual basis by emphasizing “IDEA” and “Showcase” rather than “competition.”

* The two articles in our sample of 53 that address this issue also happen to be two of only three that specific look at the arts and culture sector:

  • Konrad, E. D. (2013). Cultural entrepreneurship: The impact of social networking on success. Creativity and Innovation Management, 22(3), 307-319.
  • Kuhn, K. M., & Galloway, T. L. (2015). With a little help from my competitors: Peer networking among artisan entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 39(3), 571-600.
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“The Dramaturgy of Public Policy”

thumbsI’ve had the great good fortune to have had several interactions recently with the brilliant Roberto Bedoya, artist, arts administrator, public intellectual, and someone who has earned the title of “thought leader.” The first of these interactions was at the 3 Million Stories Conference hosted on the ASU campus, then two weeks later when he returned as a guest on our Pave Speakers Series talking about “Property Rights, Human Rights, and Places,” and then this week during the ArtPlace Summit held in downtown Phoenix. It was there that I heard him use the phrase, “the dramaturgy of public policy.”

The dramaturgy of public policy.” And with those words, I could almost hear the heretofore tenuously connected gears of theatrical design and public policy analysis mesh together and begin 70px-Cog-scripted-svg.svgrunning smoothly in my head. “Of course!” said the voice in my head, “you understand policy the way you analyze a script dramaturgically: the characters, the setting, the given conditions, the motivations, the inciting action…” I thought to myself: Dramaturgy can be the entry point to understanding policy analysis for the theatre makers, dancers, and visual artists in my policy class. The garbage can model and policy streams could be thrown out the (policy) window in favor of a metaphor these students can relate to: policy as dramatic script.

Thank you, Roberto!


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Teachable Skills

A basic question that comes up often at meetings of arts entrepreneurship educators is “what should we be teaching?” As I was preparing to write the editor’s introduction to the Winter 2016 issue of Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, I realized that two articles in the issue as well as two additional articles we had recently published all contained studies of just that question: “What are the crucial skills for arts entrepreneurs?” Through both qualitative and quantitative inquiry, the four articles described several overlapping families of skills that I summarized in a table:

Skills Figure 1

The skills families include networking, especially networking for collaboration (which is confirmed by some other research we’ve done recently); hard skills for business, although this is only considered crucial by 2 of the 4 research teams; two modes of cognition: the strategic and the creative; confidence or “self-efficacy” (which I’ve noted earlier is best taught or developed experientially); communication, including marketing communication; and understanding context and recognize opportunity, a core competency for entrepreneurs in any field.

With this summary, the core competencies for arts entrepreneurship begin to emerge, signaling the beginnings of the maturation of the field itself.

(Table source: Essig, L. (2016). Editor’s introduction to the Winter 2016 issue. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts 5 (1), 1-3.)

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New Project!

For about a month, I’ve been “between projects.” I don’t mean that in the Hollywood Empty_stacks_(2518828977)_(2)sense, but in the research agenda sense. I basically completed my cross-case analysis of arts incubators* and while I wait to hear back on a publication decision, for the first time in as long as I can remember, do not have a single book checked out from the library; the space in my office reserved for library books is empty. But the research we’re conducting for the Tremaine Foundation on the professional development needs of artists surfaced something interesting that we suspected intuitively and is worth looking into more deeply: networking is important for artists’ professional sustainability.

We’re building a foundation for a study of why networking is important and how it works for artists by conducting a systematic review of the literature on networking and entrepreneurial success. There is very little [peer-reviewed, published] research on networking and the arts specifically – only two of the 48 articles we’re currently including in our review specifically focus on the arts and culture sector. There’s quite a bit in the gray literature (e.g., the 2003 “Investing in Creativity” report includes a section on networks) but we need your help finding it. If you know of any studies that in whole or in part address the question, “How does networking support the livelihood of artists?” please comment here or send me an email.

*If you’re interested in the incubator study whitepaper drop me an email.

(Original image by flickr user Mollyali, CC 2.0)

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Knowledge Infrastructure: Artists’ Professional Development

In a podcasted conversation with David Dower some time ago, I explained that creative infrastructure for the arts has three components: physical infrastructure, organizational infrastructure, and personal infrastructure. I’ve noticed (as has at least one regular reader) that this blog hasn’t been focused as much lately on the infrastructure theme as I instead share experiences from my classroom and the many conferences I attend.

Today I return to infrastructure and, especially, knowledge infrastructure for arts entrepreneurial success. What professional development knowledges or training do artists need? This question is at the heart of our most recent report for the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Artist Professional Development Needs: Findings and Recommendations from a Survey of Artists and Arts Organizations. Lead author Mollie Flanagan (Tremaine Foundation Fellow in Arts Entrepreneurship) and I found that marketing communications, networking, and financial management are what artists say they need most, although arts service organizations report slightly different results. We assert, however, that all professional development activity must have the creative practice – the art – at its center, as illustrated in the map Mollie created indicating relationships between the professional development needs that were surfaced in our research. (The relative strength of the need, as measured by frequency of mention in our interviews and surveys, is indicated by size.) You can download the full report from the link above or by visiting Pave’s Research page. research map final 2_19_16

Source: Flanagan, M. and Essig, L. (2016). Artist Professional Development Needs: Findings and Recommendations from a Survey of Artists and Organizations. A report produced for the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation by the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, p. 14.

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Know Your Audience: Self-Employment in the Arts Conference

A core principle of arts entrepreneurship, at least as I teach it, is that the work must connect with its audience. That’s why we spend so much time getting to know that audience in a project-based course like Arts Entrepreneurship Seminar. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know I go to a lot of conferences; as I write this I am on the plane home from the Self-Employment in the Arts (SEA) Conference, held annually in the Chicago suburb of Lisle. This is a conference that really knows its audience!

shelby mollieThe SEA audience is undergraduate arts students, primarily from Midwest colleges and universities. All of the programming, with the exception of two or three sessions designed for faculty, is geared toward introducing these young artists and designers to core self-employment business principles: how to communicate with clients; how to craft a financial plan; business models for artists. This last was delivered by two of my graduate students, Mollie Flanagan and Shelby Maticic, who led the 20 or so attendees at this session (there are ten or more sessions at any one time) in an interactive revenue generation ideation session. Another graduate student, Elisa Gonzalez, who launched ¡Habla!AZ out of the Pave Arts Venture Incubator program, was a plenary panelist, along with four other student from across the country who had started arts-based businesses while students.Elisa SEA

The conference was not perfect (although it ran perfectly thanks to conference organizer Amy Rogers); there were what I considered to be missteps by some of the presenters. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic young artists could learn so much by participating in the workshops, sessions, and networking events. If you are in their well-defined audience segment of undergraduate arts students (especially in the Midwest), I encourage you to mark your calendar now for the last weekend in February 2017.

For myself, I attended to connect with this very audience in the hope of inciting interest in our new MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership, giving away cards, flyers and pencils. The students were so busy running from session to session, few stopped to talk to me, but by the end of the day and half, almost all of our materials had made their way into the hands of the students and their faculty companions.

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Networking redux: Pattern recognition

I was reviewing a 2006 article on pattern recognition and entrepreneurship[1] in preparation for my undergraduate seminar, when this passage jumped off the page:

Hexakis_triangular_tiling…the findings of several studies indicate that the broader entrepreneurs’ social networks (the more people they know and with whom they have relationships), the more opportunities they identify. This finding, too, is consistent with a pattern recognition perspective. Social networks are an important source of information for entrepreneurs, information that may contribute to the richness of their store of knowledge and the development of their cognitive frameworks. Further, social networks may be especially helpful to entrepreneurs in terms of honing or refining these frameworks (prototypes, exemplars). For instance, by discussing opportunities they have recognized with family, friends, and others, entrepreneurs may form more accurate and useful prototypes for identifying opportunities— cognitive frameworks helpful in determining whether ideas for new products or services are practical and potentially valuable rather than merely interesting or novel. (p. 113)

Baron’s discussion connects with my growing interest in network theory and also resonated with the experience I had just completed, teaching a two-day “Arist/Entrepreneur” workshop in Tucson for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “ArtsWorker” program. Thirty artists of diverse backgrounds and experiences participated. Some came into the room with network ties already in place. I observed that about half of the participants belonged to one of at least three “nodes:” painters; fiber artists/crafters; and long-time members of the tightly knit Tucson artist community. Others did not yet have in place the strong or weak ties that created the sub-networks in the room. It was clear that these local networks had already fertilized the recognition or development of opportunity (for example, the five painters were considering pooling their resources to hire one shared business support assistant).

12745794_10153922717447920_6815456872369065412_nFor the first interactive exercise of the day, I allowed the existing nodes to remain physically in place (that is, the members sat together), but as the weekend progressed, I incentivized interaction across nodes and between people of dissimilar knowledges. In doing so, each individual added information into their newly forming network, helping its other members to develop the cognitive frameworks that support opportunity recognition. By the last exercise of day 2, participants wanted to hear more from each other than from me about the possibilities afforded by their new knowledges – a marker of success in building the ties that will support their individual arts entrepreneurial success moving forward.

[1] Baron, R.A. (2008). Opportunity recognition as pattern recognition: How entrepreneurs “Connect the Dots” to identify new business opportunities. Academy of Management Perspectives, February 2006, pp. 104-117.

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