Last week, the p.a.v.e program in arts entrepreneurship hosted its second bi-annual symposium, “Creating Infrastructure for Creativity and Innovation.” The interactive format allowed for many different levels of participation by symposium attendees. Although not an exhaustive list or description, here are some through-lines:
Innovation and Competition
The big take-away here is that innovate art requires innovative thinking about arts organizations. This is a topic that’s been discussed at length in the blogosphere and in arts management classes. Ben Cameron discussed it in his TedTalk, and he expanded on the concept in his keynote address at ASU. During the Q&A following the talk, he told a story about a training exercise he took part in that stressed a concept I wrote about here earlier in the year: there is more potential for innovation and for organizational success in cooperation than in competition. That cooperation can be between artists, between artists and community, between arts organizations (and especially across the nonprofit/for-profit divide), and even between government, artists, and organizations.
Defining the Field
The term “arts entrepreneurship” is still a contested one. Several participants define entrepreneurship exclusively as new venture creation in which capital investment is used to create value in a market. Others (myself included) define entrepreneurship as a constellation of “habits of mind” that can empower artists to recognize and generate opportunities to create work. Having recently read Martha Nussbaum’s “Not for Profit,” in which she “argues that we must resist efforts to reduce education to a tool of the gross national product,” I feel a unique responsibility to carefully negotiate the line between these two approaches to entrepreneurial teaching and learning.
What everyone does seem to agree on is that understanding WHY you make work is important and that IMAGINATION is a precursor to innovation and creativity. In his opening remarks, Bob Booker of the Arizona Commission on the Arts hit home the point that creativity is a fundamental human value.
The digital universe presents both opportunities and challenges for artists. The opportunities include new ways to distribute work to audiences. Independent film director Adam Collis stressed this point in our opening session. There are opportunities for collaboration, and for democratizing participation in the arts.
Technology is also forcing us all to speed up. Sam Pilafian argued that creativity hasn’t changed, but the tools for creativity have changed and the professoriate needs to catch up with technology. I would add that arts organizations do too.
Almost everyone talked about audience “experience.” Not a new idea (“The Experience Economy” was published in 1999), but one that was hit home at several sessions. Focus on why your audience (or “customer” for the for-profit folks) is there and what they are interested in. Provide an experience, not just a performance or work of art.
The symposium was designed to be interactive. It was also designed to be FREE in order to be accessible to all. We talk a lot in both entrepreneurship and arts circles about the concept of “value.” Is the value of art only in the marketplace? What is the public value of state arts agencies? How does an organization add value to a project? How does one measure intrinsic value? We set a dollar value of $0 for symposium attendance. The cost is much higher than $0 (and was covered by a grant for entrepreneurship education from the Kauffman Foundation). And, despite the zero dollar price tag, there is always the opportunity cost of attendance. Pre-registration met expectations when it initially opened and became quite brisk in the two weeks leading up to the event. So brisk, in fact, that we closed workshop registration two days early, because the workshops had reached capacity at 80 attendees, with a 5-10% oversale. Why then, was attendance at roughly 65% on the first day and even lower on the second (50% or lower)? I should have practiced what I preach to artists: if your work has value, charge for it! Even if it’s a nominal amount. This symposium had significant value for the attendees (as evidenced by both formal feedback forms and informal conversation). Had we charged a $15 registration fee, many registrants might have self-selected and not registered at all, giving us a more realistic projection of actual attendance, and having paid a fee, registrants would have been incentivized to actually show up.
The p.a.v.e. symposium “Creating Infrastructure for Creativity and Innovation” is not over. Videos of some session will be made available on the web soon. Evaluation activities are just now beginning. If you attended, please expect a survey monkey soon. If you registered but didn’t attend, you can expect one too – we really want to find out what kept you away so we can do a better job of engaging you next time.
THANK YOU TO ALL WHO PARTICIPATED!