Why Arts Entrepreneurship?

After “Hey Where’d Your Creativity Go?,” the questions I get asked most often is, “WHY Arts Entrepreneurship?”  It seems fitting that for the 100th posting on Creative Infrastructure, I answer that question.  There are many reasons why I decided to concentrate my professional efforts in this emergent field, but I’ll concentrate on the top two.

  1. I want to empower artists to be in control of the production and distribution of their art.  We know that these are economically challenging times – and not only for artists.  But there has been a simultaneous decline in both public and private funding for the arts. What arts funding there had been, for the most part, had been directed at arts organizations, not directly at individual artists.  The only way, really, for an artist to be sure that their work gets produced and seen is to put it out in the world themselves. I want to increase the capacity of artists to do so.
  2. Management guru Peter Drucker wrote “Innovation is the engine of entrepreneurship.”  I would argue that the reverse is also true: entrepreneurial behavior is the engine of innovation. Innovation in the arts is less likely to happen in large nonprofit organizations governed by boards of directors that tend to be risk averse. Innovation will happen when creative people get together and make something new.  Teaching people about entrepreneurial behavior and then helping them develop the capacity to produce and distribute their own work (see #1) will support ongoing innovation in the arts.   [There have been two interesting blog threads recently on the issue of artist/arts institution relationship: the first from Adam Huttler in reaction to Michael Kaiser and the second from Diane Ragsdale – be sure to read the comments too.]

Some people assume that because I teach entrepreneurship, I am some kind of libertarian capitalist extremist; others assume that because I’m in higher education in the arts I’m some kind of communistic left wing extremist.  I’m neither. Yes, entrepreneurship is an invention of capitalism and worker control of the means of production a communist one, but I view the entrepreneurial behaviors of opportunity recognition, creativity, and innovation as the nonpartisan keys to the future of the arts. That’s why.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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6 Responses to Why Arts Entrepreneurship?

  1. Pingback: The Arts Venture and Needs Satisfaction | Creative Infrastructure

  2. Blake says:

    I’m glad to see this field of arts-entrepreneurship growing. It was not yet in vogue when I was an undergraduate….and unfortunately there were few classes/resources on such basic matters as “How do I do my taxes?” or “How do I market myself and my work?” Obviously, one can figure a lot out on one’s own, but it never hurts to hear from those who’ve gone before.

    I think it’s also important to teach young actors, in particular, about entrepreneurship because the traditional model of actor training and theatrical production ingrains this notion of the actor as being subservient cogs in a larger machine….rather than giving them a sense of agency and independence.

  3. andyinsdca says:

    The Chris Greene Jazz Quartet just released an album called “A Group Effort” by raising funding with Kickstarter. The label is CG’s own I supported this, and the release of a film (“Detropia”) via Kickstarter. Not everyone can come up with the $$ to release a film/album, but with support (easy to get the word out via twitter & FB) it becomes fairly easy.

  4. Excellent conversation. I think Janet is right–there are too many different types of cultural organizations to lump us together just because most have the same governance structure. Hydroponic farmers are different than wheat farmers are different than turkey farmers. Let’s break this down taxonomically by TYPE of work–producing, presenting, research, collecting, service orgs, etc. Michael is speaking primarily about presenting and producing organizations–that’s his forte.

    There are variations on the new model theme for presenting, producing and service organizations. On the whole, the arts community always lives with an inferiority complex along the “we must be doing something wrong or more people would love us” angle. We ENJOY being outsiders in a perverse way. But the topic we keep coming back to over and over in these conversations is the role of the artist in the enterprise. How do artists support their solitary practices as well as their public ones?

    The new funding trend du jour of “community engagement” pushes this to an extreme. In order to engage with the world (regardless of the structure of the presenter or producer or exhibitor of their work), artists sometimes need to escape from it. Scientists are given beakers and labs, athletes have coaches and gyms. There is an organized support system for solitary work in anticipation of public outcomes. And there is an understanding that it may take YEARS to produce something of value. And even then, there is support for the PROCESS. For whatever reason, that has not evolved in the cultural sphere. After art school, the infrastructure fails the talent. Luck and gut instinct become an artist’s best friends. And sometime an income-producing spouse or partner.
    I love that Fractured Atlas, US Artists and others are providing paths for project and fiscal management for individual artists. As I said on the Jumper post, part of the solution is for organizations such as museums and theaters to have artist development embedded into their missions, deepening their vertical involvement with the artists and the field as a whole. Most just jump from arts education (always a funder-pleaser) to public display/performances. I’d like to see more organizational players in the artist development and investment business.

  5. Hello, Linda. Your post on Diane’s “Jumper” brought me here. I’ve never been a fan of the word, “Entrepreneur,” or thought of myself as one, but in a couple of succinct paragraphs, you’ve given me a completely new understanding of the notion. “The only way, really, for an artist to be sure that their work gets produced and seen is to put it out in the world themselves. I want to increase the capacity of artists to do so.” That’s the secret that’s hiding in plain sight these days. I kind of intuited that back in the 70s when I stopped jobbing out as an actor and started a small theatre so I could do the work that mattered to me. Never would have called myself an Entrepreneur back then, but, I see it now. Of course, having understood that we need to put our work out in the world ourselves, is only the first step. As the old saying, attributed to Freud goes, “Now ve may begin!” I look forward to exploring your archives.

  6. Happy 100th! Thanks for presenting this informed and informative blog to us! There is always something worth chewing on.

    Just a thought this post reminded me of: A few weeks back there was a facebook thread referencing an article where a study was revealed to have shown that earning an MFA only saw “just a 3 percent boost in income potential for studio arts MFA graduates.” (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/5-graduate-programs-arent-worth-070045929.html) One person in the thread declared that “An MFA doesn’t train you for a job and maybe universities shouldn’t either. Training prepares you for a job, perhaps education should prepare you for life.” To which I thought that however true that sentiment was, it was put education in a difficult position without any entrepreneurial relevance. In other words, if a degree wasn’t there to help you make a living, just who could afford 2-3 years of their lives investigating a field with no pay off? You’d almost already have to have the financial resources to afford it. Are graduate art degrees classist? Is there something wrong with an education that does not prepare its students for life outside the ivory tower? Are art degrees doing enough to help artists be better prepared to find empowerment within their art? If not, that just seems wrong….

    I’m sure some programs do, but I can state for a fact that my own MFA experience had almost zero context for arts entrepreneurship. The only advice I ever heard was from a visiting instructor who was a professional in the field telling us students that very few can make it in the outside world on their art alone, and they we would most likely need to supplement our art making with other paying gigs. And how true that seems to be!

    The bit from Adam Huttler’s article that seems to relate to this is his mention of the Harvard graduating class: “Ours is an industry that desperately needs risk-takers and innovators, both in the art we’re producing and the businesses we’re running. The shocking, wonderful news is that the very best and brightest desperately want to work with us! Last year’s senior class at Harvard University named a career in the arts as the single most popular dream destination. Yet despite that desire, most of them will go on to careers in finance, law, technology, or other industries. We can’t continue to dismiss anyone who wants to make a buck or two.”

    What these anecdotes seem to suggest is that there is a profound lack of belief and insight into how aspiring artists are going to make careers for themselves as artists. And as the two articles you linked to also seem to suggest, artists themselves are often under increasing pressure from art institutions that may not always have the well being of individual artists at heart. Discussions like the ones you, Diane, Adam, and others are having do seem to help point us forward. At least in so far as shedding light on these issues. That has to be our first step.

    So THANK YOU for devoting yourself to these causes! And thank you for your generosity in sharing your work with us on your blog. Best wishes for the next 100!

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