Arts Incubators: 47 and Counting

baby-chicksHaving recently completed a pilot study of university-based arts incubators and their evaluation tools, my attention turned to the larger question of arts incubators nationally. What are the primary activities of arts incubators and what business and organizational structures are best suited to achieve an incubator’s goals? How do they measure their success?

Before I could address these larger questions, I needed a national inventory of arts incubators, activities, and business forms. I contacted the NBIA (National Business Incubatian Association), NASAA (National Assembly of State Arts Agencies) and AFTA (Americans for the Arts).  The research director of each organization responded similarly and along the lines of, “no, we don’t have or know of a list, but are really glad you’re doing this research.” So I hunted and pecked through previoiusly published literature on the topic (there’s not much), scoured research databases, and made systematic use of that font of all knowledge: google.

abacusIn the interest of open access and the knowledge commons, I’ll share some of the raw data here, with the formal analysis and a typology of forms forthcoming at the STP+A (Social Theory, Politics, and Arts) conference and, hopefully, subsequent publication, following peer review. Some numbers[1]:

  • There are 47 arts incubators currently operating in the US (while there are organizations that serve incubation functions that are not included in this number, the 47 either refer to themselves or are referred to be others in publications as “arts incubators”)
  • Of the 47, seven are university programs or university extension programs (including the Pave Arts Venture Incubator), three of which started up in the last 18 months
  • Nine are city, county or state agency programs
  • Most are 501c3 corporations, three of which are community development corporations
  • Four are programs of larger 501c3 corporations
  • It appears that only two are owned/operated as private for-profit entities
  • Five incubators are currently in development, in addition to the 47
  • Three incubators that were supposed to have opened in the last several years never started operations

And now, the real work can begin.

[Update: My article, “Arts Incubators: A Typology” is published in Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 44(3), 169-180.]


[1] These numbers may change slightly but probably not significantly, as I dig deeper into each of the organizations and confirm the data collected thus far.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, including its award-winning arts entrepreneurship program, Pave: http://pave.asu.edu The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of ASU. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix and "like" the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at http://www.facebook.com/pages/pave-program-in-arts-entrepreneurship/386328970101 Find Pave's journal, Artivate, at http://artivate.org
This entry was posted in Arts entrepreneurship, arts infrastructure, Arts policy, Higher education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Arts Incubators: 47 and Counting

  1. Karl Cronin says:

    It has been great to read your blog threads this morning on incubators, as this is a question I am becoming more and more passionate about, particularly in the context of supporting entrepreneurship in concert music. Two years ago I helped support the launch of the Center for New Music in San Francisco, and I remember how important user testing was in our early conversations of what resources would actually make an impact. At some point in my interviews with our early members I discovered that the interview itself was a valuable resource as a lightly structured coaching session. That kind of support has continued as general office hours with the Center’s co-directors who provide ongoing business development support to the resident artists and ensembles.

    My big question now is how can platforms for artist incubation link up more effectively? I’m particularly interested in how conservatory/university programs can partner with post-graduate incubators like the Center for New Music, and how these can further link with residency centers, foundation fellowship programs, and booking conference platforms. Is it possible to create a unified resource path that is available to the creative throughout their career? Having spent the past 10 years navigating these resources myself as an independent artist, I can say one of the biggest points of friction was navigating the transitions between these platforms: being told I was too young to apply for X, being told I was too old to apply to Y, etc. There is work to be done on the strategic partnerships necessary to support more effective resource sequencing for creatives.

    Are there regional initiatives that are working to link up resources across platforms?

    • lindaessig says:

      Arts incubators, like their clients as well as other arts service organizations, face business model challenges regarding generating the revenue needed to deliver their services. As I’ve tracked the incubator landscape, I’ve noticed that the incubator programs with the most longevity are just that — programs of larger entitites — rather than stand-alone facilities. To answer your question, there are some organizations that offer developmental assistance at various stages: One example is the redesigned program at Intersection for the Arts offers both launch support and then ongoing residency support for their “Core” programs. Center for Cultural Innovation provides individual artist support for artists at various career stages. We (my Pave Program research assistant and I) are working on the design of a resource “map” that will help artists navigate through those resources based on their needs at different career stages. In short, I think your question is on the radar of artist services organizations.If you’re in New York, check out the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council – they have a diverse menu of artist support available.

      • Karl Cronin says:

        Yes, I was thinking about who would be in the best position to cull and sequence resources for creatives, and keep coming back to the state, regional, and federal agencies. I’ve been in conversation with Randy at Intersection about their Core program, and that is indeed a good model. Also, I just received Investing in Artists support from CCI, so I’ll see what that platform feels like from the inside. I find myself becoming more and more interested in the conversations that took place during the early days of LINC (Leveraging Investment in Creativity), as they made some deep investments in a handful of artists over time (similar to Foundation for Contemporary Art and Playwrights and New Dramatists). If you need an extra brain on the resource map, I’ve carved out my December to dive into this territory, and would be happy to support.

  2. Pingback: A Brief Update on my Incubator Research | Creative Infrastructure

  3. Pingback: An Art Adventure | Creative Infrastructure

  4. Pingback: The Ouroboros 5: Landscape of Arts Entrepreneurship Practice | Creative Infrastructure

  5. Pingback: What is an “Arts Incubator?” | Creative Infrastructure

  6. Pingback: Open-ended Questions | Creative Infrastructure

  7. According to the Alliance of Artists Communities there are 500 artist communities in this country. These should be considered as examples of arts incubators.

    • lindaessig says:

      Richard: Thank you for the suggestion. Artists residency programs certainly serve an incubation function focused on the individual artist and their work. My research, however, focuses more specifically on the incubation of arts organizations and arts enteprises, how such programs differ from (and are the same as) small business incubators, and on the results of such efforts – both outputs and outcomes.

  8. Again, Linda, I am following your work closely as I explore new ways to “measure” success for artists residencies like ours. We have no box-office, we have no work requirements, our geographical isolation and the promise of an uninterrupted gift of time limit “community-engagement” while artists are in-residence.

    Demand consistently outpaces supply (823 applications for 84 annual spots) but that is insufficient to justify our existence in many quarters. Beyond qualitative questions about the plusses and minuses of artists’ experiences and what they worked on while here, are there other ways we can meaningfully evaluate how the organization contributes to the vitality of the cultural landscape? (if that’s even a worthwhile or measurable goal!). I see that many cite success stories or bask in the halo effect of the critical or commercial success of their residents. I expect your assessment of the definitions, missions, goals and evaluative practices of incubators will be instructive.

    Those of us at the headwaters–where art originates–often play an uncelebrated but critical role. The simplicity of our missions is a blessing and a curse. This is true, I suspect, for institutions/incubators that support individual artists as well as emerging organizations.

    Thank you!

    • lindaessig says:

      Margot: Thank you for your interest and your work! I’ve recently started using the ixia public art evaluation toolkit when I teach students about assessment. I like the way they break down evaluative measures along four axes. You can find it here: http://ixia-info.com/research/evaluation/ The Animating Democracy project also references this work. It’s a good starting point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s