What is an “Arts Incubator?”

I came across a website the other day of a municipally owned performing arts facility that describes itself as “the premier performance venue, arts incubator and advocate.”  To actually be an arts incubator, an organization or program needs to function as such by nurturing the growth and development of artists, arts organizations, or arts enterprises (“enterprises” can be understood here to mean small businesses).

Art InkubatorFor some time now, I’ve been focusing my research on arts incubators, first on university arts incubators, and now on those in the wider universe beyond.  Given the potential for mis-use of the term, I am sharing a small section from a paper I’ll be presenting next month at the Social Theory, Politics, and Arts (STP+A) conference, adapted slightly for the Creative Infrastructure readership:

Arts incubators are considered by the National Business Incubator Assocation (NBIA) to be a subset of business incubators that specifically target “arts and crafts.” A 1995 article[1] on arts incubators examined six organizations that were “concerned with nurturing arts organizations by facilitating their organizational growth and development.”   This paper notes that another type of arts incubator is designed to  “provide artists with the business skills necessary to be successful in the marketplace.” A 2000 book[2], “Incubating the Arts” explains that arts incubators “equip nonprofit cultural groups and arts entrepreneurs with the skills, tools, and business environment necessary to meet short- and long-range objectives.”  A more current and useful description is adapted from the Polish Art_Inkubator: “an arts incubator is an organization that supports future entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and artists by helping them to enter the creative industries sector. Arts incubators are a platform that empowers artists and organizations to implement their business and artistic ideas” (Art_Inkubator, 2013).  This definition is particularly useful because it is inclusive of for-profit, nonprofit and individual client stakeholders, implies early stage development and market entry, thus distinguishing arts incubators from other artist services and support organizations such as residency programs.  It uses the word “platform” rather than “facility” to be inclusive of both physical and virtual incubators.    Organizations or programs are considered to be “arts incubators” if they provide some form of developmental assistance (i.e. a “platform,” the scope of which varies) to artists, arts organizations, or creative enterprises in early stages of development or change and call themselves or are called by others in published materials “arts incubators.” [3]

In other words, it’s not just a matter of saying it – the incubator has to be doing it.

[For more on this topic, see my articles: “Arts Incubators: A Typology” published in Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 44(3), 169-180 and “Value Creation by and Evaluation of US Arts Incubators,” International Journal of Arts Management, 20 (2), 32-45.]

[1] Kahn, M. (1995). An Introduction to Arts Incubators. National Association of Local Arts Agencies Monographs, 4(3)  pp. 1-16.

[2] Gerl, E. (2000). Incubating the arts: Etablishing a program to help artists and arts organizations become viable businesses. Athens, OH: NBIA Publications

[3] Essig, L. (2013). Arts Incubators: A Typology of Forms and Foci. Paper presented at STP+A, Seattle 2013 (forthcoming)

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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23 Responses to What is an “Arts Incubator?”

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  4. Aarti Sahgal says:

    I am working to set up an arts incubator for people with disabilities. We do have partnerships with a few art galleries/schools. Any leads on what I should look out for? Could do with some help. thanks

    • lindaessig says:

      Aarti: Good luck with your endeavor! I recommend that you pay attention to the business model for your incubator. My observation is that incubators that are part of a larger organization have a better chance of sustainability than a stand alone entity that has to find all of its resources on its own. Partnerships are key as well.

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  8. Todd A. Sherlock says:

    are there any art incubator’s in the Chicagoland area. I am a photographer always looking to show my work. Thank you
    Todd A. Sherlock

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  11. Irene says:

    Any tips on how to apply for an Arts Incubator space? In particular “describing creative business” if all I do is paint… thanks

    • lindaessig says:

      HI Irene – There are about 4 dozen arts incubators across the country and many more community arts centers or similar facilities that will rent or grant space to artists. If you want to let me know your city/town, I can try to see if there’s an appropriate facility in your area

  12. Alba Caja says:

    It’s very interesting the research you have made on arts incubator.
    I’m at the last year of architecture university, and i’m doing my diploma project on arts incubator.. i took an old factory, and i want to convert it in arts incubator for the city..
    But i dont have so many information about the function that i can put inside it, like working spaces, exhibition space, bibliotheque, administration etc.. i dont know if art incubators have these functions or others..i hope you can help me with some informations..
    Thank you very much,

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  17. Ziska Childs says:

    Aspen is considering converting our old Art Museum (new one under construction) to an Arts Incubator. I’ll be very interested to read descriptions of successful strategies for the Incubators you’re studying.

  18. V. much agree that action, rather than mere intention, is essential. In addition, the term ‘arts incubator’ seems somewhat ambiguous: does it refer to the incubation of artistry or of creative businesses?

  19. Jeff McMahon says:

    Good points, but I find myself thinking that the real arts incubators are the artists themselves, as well as the teachers, family members, friends who nurture their work at an early stage.

    • lindaessig says:

      Thank you for your comment. Teachers, family, and friends are all important elements of an artist’s individual infrastructure of support, but unlike a program or organization that nurtures early stage development, are not transportable or scalable.

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