Through the Eyes of my Students

There have been several blog posts recently that assert that there is no such thing as arts entrepreneurship or that artists are artists not entrepreneurs, as if those two roles are mutually exclusive. It is not surprising to read that I disagree (as my comments on those posts attest). I started a new semester teaching arts entrepreneurship last week. My students certainly seem to think that arts entrepreneurship exists. In this first week, students are asked to read the introduction to Anne Bogart’s “And Then, You Act” and Barry Hessenius’s interview with Aaron Dworkin and then respond to this prompt:

In our first class session, we discussed the nature of entrepreneurial action. In the first week’s reading, Anne Bogart discusses the artist as a cultural actor (i.e. one who undertakes “action”) and Aaron Dworkin serves as an example of such a cultural actor. Combine these two concepts to describe what it means to be an “arts entrepreneur.”

"What is Arts Entrepreneurship?" - List generated by Spring 2014 students

“What is Arts Entrepreneurship?” – List generated by students in THP352, spring 2014

Despite the fact that some may argue that arts entrepreneurship is indefinable or that it is somehow a false construct, my students came up with some pretty great descriptions and definitions. Anonymized and with the class’s permission, I excerpt from a few of the responses here:


  • Both artists make it clear that being an entrepreneur means to take action. No matter how you define your art or what you will bring to the table you must make it stand out, not only as your own creation but also by figuring out a way to show the world that it is a necessity. They also make a point of connecting their art to the community.
  • An arts entrepreneur does not solely rely upon emotion or personal conviction. Rather, the arts entrepreneur utilizes her creativity, skills, and passion to take action and create change.
  • To quote Krog’s recollection out of Bogart’s book, “the job of the poet… is to remember where the water holes are.” To me, this sums up what it means to be an arts entrepreneur. It is somebody who uses the arts to construct humanities future narratives in a way that is both relevant and important to helping that society grow. Having an ability to recognize and seize a moment in our culture that requires examination, is tremendously important in helping us define good and bad as a whole.
  • Without the passion, why persevere to effect real change through the arts–but without a clear, direct, refined focus on a common problem that has real-life, concrete solutions, any arts entrepreneurial effort is unsustainable
  • What it takes to be an entrepreneur is passion, ideas, ability to adapt and take action, create, willingness to try and try again, focus along side the nurturing of creativity…. Art Entrepreneurs take the shared experience that we have throughout our lives, and combine that with artistic vision and inspire, challenge, and fulfill a need. Enjoying the arts in today’s world often isn’t enough; artwork also needs to . . . innovate, which inspires.
  • Taking action, being well prepared, and seeing true value in one’s own work/art is what it means to be an Arts Entrepreneur. In order to engage in an art you first must love what you are doing and put it at the center of your life.
  • Can’t an arts entrepreneur find a way to make their work and passion relevant? I feel like that is probably the ultimate challenge for the arts entrepreneur and can often lead to failure if the market need is truly not there.
  • The direction a person needs to go in order to be an art entrepreneur would be to act on…personal, social, or ethical values. “You act from a direct experience of the environment,” stated by Anne Bogart in And Then, You Act. Believing in what you’re creating is only the first step. You must then market yourself for the economical and social situation you find yourself in; you must put in the effort and the time to either fail or succeed.
  • In order to be a successful arts entrepreneur, one needs to have three essential abilities: the ability to create passionate, impressive art, the ability to sense the needs of a market, and the ability to take action and risk on those needs.

I am feeling pretty lucky that I get to have these 24 smart, creative people in the room with me twice a week!

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.
This entry was posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, Higher education and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Through the Eyes of my Students

  1. maliabecker says:

    Reblogged this on maliabecker and commented:
    Entrepreneurship is behind every great artist! So important to a career in the arts.

  2. Pingback: Through the Eyes of My Students 2 | Creative Infrastructure

  3. Selling is an entirely different thing from selling out. The former allows an artist to do more of what they love. I wish there had been some art business courses when I was in college. Of course, at that age, I’m not sure I’d have had the wisdom to sign up for them! I do my own art full time now. It has only been by learning how to market it that I can do this. It’s kind of funny how there’s this huge need for real art agents to handle the business end, but it seems 99% of those calling themselves agents are scammers and wannabes. That leaves artists to learn business and apply it, themselves. Either that, or have a day job and very little time to really make art.

  4. As an artist when I read these responses I want to cry.
    When did these impressionable students first get the idea that for art to be meaningful it has to resonate with a market? Where did they get the idea that art has to be about meeting a communities needs? And most importantly who is teaching them to speak in this vague language of “real change” and “innovation”? We need to ask ourselves who it is that is teaching people that art is a “failure” if “the market need is truly not there.” That thought is not only sad, it’s the death knell of art.
    The real power of art is that it’s intrinsic value exists outside of a market and the capitalistic constraints that rule all the other aspects of our lives. The real value of art is that it takes markets and communities and individuals to places they never knew existed. The real use of art is that it shows people desires they never knew they had. The real power of art is that it leads society rather than follows a communities entrenched expectations.
    This new ideology teaches just the opposite.

    • lindaessig says:

      I am not surprised by your reaction. Not every artists is an entrepreneurial artist. You may want to take to heart, however, the words of Albert Camus, who wrote “Art for art’s sake, the entertainment of a solitary artist, is indeed the artificial art of a factitious and self-absorbed society. The logical result of such a theory is the art of little cliques or the purely formal art fed on affectations and abstractions and ending in the destruction of all reality. In this way a few works charm a few individuals while many coarse inventions ·corrupt many others. Finally art takes shape outside of society and cuts itself off from its living roots.”
      Finally, I note that in my classroom “Innovation” is NOT a vague term. We employ an operational definition of innovation developed, I believe, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Innovation occurs when someone puts something unique into the world in a way that effects people — isn’t that what all good art does?

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s