My social media universe lit up over the weekend with the news of the entire first year Art MFA class leaving University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design half way through their two-year program. A day or two later, all but one of the graduating class boycotted graduation. There were 7 students in the first year class of what is described as a “selective” program at a private university where annual base tuition (before fees) topped $47,500 this year.
In their open letter, the first year class cited changes to funding packages promised at recruitment, changes to faculty (including one high-level resignation), and changes to curriculum. The coverage of the students’ departure and editorializing around it, although not the letter itself, explicitly or implicitly blames the school’s (and perhaps the field’s) embrace of a “structural overhaul that valorizes neo-liberal corporate clichés.” An anonymous Roski faculty member defines the problem this way to Hyperallergic, “It’s an economic vision of austerity and neo-liberalism that is one-sided and short term, and does not take in to account the symbolic value of programs in the humanities.”
This is the razor’s edge on which I walk as an arts entrepreneurship educator. On one side of the razor an artist risks being dragged into the abyss of exclusively financial motivation — fueled by student debt — to make work that is inauthentic, derivative, uninteresting, or just plain bad (think Thomas Kinkade). But on the other side of the razor is the very opposite of austerity: abundance. I don’t mean financial abundance, but abundance of spirit and creativity that can be supported by (arts) entrepreneurial action. Arts entrepreneurship educators and higher ed administrators listen up: we can avoid USC’s tragedy not by teaching artists to make money from their art but rather the mirror image, teaching them to make art from the money art generates. Money is the tail, not the head, of entrepreneurial arts practice.
As arts entrepreneurship education continues to advance and grow in universities, faculty and students must navigate this razor’s edge without cutting their feet (or their spirit). Consider that entrepreneurial action by artists makes them the principal in their own career rather than the agent of a third-party producing structure over which the artist may have no control. To not provide students with an education that includes the skills and knowledges needed to navigate the creative economy does young artists a disservice. To provide an education that includes only the skills and knowledges needed to navigate the creative economy does them an even more egregious disservice, one that potentially diminishes the quantity and quality of the art that becomes our shared culture.