Day 3 of the Curb Creative Connection put on a wide angle lens to focus on topics broader than one specific sector: public policy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Before digging in to these, however, we were treated to a (too short) recital by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, introduced by the group’s director Paul T. Kwami. If you’re not familiar with this group, take a look at their history, a remarkable story of our US American cultural heritage.
The panel on the intersection between public policy and the creative arts was preceded by a brief – but inspiring – address from Nashville’s new mayor, Megan Barry, who took office just last week. That she took the time to meet with this group of students is testament to the importance this city places on its creative industries (not only, but most obviously, music). She talked about the intersection between neighborhoods and creative industries, a theme expanded upon by the panel that followed. She relayed that in Nashville, more than 25% of jobs are in the creative industries, but that those workers cannot always afford housing here. Making both affordable housing and transportation available to creative workers (and other residents) is critical infrastructure for the city. She implied that some simple zoning changes could make it easier for artists to live and work in the same space, making it feasible for more artists to “make a living and a life,” a mantra I’ve heard before from Springboard for the Arts ED – and former Pave speaker – Laura Zabel. Mayor Barry ended her talk by suggesting that if artists want to have a voice in these decisions, they need to show up at the meetings, join boards, participate in discussions and – did I mention – show up.
This advice was echoed by Jen Cole, Nashville’s director of arts and culture, during the panel that followed that also included Casey Summar, head of the Arts and Business Council, and Craige Hoover, a developer. Moderator Rachel Skaggs pointed out that all three sectors of the economic system were represented: public, nonprofit, and commercial. All three are concerned with how affordability relates to creative workers and by extension the entire creative economy. Each panelist offered a piece of advice to the assembled students:
Show up at the (boring) planning meetings (Jen Cole)
Get cross-sector training (Casey Summar (who earned a BFA in photography before getting a law degree))
Don’t apologize for being an artist (Craige Hoover)
The innovation panel that followed lunch featured two entrepreneurs who have launched businesses within the last five years. Although both businesses were related to the music industry, the technical specifics of what they are doing were actually less interesting than the fact that they did it. The last panel, on entrepreneurship, likewise featured young entrepreneurs, all four of whom had launched their businesses through the Project Music accelerator. Each of the four, although phrased differently by each, talked about how their businesses were solving a very specific problem that they had identified and that they were able to attract investment and develop their products by clearly articulating the problem and how they were going to solve it. Richard Jacobson, founder of DART Music noted regarding investors, “it is the act of solving a problem rather than potential ROI that energizes them – then we can have a conversation.” Channing Moreland, who started her business, EVAmore, while a still a student at Belmont said it was really important to look beyond the bubble of your college campus and “start to see problems and that maybe things can be better.” This problem identification and articulation approach is critical to the design thinking methodology that is foundational to our own “Curb program” launching next year, an MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership. Michael Amburgey described entrepreneurship not as “growing the revenue pie” but “finding ways to create new pies,” a turn of phrase I will no doubt be repeating in my arts entrepreneurship classroom. Finally, Sam Brooker talked about passion and how that has to drive everything one does as an entrepreneur.
Throughout the day, students had opportunities to work together on their case assignment and develop a pitch for repurposing a song from the Curb catalog. The pitch showcase that resulted was an opportunity for the students to apply what they had learned over the course of the 2 ½ days to a hypothetical but realistic situation. The students engaged with multiple platforms, intellectual property issues, negotiation, audience engagement, and more.
A highlight for me was the faculty caucus that closed out the convening. While the students caucused with organizers, the faculty met together to do the same. It was the first time all the faculty representatives had sat down together and it was energizing to be with such a committed, diverse, and creative group of colleagues. Community colleges, liberal arts colleges, an HBUC, and several regional and national universities were represented. I look forward to working with this group on a faculty advisory committee for next years gathering.
As befits any gathering of students, faculty, and creative professionals, a terrific meal followed. If you’re ever in Nashville, check out The Row Kitchen and Pub. Many thanks to Mike Curb and Jim Ed Norman for their vision, drive, and hospitality in making the Curb Creative Connection an impactful and enjoyable event for students and faculty alike.