Framing Connections: Arts Entrepreneurship, Critical Response Process, and Creative Placemaking

As convener/host of the Fifth Biennial Pave Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts: Arts Entrepreneurship In, With, and For Communities, I used my opening remarks to draw connections between arts entrepreneurship, Critical Response Process, and creative placemaking, all of which were integral parts of the May 2017 event. Here are those remarks:

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Ryan Bledsoe, founder of Duo Musical Playground LLC, awaits the opening of the symposium

I want to use this time to do a little bit more than merely introduce our workshop leaders, Liz Lerman and John Borstel. I want to use this time to make some connections between what may seem like disparate parts of this convening. There’s this thing we’re calling “arts entrepreneurship” but it’s definition is somewhat contested. There’s this protocol for artistic feedback that Liz Lerman developed called “Critical Response Process,” and it’s not clear that those two things can fit together – but they do – bear with me. Then there’s this notion of arts entrepreneurship “in, with, and for communities,” which sounds a bit like this other thing some call “creative placemaking,” but is that what we mean by it? How does “creative placemaking” relate to all of the other things?

Let’s start with this last, “creative placemaking” as its used by many in the room to mean a public policy initiative that, quoting the National Endowment for the Arts, “strategically links communities and local governments with artists, designers, and arts organizations to improve quality of life, create a sense of place, and revitalize local economies.” Or, as one of our sponsors, the Kresge Foundation describes it, “the deliberate integration of arts, culture and community – engaged design in community development and urban planning practices to expand opportunity for vulnerable populations.”

So let’s connect the first “arts entrepreneurship” with the last, “creative placemaking.” Drawing on the entrepreneurship theories of Shane and Vatkatamaran and varies theories of the firm, I define arts entrepreneurship as “the identification or creation of opportunity to connect one’s means with desirable ends through an appropriate mediating structure in order to creative aesthetic, cultural, and /or financial value.” explaining entrepreneurshipPerhaps I need to repeat that: “we define arts entrepreneurship as the identification or creation of opportunity to connect means with desirable ends through an appropriate mediating structure in order to create aesthetic, cultural, and /or financial value.” It’s pretty obvious that at the center of any creative placemaking project is an entrepreneur: someone who is leveraging an opportunity to connect means with ends to create cultural value – and perhaps other kinds of value as well. That’s why we’re launching a new student venture incubation initiative through the Kauffman Inclusion challenge to support student-initiated enterprise development that we’re calling, descriptively, “Design and Arts Entrepreneurship In, With, and For Communities.” In this new initiative, we will link our incubation activities to the vision of the Herberger Institute articulated by Dean Tepper, which includes projecting all voices and embedding designers and artists as a force for positive change in communities. The program intentionally links that forward-thinking vision of The Herberger Institute together with the goals of inclusive entrepreneurship to support design/arts entrepreneurs who are developing enterprises that use design and/or art to affect positive change in communities of color and – this is important – in collaboration with those communities. Doing so is part of the transformation of the successful legacy of the Pave Arts Venture Incubator into a new model for enterprise support administered through the Herberger Office of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs. Applications will be solicited from students whose venture idea is developed in collaboration with a specific ethnic community or community of color to which they belong and whose goal is to make positive change in that community. The work they will be doing is the best kind of creative placemaking – the kind that is driven from within communities. This is another link between creative placemaking our symposium subtitle, “arts entrepreneurship in, with, and for communities.”

But how can creative placemaking connect to critical response process, the topic of our symposium’s keystone workshop? As many of you in the room are aware, the very term “creative placemaking” has been frought. Those of you who have been to multiple Pave symposia may remember Roberto Bedoya’s 2013 opening remarks entitled “Creative thumbsPlacemaking and the Politics of Belonging and dis-Belonging.” And if you weren’t here for our 2013 symposium, you may have read Roberto’s piece of the same name in the GIA Reader. Liz Lerman commented to me in the hall outside our offices last week, “who gets to name it ‘creative placemaking’ anyway? Naming is not a neutral act.” “No, it’s not” I replied. “that’s why our symposium is called “arts entrepreneurship in, with, and for communities.” It’s a more neutral description of what might happen when an arts entrepreneur creates cultural value in their own community — i.e., creative placemaking. Interestingly, Critical Response Process also engages with the idea of the neutral as it is designed to provide a neutral frame for the communication of strong opinions. It is Hiking the horizontalintentionally designed to change the power dynamic between creator and audience – channeling my inner Liz – so that this vertical hierarchy becomes horizontal. It is a tool that can be used when an artist (or arts entrepreneur) works in, with, and for a community that does not imply – to be blunt – colonization of that community. And to add another layer of connection, CRP was developed years ago in part in collaboration with Alternate ROOTS, an organization that supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in community, place, tradition or spirit and whose executive director, Carlton Turner, will provide this evening’s keynote talk.

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Carlton Turner talks about love, art, and change in his keynote address.

Those of you familiar with the Critical Response Process may say “WAIT! CRP isn’t designed for use by entrepreneurs, it’s for artists who want feedback on work-in-progress.” Well, the work of an arts entrepreneur is always work-in-progress. When I was first introduced to Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process in the fall, a light bulb went on over my head (one of those big old-fashioned incandescent kinds, not a tiny light emitting diode) because I immediately saw an application for CRP in the audience (or “customer”) development process that supports business model generation. If you were with us in 2015, or if you have been through a business incubation process, or teach entrepreneurship of any kind, you are probably familiar with the business model canvas, a tool for discovering a business model around a value proposition. If you listen to the guys (and they’re all guys) who designed and evangelized this tool, they will tell you the most important part of the process is to “Get out of the building” and talk to prospective audience members, users, buyers, partners in a process they call “customer development” and I call “audience or community development”. There’s no doubt that the entrepreneur, arts or otherwise, should connect directly with their target audience as they develop their product, but Osterwalder and Pignuer and Steven Blank offer little direction on how to ask or how to receive information other than “when you describe the product, do their pupils dilate?” My hypothesis: Critical Response Process provides a script that the arts entrepreneurs can use to develop their artistic product, their identity statement, their marketing messages, and even their business model itself.

Enter the 2017 Pave Arts Venture Incubator cohort to test that hypothesis. Three groups of artists, each with an early-stage idea for an arts-based business. Students in the incubation program were introduced to Critical Response Process in a workshop very similar to the one we are about to enter and asked to use CRP to evaluate one or more aspects of their business development. Femme Powered Productions, a transmedia production company focused on female superheroes tested both its first teaser script and the name of its first web series using Critical Response Process with a focus group of 4 young women in their target audience segment. In their report on the use of CRP, “the artist remarked how consistent the feedback was among responders which was helpful for rewriting.” She later described the session as “incredibly productive.” The team behind Duo Musical Playground, whom you’ll hear from in the workshop, deployed Critical Response Process virtually, via Google Hangouts and received useful feedback on messaging. The third team, Dog Ear Productions, an educational theatre company, used CRP to evaluate the name of the company, its logo, and even its creative process and product. Because they received clear and specific feedback through the critical response process, they adjusted the name of the company, re-designed their logo, and added teacher lesson-plans to their initial pilot, held last week. They will be using CRP with the teachers that hosted their workshops.

While the potential for using CRP in the business development process are great, we identified some challenges in our experiment as well. One is the challenge of taking the time necessary to set up the feedback session and pause, breath, and commit to the process; entrepreneurship sometimes moves at the speed of light even if the results may seem glacial in pace. Taking the time for formative evaluation is a challenge regardless of the process used. Another concern surfaced as part of Femme Powered production’s focus group: audience/participants and their own comfort level with this process. They reported that some respondents held back for fear of “doing it wrong.” Skilled facilitation can help to mediate that concern.

Critical Response Process doesn’t only exist in theory or in this workshop. We’ll be using it in a very real way tomorrow. Many of you are yourselves presenting work-in-progress in sessions this afternoon devoted to theory about, practice of, or pedagogy for arts entrepreneurship in, with, and for communities. One presenter from each session has volunteered to receive feedback through critical response process. Our graduate student volunteers have been trained as CRP facilitators, so tomorrow, in the session just before lunch, we will implement our learning and come full circle, using critical response process as it was meant to be used – to provide formative feedback to creators.

2017-05-06 10.43.23When I teach courses in leadership or management, I usually do an exercise with my students using “values cards,” to help them determine their five most important core values. The stack of cards I inherited didn’t include the value of “usefulness” so I added it to the stack of cards I use and distribute because it is definitely high on my own list of values. CRP is not the only “useful” assessment tool you’ll be introduced to here. We also have a session tomorrow, led by Animating Democracy’s co-founders Pam Korza and Barbara Shaffer-Bacon on aesthetic frameworks for evaluating art for change. “Art for change” …which brings us back full circle to the title of our symposium: Arts Entrepreneurship In, With, and For Communities.

Hopefully, I have helped you begin to make some connections between the pieces and parts that have been built into this Fifth Biennial Pave Symposium: Arts Entrepreneurship In, With, and For Communities. There are some questions on your tables that I hope you will discuss and begin to answer on the brown paper with your tablemates. These are questions that Maria Rosario Jackson and I developed that are specifically about the connections between arts entrepreneurship and creative placemaking as both a policy initiative and a practice, the answer to which will be the focus of the first special issue of Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, which we’ve been publishing for the last five years and will continue to published by Herberger Institute Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs.


At the core of our programming is the idea that designers and artists are naturally entrepreneurs. They create what is NEW and put it out into the world, sharing it with their audience. As design and arts entrepreneurship educators, we strive to provide the knowledge needed so that they receive enough to not only survive, but to thrive.

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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3 Responses to Framing Connections: Arts Entrepreneurship, Critical Response Process, and Creative Placemaking

  1. The NEA no longer uses the word “artist” in their mission statement. Neither does the Michigan Council of Art and Cultural Affairs (my state). Neither does Michigan’s largest arts advocacy organization-CreativeMany. All three of this organizations can give you precise data about X number of jobs which created X amount of economic growth in X amount of communities through X amount of arts organization, but none can tell you how much the average artist lives on or how many other jobs they need to have in order to survive as an artist.
    As an artist, I can only conclude that this is because we, as artists, are no longer the point, or the mission, of organizations like the NEA. And I sure don’t feel like I’m the point of anything described in your remarks above.
    The word ‘creative’ has become as usurped as the word ‘natural’. Both of these words have become so co-opted they mean little anymore. We as artists are disappearing, being handled and changed by those who funnel public and private money for “the arts” into their organization and program budgets. The Art that artist’s make is no longer the real point. We are no longer the mission.

  2. Fascinating! Now I wish even more that I had been able to attend!

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