Knowledge Infrastructure: Artists’ Professional Development

In a podcasted conversation with David Dower some time ago, I explained that creative infrastructure for the arts has three components: physical infrastructure, organizational infrastructure, and personal infrastructure. I’ve noticed (as has at least one regular reader) that this blog hasn’t been focused as much lately on the infrastructure theme as I instead share experiences from my classroom and the many conferences I attend.

Today I return to infrastructure and, especially, knowledge infrastructure for arts entrepreneurial success. What professional development knowledges or training do artists need? This question is at the heart of our most recent report for the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Artist Professional Development Needs: Findings and Recommendations from a Survey of Artists and Arts Organizations. Lead author Mollie Flanagan (Tremaine Foundation Fellow in Arts Entrepreneurship) and I found that marketing communications, networking, and financial management are what artists say they need most, although arts service organizations report slightly different results. We assert, however, that all professional development activity must have the creative practice – the art – at its center, as illustrated in the map Mollie created indicating relationships between the professional development needs that were surfaced in our research. (The relative strength of the need, as measured by frequency of mention in our interviews and surveys, is indicated by size.) You can download the full report from the link above or by visiting Pave’s Research page. research map final 2_19_16

Source: Flanagan, M. and Essig, L. (2016). Artist Professional Development Needs: Findings and Recommendations from a Survey of Artists and Organizations. A report produced for the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation by the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, p. 14.

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Know Your Audience: Self-Employment in the Arts Conference

A core principle of arts entrepreneurship, at least as I teach it, is that the work must connect with its audience. That’s why we spend so much time getting to know that audience in a project-based course like Arts Entrepreneurship Seminar. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know I go to a lot of conferences; as I write this I am on the plane home from the Self-Employment in the Arts (SEA) Conference, held annually in the Chicago suburb of Lisle. This is a conference that really knows its audience!

shelby mollieThe SEA audience is undergraduate arts students, primarily from Midwest colleges and universities. All of the programming, with the exception of two or three sessions designed for faculty, is geared toward introducing these young artists and designers to core self-employment business principles: how to communicate with clients; how to craft a financial plan; business models for artists. This last was delivered by two of my graduate students, Mollie Flanagan and Shelby Maticic, who led the 20 or so attendees at this session (there are ten or more sessions at any one time) in an interactive revenue generation ideation session. Another graduate student, Elisa Gonzalez, who launched ¡Habla!AZ out of the Pave Arts Venture Incubator program, was a plenary panelist, along with four other student from across the country who had started arts-based businesses while students.Elisa SEA

The conference was not perfect (although it ran perfectly thanks to conference organizer Amy Rogers); there were what I considered to be missteps by some of the presenters. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic young artists could learn so much by participating in the workshops, sessions, and networking events. If you are in their well-defined audience segment of undergraduate arts students (especially in the Midwest), I encourage you to mark your calendar now for the last weekend in February 2017.

For myself, I attended to connect with this very audience in the hope of inciting interest in our new MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership, giving away cards, flyers and pencils. The students were so busy running from session to session, few stopped to talk to me, but by the end of the day and half, almost all of our materials had made their way into the hands of the students and their faculty companions.

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Networking redux: Pattern recognition

I was reviewing a 2006 article on pattern recognition and entrepreneurship[1] in preparation for my undergraduate seminar, when this passage jumped off the page:

Hexakis_triangular_tiling…the findings of several studies indicate that the broader entrepreneurs’ social networks (the more people they know and with whom they have relationships), the more opportunities they identify. This finding, too, is consistent with a pattern recognition perspective. Social networks are an important source of information for entrepreneurs, information that may contribute to the richness of their store of knowledge and the development of their cognitive frameworks. Further, social networks may be especially helpful to entrepreneurs in terms of honing or refining these frameworks (prototypes, exemplars). For instance, by discussing opportunities they have recognized with family, friends, and others, entrepreneurs may form more accurate and useful prototypes for identifying opportunities— cognitive frameworks helpful in determining whether ideas for new products or services are practical and potentially valuable rather than merely interesting or novel. (p. 113)

Baron’s discussion connects with my growing interest in network theory and also resonated with the experience I had just completed, teaching a two-day “Arist/Entrepreneur” workshop in Tucson for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “ArtsWorker” program. Thirty artists of diverse backgrounds and experiences participated. Some came into the room with network ties already in place. I observed that about half of the participants belonged to one of at least three “nodes:” painters; fiber artists/crafters; and long-time members of the tightly knit Tucson artist community. Others did not yet have in place the strong or weak ties that created the sub-networks in the room. It was clear that these local networks had already fertilized the recognition or development of opportunity (for example, the five painters were considering pooling their resources to hire one shared business support assistant).

12745794_10153922717447920_6815456872369065412_nFor the first interactive exercise of the day, I allowed the existing nodes to remain physically in place (that is, the members sat together), but as the weekend progressed, I incentivized interaction across nodes and between people of dissimilar knowledges. In doing so, each individual added information into their newly forming network, helping its other members to develop the cognitive frameworks that support opportunity recognition. By the last exercise of day 2, participants wanted to hear more from each other than from me about the possibilities afforded by their new knowledges – a marker of success in building the ties that will support their individual arts entrepreneurial success moving forward.

[1] Baron, R.A. (2008). Opportunity recognition as pattern recognition: How entrepreneurs “Connect the Dots” to identify new business opportunities. Academy of Management Perspectives, February 2006, pp. 104-117.

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Networks and Entrepreneurship


As my students this week revisited their inventory of means (who they are, what they know, who they know) in the context of the specific enterprise ideas they are developing, I was struck by how much they focused on the potential for exploiting their weak ties into viable partners for the enterprises. “I recently met the guy who….” Or “I know the president of the ID student organization…” or “The owner of the place where I work also….” The next day, we coincidently hosted a talk by Paul Bonin-Rodriguez that focused largely on how network theory can be used as a tool for cultural policy analysis especially with regard to funding for minority-serving arts organizations. He described the five characteristics of networks. I was immediately struck by how these characteristics are also reflected in the entrepreneurial process, especially as being undertaken in m class:

  • Dispersed control
  • Interaction
  • Non-linearity
  • Adaptation
  • Perpetual novelty

Still processing this connection….more to follow.

[image: Social Network Analysis Visualization by Martin Grandjean, CC 3.0]

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Effectual Thinking → Corn Muffins

More than once, I’ve heard arts entrepreneurship educators, including me, reference the Chinese proverb about experiential learning: “give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” To teach fishing entails providing opportunities for the students to cast their own lines, coaching them as they do so. Yesterday, I started to teach fishing (really, arts entrepreneurship) by turning the class time over to the students for an idea generation workshop. They are taking an effectual approach to arts entrepreneurship, which means they begin with their means (who they are, what they know, who they know, and, I would add, what they have on hand) to develop venture ideas – and ultimately an arts-based enterprise – from those means.

However, I didn’t want to go into the class empty-handed and also wanted to provide a real-world lesson on effectual decision-making. For me, that meant baking. Some of the best lessons for life can be learned in the kitchen where experimentation often – but not always – leads to delicious results. My means:

  • Who I am: someone who values from-scratch cooking/baking – no mixes here!
  • What I know: I know how to cook and, to a somewhat lesser extent, bake
  • Who I know: I know every food blogger on the internet (I don’t mean this literally, but I do have access to the knowledge of every food blogger on the internet)
  • What I have on hand: Corn masa, left over from a feast of Georgian food I had cooked up for a New Year celebration.

Knowing a student would also be having a birthday, I wanted to find a sweet corn muffin recipe that used masa flour (while I know how to bake, I had never baked with masa and needed some guidance). I couldn’t find something that fit just right, but I came across a recipe for a corn muffins filled with an ancho jelly. I leveraged a contingency – another effectuation technique – and substituted what I did have on hand: strawberry preserves. Who doesn’t like strawberry jam with their muffins?! The recipe as written is incomplete – cooking time is not indicated. This is where “what I know” became an important means toward the “end” of delicious muffins. I know muffins usually take 15-18 minutes, so I went with that. I tested the hypothesis of “doneness” using a toothpick (hypothesis testing being the core principle behind the Lean Launch method we will be using to implement our effectual thinking). After 18 minutes, I had delicious jelly-filled corn muffins, and my students had a snack to fule their creative thinking. [If you would like to read the prompts the students were given for the workshop, you can download that here]


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Animating Research

A few weeks ago, I shared some excitement about my research being used in Liz Lerman’s class, “Animating Research.” Yesterday, I presented a 15 minute overview of “Lowering Barriers: Value Creation and Evaluation in Arts Incubators” to the class. Students had previously read an abstract of the research*. Much to my surprise and delight, one of the students, Dance MFA candidate David Olarte, keyed in on the words “intersection” and “black box” and had actually created a poster/painting based on that abstract. What a great moment for me and my research!

incubator poster 1incubator poster 2

*This research explores and deepens our understanding of an element of the infrastructure for cultural entrepreneurship in the United States: the arts incubator, an organizational form or programmatic initiative that exists at the intersection of artistic production, entrepreneurship, and public policy. Through a qualitative cross-case analysis of four arts incubators of different types, the research opens the black box of incubator operations to find that arts incubators create value for client artists and arts organizations both through direct service provision and indirect echo effects but that the provision of value to communities or systems is attenuated and largely undocumented. Despite issues surfaced through the study, arts incubators remain a potentially impactful tool for supporting cultural entrepreneurship.

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Skills, They Got Skills

There’s a song by Mozes and the Firstborn with the lyric “Skills, I got skills.” The tune kept going through my head today during the undergraduate arts entrepreneurship seminar as the students developed their inventory of means: who they are, what they know, and who they know. The rest of the song is irrelevant (or even antithetical) to the effectual approach to entrepreneurship the students are employing to build an arts-based venture, but they developed a truly robust inventory. In a way, the class is now in their hands. I will guide them and prompt them (and act as amanuensis) over the next twelve weeks, but they will be creating an arts-based enterprise out of the knowledge, networks, and passions they possess.

skills i got skills

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