Arts Entrepreneurial Mindset

[I continue to develop essays on art, innovation, entrepreneurship, and money as part of my book project. Here are a couple of paragraphs from this morning’s writing:]

The independent self-determined mindset, the sense of one’s own responsibility and accountability toward career is born, in part, from necessity in the scarce environment, thus making the artist and others “subjects” (to use Foucault’s term) of neoliberal governmentality. But independence and self-determination are not solely reactions to given conditions; they go to the root of the motivations of the artist to make work that has impact despite the given conditions, not because of them. Even Abraham Maslow, in his famous A Theory of Human Motivation published in 1943 recognized the unique case of the artist, making work self-determinately: “There are other, apparently innately creative people in whom the drive to creativeness seems to be more important than any other counter determinant. Their creativeness might appear not as self-actualization released by basic satisfaction, but in spite of lack of basic satisfaction”

In The Artist as Culture Producer, a collection of short essays by artists about how they sustain their artistic practice, artist Alison Wong discusses the mindset necessary for entrepreneurial action as “an artist’s mind, with a focus on doing and making.” Another characteristic mindset that emerges from a review of the artists’ essays is a proclivity for seizing unexpected opportunities. One archetypical story, from Austin Thomas, begins, ”One day, while riding the elevator to my studio, I ran into…” From what was quite literally an elevator pitch, Thomas made several thousands of dollars in sales and, “invested that money back into my work,” enacting the ouroboros of arts entrepreneurial action. Ouroboros with text

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An earlier post introduced my observation of a Mariachi band playing in the backyard of a home in a rural western Washington town and the direct connection being made between the musicians and the celebrants, dancing and enjoying their community. Arts entrepreneurship is concerned with that essence of the relationship between artist and audience, between the art that is created and its intended community. The action of entrepreneurship occurs when the artist identifies their public and discovers or creates an opportunity to connect their art with that public through an appropriate mediating structure. But for the artist to truly be entrepreneurial requires them to also create that mediating structure, not merely make use of a structure designed and created by others. This distinction was clarified for me when I attended a “porchfest,” a community music festival in which local residents donate their porches so musicians, most from the local community or surrounding region, can perform on them for an audience of community members.

The connection between performer and audience is as direct here as was the Mariachi band’s in western Washington, but the porchfest artists do not create the mediating structure. The work of connecting the audience to the festival is done by a pre-existing community organization, a historic preservation district, or even the local municipality. A few of the performing groups are more entrepreneurial than others, using the porchfest opportunity as a resource, setting up a point-of-sale operation for professionally produced recordings, thus controlling their means of distribution. Most, however, would not consider themselves professional musicians, let alone entrepreneurial artists. But on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, listening to everything from blues to bluegrass, most people weren’t thinking about “mediating structures”; they were just enjoying the music and the company of neighbors.

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A Humane Framework for Assessment

NOTE: This post was written for Animating Democracy’s Excellence and Equity in Arts for Change Blog Salon July 24-28, 2017. You can also find it there.

I was honored that Animating Democracy chose to debut the new Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change at the recent Pave Biennial Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts, and doubly honored to be invited to contribute to this blog salon. The latter gave me the incentive I needed to review the entire compendium as well as several of the companion guides. Aesthetic Perspectives is described as “a guide for description rather than a scorecard.” This is an apt explanation; it provides a framework for use by an evaluator rather than a rubric for evaluation itself. As such, there are aspects of Aesthetic Perspectives that are particularly useful or important and a few elements that raise some questions for me.


First, what I love:

  1. Equity is a core value
  2. Process is as important as product
  3. Agency is with the creator rather than the evaluator
  4. By defining aesthetics as “how creative expression stimulates our senses, moves us, and makes meaning in the world” the framework avoids the challenges of the Eurocentric approach of many arts evaluation processes.

Then some questions:

  1. Why apply these frameworks only to “art for change?” Couldn’t/shouldn’t the same framework be equitably applied across all of art-making?
  2. Will funders and policy makers buy into the kinds of qualitative assessments that are likely to result from using Aesthetic Perspectives to design an evaluation plan?
  3. Why is “beauty” (a word often included in definitions of “aesthetics”) missing from the list of 11 attributes, especially if the creator rather than the beholder can define it? (Perhaps I answer this question myself in #4 above.)

By coincidence, I reviewed Aesthetic Perspectives on the very same day I read a critique of the Australian/UK Culture Counts initiative. The two initiatives appear to be polar opposites. Culture Counts is “a digital evaluation platform for measuring cultural impact.” The first of its principles is to “standardise the definitions of indefinite terms like ‘quality’ so as to create a common descriptive language.” But, as Aesthetic Perspectives co-author John Borstel’s frequent collaborator Liz Lerman recently said to me, “naming is not a neutral act.” So, where Culture Counts attempts to standardize language, Aesthetic Perspectives provides a menu of language to chose from. In doing so, the creator, the audience, the funder, and the evaluator have a tool to observe from a more appropriate distance, or, as Andrew Taylor recently wrote, “We must learn to step back far enough to see, without ego, what’s before us, but not so far that we lose our human and humane response.”

Although Aesthetic Perspectives may not include the “standardization” some traditionalists (especially in the policy space) may desire, it does seem to provide a humane framework for assessing not only art for change, but creative practice writ large.

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A Short Story of Cultural Bifurcation

I include this short story of cultural bifurcation in one of the essays in An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action.


In 2014, I traveled to a small rural town in western Washington State to observe an arts incubator that had been launched there in conjunction with an adaptive reuse real estate enterprise. On my second night, after spending a full day with the founder and several loft residents and incubator clients, attending an opening in the gallery space, and eating a communal meal with the mostly Seattle-based artists who were visiting for the opening, I heard Mariachi music playing as I walked back to my cabin. Half a block away, there was a large party in the backyard of a home. A fully costumed Mariachi band was playing and people were dancing. I later asked the city’s mayor to comment on the contrast between the two parties and whether or not there was a connection between the cultural events I observed at the warehouse and the backyard. “Not really,” he responded. He continued, “No, they have their own culture*.” This bifurcation of culture, between Euro-centric “benchmark” events and non-Eurocentric but equally ethnically specific cultural production is another feature of the given conditions encountered by the entrepreneurial artist.

In the rural Washington backyard, there are no observable market forces at work. There is a direct connection between the musicians and the celebrants, dancing and enjoying their community. Arts entrepreneurship is concerned with that essence of the relationship between artist and audience, between the art that is created and its intended community. The action of entrepreneurship occurs when the artist identifies their public and discovers or creates an opportunity to connect their art with that public.

*[I make no comment here on the divisive and potentially racist implications of this statement, but may do so later]

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One Paragraph at a Time

Progress on An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is slow, but steady, one paragraph at a time. Here’s one from yesterday:

In my work as a scholar of arts entrepreneurship, I walk a fine line between critiquing the neoliberal economic governance regime of late capitalism and supporting it through the mere use of the word “entrepreneurship,” which many associate with the Thatcher/Reagan ideology of self-interested individualism and small government. While acknowledging the paradox, I explain it (some would say “flippantly”) by asserting that entrepreneurship is a behavior, an action, not necessarily an economic construct. Yet, we cannot deny that the current state of the arts economy results from the small government trend of the 1980s, which eventually reduced the NEA and other public funding for the arts to a shell of its former self following the “Culture Wars.” If, following, neoliberal ideology, every individual is responsible for themselves, then why provide funding to individuals? There are, of course, other “moral” arguments that were used by the NEA’s detractors at the time, but ultimately the Culture Wars were as much a victory for neoliberal economic ideology as for the social conservatism that made for splashy media headlines.

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This story from 1995 foregrounded the “values” argument, but it wasn’t that simple then, nor is it now.

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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.

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Polanyi and Wallace and Soup, Oh My!

[Tracking some recent reading]

One of the greatest gifts I received from my education in policy studies is the understanding that every issue has more than one side and that it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to hold different perspectives to be simultaneously valid. With that in mind, I picked up Martijn Konings’ The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed last week as a counterpoint to some of the other reading I’ve been doing on the decline of capitalism (e.g. Ryan Avent’s excellent Wealth of Humans) or its actual demise (e.g. Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future). I got just a few pages in when it became clear that Konings’ argument is a refutation of Karl Polanyi’s 1944 classic The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, which has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for over a year and which is about the limitations of a global market economy.

This is all heady stuff for someone who is not a trained economist (although the “Political Economy” course I took from my dear friend Tom Catlaw was my favorite and provided a small foundation on which to build some understanding for my current project). By sheer coincidence, I stumbled upon the clearest explanation of enlightened self-interest and the limitations of the market the evening after I began reading the Polanyi book, not from a book on political economy but instead from David Foster Wallace’s tome Infinite Jest, which I happen to be reading in fits and starts at the same time. Some might argue it too is a book on political economy. Pretty much smack in the middle of the (incredibly long) book is a dialogue between the two spies, Quebecois separatist Marathe and US agent Steeply, on a hill above Tucson.

Essentially, they are talking about the differing values that separate their peoples. Steeply essentially says (and I’m broadly paraphrasing), “You’re entitled to pursue all the happiness you want to pursue as long as you don’t mess with my happiness or my pursuit thereof.” This is what a lot of Americans believe, especially centrists and right-wing libertarians. But what if, Maranthe asks, again paraphrasing broadly, the cost of maximizing your happiness is the displeasure or pain of someone else?” Maranthe goes on to describe the limits of the market economy in an environment of scarcity through a thought exercise about pea soup, of which there is only one single serving available to the two of them. 800px-Spring_pea_soup_with_crème_fraîche_and_bread“We both want the soup. So me, my pleasure from eating the [soup] has the price of your pain at not eating soup when you badly crave it” (p. 574). Steeply provides a market solution, with a redistributive option: “We bid on the soup. We negotiate. Maybe we divide the soup.” But Marathe argues that redistribution is not viable because anything less than a complete serving will not satisfy and may cause even more pain, “half the bowl would only torment this craving I have.” With sharing eliminated from the thought exercise, Steeply returns to the market and reliance on the price mechanism: “Then we bid on the soup. Whoever’s got the most desire for the soup and is willing to fork over the highest price buys out the other’s half, then the other [goes to the store to buy more soup]. Whoever’s willing to put his money where his hunger is gets the soup.” Marathe insists that this response is irrelevant. At which point, Steeply understands that Marathe is asking about values – not value. “You want to raise the question of what prevents 310 million individual American happiness-pursuers from all going around bonking each other over the head and taking each other’s soup. A state of nature. My own pleasure and to hell with the rest.” Steeply then answers the question himself: “Because a certain basic amount for the wishes of other people is required, is in my interest, in order to preserve a community where my own wishes and interests are respected…And but then I can anticipate somebody on your side of the chasm retorting with something like ‘but what if your rival for the pleasurable soup is some individual outside your community…separated from me by a chasm of history and language and value and deep respect for individual freedom – then in this wholly random instance there be no community-minded constraints on my natural impulse to bonk your head and commandeer the desired soup.” And this is why Polanyi finds himself writing about the limits of a self-regulated market in 1944, as the world’s nations fight one another over more than just soup.

Sometimes it takes art to explain economics — a refreshing realization as I dig deeper into the economics of art.

(image of pea soup by Sara Goldsmith, CC 2.0)

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