[Now that I’ve written over a third of the book I’ve been working on, I’ve revised the proposal for submission to publishers, and share it here.]
Book Proposal: An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action
An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is a book of connected essays that delves deeply into the relationships between art, innovation, entrepreneurship, and money. The Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, is a visual metaphor deployed to shift commonly held perspectives on, especially, the relationship between art and money. Art is the head; money is the tail, feeding and nourishing the head in a cycle that enables the organism to not only survive but also thrive. Between the art and the money is the body: innovation and entrepreneurship. Innovation is understood to be a novel idea that is implemented and has impact on a domain. For that is what the artist does: create something new and unique that has impact. Entrepreneurship is conceived of as the discovery or creation of a mediating structure that can convert the artistic innovation into capital (financial and other types) that can be re-invested in the artist and the making of more art.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the ouroboros — artists connect art with audience to generate the revenue needed to make more art – the ouroboros is an organism living inside a much larger eco-system, one which is not particularly friendly to artists, even self-sustaining ones. It is an eco-system filled with jargon, competition, power struggles, and extremes of both poverty and wealth. The very term “entrepreneurship” conjures images of high-rolling venture capitalists, shark-tank style pitch competitions, and slickly produced slide decks. Therefore, it is with some ambivalence that I continue to use the term “arts entrepreneurship” to mean something slightly different: an action and a mindset unique to artists that is as much about self-sustainability as it is wealth creation and that can result in increasing collective well-being rather than economic growth. This book endeavors to untie the knotty relationships between artists and entrepreneurship in order to answer the question “How can artists make work and thrive in this late-capitalist society?”
The book’s ten interconnected essays are presented in four sections corresponding to the head, torso, belly, and tail of the Ouroboros: Art, Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Money. The essays draw on my ten years of research, practice, and teaching in the nascent field of arts entrepreneurship to argue that entrepreneurial action leads to positive results for individual artists, but entrepreneurial action in general may not benefit the “arts sector” writ large. I spoke with dozens of artists who produce work entrepreneurially in the development of the essays; their stories serve as examples and case studies throughout the book. Other knowledge undergirding the essays comes from research conducted on artists’ professional development needs and on arts incubation practices about which I have previously written.
Originally a theatre artist, I approach the analysis dramaturgically, assessing the given conditions, the setting, the actors (or “characters”) in the arts economy, their motivations, and the potential outcomes for both individuals and the economic social system of which we are all part. Writing for an interested lay audience, I employ a voice that bridges the gap between scholarly writing for academic publications and popular writing such as that on my blog, Creative Infrastructure. Each chapter is designed to be an individual essay on the theme of its title. Three essays are completed and the remaining ten outlined (or more); thus, the book is already 35% complete. Finished length is estimated at 75,000 words.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE. (This is a short snapshot of the impetus for the book; it is already drafted.)
ESSAY ONE: Introduction: An Ouroboros
This chapter introduces the Ouroboros as a visual metaphor for the relationship between art, innovation, entrepreneurship, and money and the theoretical constructs undergirding each section. It explains my “dramaturgical” method of analysis and deploys that method to describe the late-capitalist arts economy and the players in it. (This essay is completed and included with the proposal.)
Part 1: Art
ESSAY TWO: Art and Symbolic meaning
This essay explores motivations for making art that has impact: the expression of symbolic meaning in which use value is present but secondary. How are meaning, value, and quality produced and assessed? Artists interviewed for this essay include Gregory Sale and Sharon Louden. (Essay is outlined and currently being drafted)
ESSAY THREE: Art, Economy, and Control of Production
Drawing on the work of economists from Karl Marx to Richard Caves, the artist is described as someone who makes unique work and maintains control of the means of the production of that work.
Part 2: Innovation
ESSAY FOUR: Novelty, Uniqueness, Originality
Novelty or “newness” can be evidenced in individual works and in and by organizations. This chapter connects individual, organizations, and systems along the spectrum of novelty by exploring the differences between the unique and the mass-produced in the arts and culture sector. The difference between multiples for efficiency of individual artist production versus for multiple sales are examined along with the sale and production of multiples for Museum gift shops. (Essay is completed and available for review)
ESSAY FIVE: Impact
For something to be an innovation it must not only be novel, but also have impact. This chapter looks at trends in the social practice of art and how such social practice can sustain artists while making positive change in communities.
Part 3: Entrepreneurship
ESSAY SIX: The nature of entrepreneurial action
This essay looks at examples from across the visual and performing arts to explain how artists create mediating structures that connect their novel and impactful work with their audience and other publics. (This essay is completed and available for review)
ESSAY SEVEN: Being an entrepreneurial artist
Drawing on data collected for “Artist Professional Development Needs,” this essay addresses the issue of the sustainability of artist careers. Follow-up interviews with artists inform the analysis of the entrepreneurial actions being undertaken by individuals. (Essay is outlined and currently being drafted)
Part 4: Money
ESSAY EIGHT: Abundance
Where are the sources of abundance in the arts economy? We know where there is scarcity, but this essay shifts the perspective from scarcity to abundance by showcasing the ways in which artists have used entrepreneurial action to generate the material resources they need to make their work happen.
ESSAY NINE: Selling up, not selling out
When an artist follows mission rather than money, they can “sell up” instead of “sell out.” In this essay, examples are drawn from community development (for example in Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row district), arts service organizations (such as Springboard for the Arts), and individual artists’ practice, tying together three levels of analysis: system, organization, and individual.
ESSAY TEN: A future imaginary: Eating your tail
This concluding essay connects the tail (money) back to the head (art) within the context of the arts and culture economy as it exists today and how it can be imagined for a sustainable and sustaining creative future.
An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is written for both a practitioner and interested lay audiences. The latter are well-educated adults with an interest in arts and culture, economics, and/or public policy. The former are artists and educators interested in cultural economics.
There are several books on artist sustainability recently published or currently in development. Most of these business-of-art books are “how-to” guides rather than analysis, so the proposed book will add significant new material to that domain. The most direct competition for this book is a slim book of essays published in 2010 by the International Futures Forum, Bill Sharpe’s Economies of Life: Patterns of Health and Wealth. Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (Intellect Books) and its sequel are comprised of artist interviews on the topics the proposed book addresses, but do not contain any analysis; instead they become some of the data that I analyze in An Ouroboros.
Readers of An Ouroboros may have also read:
Timberg, Culture Crash (Yale U Press)
Graw, Creative Enterprise (Sternberg Press)
Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World (WW Norton)
Bonin-Rodriguez, Performing Policy (Palgrave McMillan)
David, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Haymarket)
About the Author
Linda Essig is Director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, which, as Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, helped over 3 dozen student teams develop arts-based ventures for Arizona and beyond since its inception in 2006 and publishes the only research journal in the field, Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts. She was the first director of the ASU School of Theatre and Film, now the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, where she also served as Artistic Director of the school’s MainStage Season from 2004–2010. Her research interests include value creation by and evaluation of arts incubators; the relationship between art, money, and entrepreneurial action; and factors affecting individual artist success. She is the author of three books: Lighting and the Design Idea (now in its 3rd edition), The Speed of Light: Dialogues on Lighting Design and Technological Change, and The Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit as well as articles and book chapters on both arts entrepreneurship and lighting design. Her work has been funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Tempe, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Prior to joining ASU, she was on the faculty of University of Wisconsin-Madison for sixteen years.