Arts Entrepreneurship — Lack of Imagination, Lack of Chutzpah?

I will soon be teaching a new course called Arts Entrepreneurship here at Drexel.  I’ve been preparing for this on and off since last summer.  In addition to reviewing literature and current thinking on the topic I have been looking at offerings in various higher education locations, especially those with a music focus. 

There appears to be some confusion regarding just what arts entrepreneurship means.  Some researchers have been able to identify 2 distinct tracks, or types of entrepreneurship.  One relates to enhanced student preparation for careers or potential careers after graduation.  The other mirrors “true” entrepreneurship, the creation of new ventures and enterprises.  It appears to me that too much emphasis is being placed on the former definition here, not the latter. 

Let’s call the first track the professional development track.  In it the student imagines how h/she can adapt h/her skill area to the existing marketplace.  Yes, this is entrepreneurial thinking, but it appears to result in a type of masquerade exercise.  In other words, how can I form my own chamber ensemble (or continue one that I began with in college) and dress it up so that it can survive in a particular location.  All sorts of adaptations are tried, from repertoire to presentations off the stage, to programming for specialized populations. 

Some colleges include enhanced career services as part of an entrepreneurship definition.  Among these are how to construct a portfolio, how to better prepare oneself for auditions, how to write cover letters, resumes, grants, etc.  This is not entrepreneurship, but good professional development.

There are few examples of the second track, that of imagining and creating new ventures and enterprises.  Two reasons why stand out immediately.  One, there is no venture capital support system for arts enterprises; and two, there are few who can teach it.  However, I also believe that as a field, and I mean here the arts, not just music, we severely lack the imagination and chutzpah to break out of our well-beaten paths and take risks. 

If ever there were a time when new ideas and new ventures were needed in our field, it’s now.  We look just like we did decades ago: same products, same ideas, same problems.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

As I see it, only our colleges and universities can stimulate new thinking, and new enterprises.  It’s there that risk-taking is permissable, where ideas can be tested and given life.  Let’s get off Track One and onto Track Two!

About the author

James Undercofler

Jim has been a Professor at Drexel University since May, 2009. His previous appointment - since August, 2007 - was as the President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jim was Dean of the Eastman School of Music from 1997 to 2007. He has played a prominent role in musical arts and music education throughout his career. Before joining Eastman in 1995 as associate director for academic affairs and professor of music education, he was an active, performing chamber musician as well as first horn in the New Haven Symphony. Jim serves as board president, American Music Center; advisory board member, Arts Education Policy Review; board member, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, New York State Association of College Music Programs and American Symphony Orchestra League, and is a founding member, NETWORK of Performing and Visual Arts Schools and Mercury Opera of Rochester.

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