Defending Arts Entrepreneurship

As I interact more with arts entrepreneurship professionals, especially those in music (my home field), I am appalled at how often and consistently these professionals are asked to defend their discipline. What could be more important today than equipping our students with skills that will enable them to create a new musical landscape, one that is infused with youthful energy and vitality?

Perhaps the most intractable and, in my opinion, ridiculous argument against the inclusion of entrepreneurship education in the college curriculum comes from faculty who reject its appropriateness. One hears that the academy is not the place for such activity, that students are there to learn artistry and nothing else, that if well equipped with artistic skills, they, the students will succeed in the “real world.”

I think this line of thinking harkens back to the European conservatory of the late 19th century, which served as the model for so many of our current higher education degree programs. It is astounding how higher education undergraduate degree programs continue to emulate this model.

How many indicators of the collapse of the 20th century music establishment will it take before higher education wakes up and calls an emergency?

So, in this emerging field of arts entrepreneurship, I see a growing group of truly energetic and skilled young professionals who are ready to ignite the field. But in so many cases they are asked to justify their efforts, to fight for budget allocations, to work in conditions that are sub-par. And these are the ones who have actually been employed to work. Needless to say, of the almost 500 higher education music programs in this country, only a fraction address students’ futures in any meaningful way.

It’s time we arm ourselves with powerful advocacy messages. It’s time to tell the truth. If higher education doesn’t get with it soon, we will be looking at a total mess within 10 years in the professional fields.

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.

Read James Undercofler's blog [l=]here[/l].

One Comment

  • One area that the classical music business has been unquestionably successful is in producing good instrumentalists. So it is not surprising to learn that music schools are slow to engage with “entrepreneurship” and contemporary industry problems beyond the campus. Music schools are holding up their end of the bargain.

    The classical music “emergency” is primarily a funding issue for organizations whose mission is to present live music. Higher education institutions aren’t suffering in the same way and don’t really fit the profile of the collapsing musical “establishment.” They don’t have lockouts, strikes, bankruptcies and a steady stream of news reports charting their demise.

    I can’t write with authority about the levels of interest or apathy for “entrepreneurship” within the academy’s walls. But I do know that in the “real world” there is heightened fear of “collapse.” There is a steady hum of talk about new thinking and new business plans.

    There are a few things that I wish were different about my time in conservatory but that experience more-or-less taught me what it intended to. However, those lessons did not include what it really meant to enter and be successful in the workforce, in my case an orchestra.

    Music schools don’t really prepare students for that job description as it has existed for decades. So never mind preparing students for the uncharted frontiers of “new models” and entrepreneurship. Those maps will be drawn by the people on the ground doing the work.