In the seven or so years I’ve been teaching arts entrepreneurship courses, I’ve also been researching and speaking with colleagues, students, and entrepreneurs about the topic, with the goal of blending experience and theory to create modules that better prepare students for their futures. Based on my anecdotal findings, it appears much of the focus in the discipline is on helping artists (in any arts medium) understand how they can make a living delivering their art to the world. Certainly there are variances, but that’s the common theme. While it’s a solid approach, it doesn’t account for, nor contextualize, the variety of opportunities available to students throughout the arts ecosystem.
In a blog post earlier this year, Growing the Arts Ecosystem and Breaking Down Silos,
I recounted a story of how the farming industry brought their entire ecosystem to Washington, DC to lobby for a proposed farm bill being debated in the US Congress. That event caused me to rethink how I view the arts, and my approach to teaching arts entrepreneurship. So rather than focus primarily on preparing arts students to become working artists, I take a broader view to help them recognize opportunities they have to combine their other interests and skill sets throughout the arts ecosystem. Through this lens, future arts entrepreneurs have a clearer view of the multitude of ways to create value. After all, we aren’t one dimensional nor are we static. So for the past few years, I’ve been presenting the arts ecosystem in 5 parts: Artists; Value Chain; Patrons & Benefactors; Education and Outreach; and Policy.
The “Artists” category is simple enough because it’s the most prevalent—it’s those who study an art. These students are keen to practice their instruments or paint for hours on end, but they should also be encouraged to have an understanding of how they can monetize their talents.
The “Value Chain” is comprised of all the activities and resources needed to create and deliver art. This would encompass awareness, sales, partners, and how art is distributed. In this category there are countless opportunities to provide value in production, marketing, sales, management, and so on.
“Patrons & Benefactors” is an important part of the ecosystem because without them, there wouldn’t be an ecosystem. I separate patrons (customers) and benefactors because I see them as different customer segments, each with different levels of capacity. Imagine how artists with the requisite skills might work with donors or assist nonprofits in grant writing…
“Education & Outreach” is crucial because this is where we introduce the study of the arts and foster future patrons. I truly believe that talent is everywhere, but access is not, so the more we can do to promote arts education and outreach, the more we will develop a robust ecosystem.
“Policy” is typically tied to education and outreach through standards and arts funding, but our concept of policy needs to be broadened to consistently include efforts that help legislators at all levels of government understand and appreciate the economic impact of the arts.
As I mentioned above, humans aren’t one dimensional, and just because one starts in a career doesn’t mean they will remain in that career until they retire. I’m sure we all know someone who decided to go in a different direction for a new opportunity, or a personal relationship that caused a career change, or perhaps due to an injury or illness—I know two musicians who had their performing careers end due to focal dystonia… The more our students are aware of the entrepreneurial opportunities that exist, or could exist in the arts ecosystem, and the ecosystems that intersect with the arts, the more fulfilled and productive they’ll be.
Thanks for reading,
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