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date: 18 November 2019

Entrepreneurship in the Arts

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Business and Management. Please check back later for the full article.

Since the dawn of artistic pursuits by human beings, the artist has been thought of as having a special sphere of influence for representing feelings, emotions, and human conditions through their art. Fast forward to the early days of arts apprenticeship and education, and we can generally conclude that the domain of arts education prepares artists for such representation of feelings and emotions. But what is missing from arts education are skill sets needed to manage the economic realities of artistic pursuits. This skill gap perhaps gave birth to the starving-artist myth, a notion that has endured since the early 1600s. Passion and desire for artistic expression are considered superior to business and economic considerations. Throw into this situation concern for social justice, ethics, and political invective, and a mix of dichotomies emerges. Also, consider that entrepreneurship is primarily an economic behavior. Some suggest that arts entrepreneurship lacks empirical studies, and thus lacks legitimacy. The concepts presented in this discussion include observations in preparing arts entrepreneurs for success as defined by themselves.

As one of the early developers of arts entrepreneurship curriculum, I was expected to define the domain of arts entrepreneurship. Added to this expectation are my duties as director of the Coleman Fellows Program. This task includes the need for developing effective pedagogical constructs that can cultivate arts entrepreneurship modules and lesson plans across the Coleman Fellows Program. Based on my own entrepreneurial experiences, my non-academic approach to this work is viewed by artists as “commercializing the arts” and seen as a polluter of the purist methodology to arts. My colleagues who teach entrepreneurship label this differently. Some say the approach is creative; others think it pollutes entrepreneurship education. Because of these unexpected but different and sometimes passionate reactions from groups of educators and artists, I started investigating the revenue models of arts-based industries with the hope of bridging these dichotomies. The age-old adage “follow the money” seemed to be a good approach to better understand such reactions.

The key sources of information for this discussion include the Coleman Fellows Program, a nationwide program initiated and supported by the Coleman Foundation, located in Chicago, Illinois. I also rely on 30 interviews with arts faculty and 32 interviews with student artists. Added to these sources of data is my work with the Arts Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group, which I helped create and led for a few years with the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE), a member of International Council of Small Business (ICSB). I also include contributions to this field by Linda Essig, publisher of Artivate, the very first journal dedicated to entreprenuership in the arts, and Gary Beckman’s doctoral thesis and his subsequent writings.