Innovating Through Artistry

Artist as Social Entrepreneur

In Author: Lisa Canning, Authors, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, The Idea on January 17, 2008 at 12:09 am

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. Whereas business entrepreneurs typically measure performance in profit and return, social entrepreneurs assess their success in terms of the impact they have on society.

Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

Now that you more clearly understand what social entrepreneurship is about, go and re-read the first two paragraphs of this post, but this time read them and replace the word social entrepreneur(s) with artist(s).

In my opinion, the artist as social entrepreneur is almost as natural an expression of entrepreneurship as it gets. Both social entrepreneurship and artistry embrace common ground in their philosophical roots. Almost like a religion, both desire to spread the “good word” through the integrity, thoughtful reflection and determination that an artist’s intuitive nature, creativity and passion naturally create.

Here are some historical examples of leading social entrepreneurs:

Susan B. Anthony (U.S.): Fought for Women’s Rights in the United States, including the right to control property and helped spearhead adoption of the 19th amendment.

Dr. Maria Montessori (Italy): Developed the Montessori approach to early childhood education.
Florence Nightingale (U.K.): Founder of modern nursing, she established the first school for nurses and fought to improve hospital conditions.

Margaret Sanger (U.S.): Founder of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she led the movement for family planning efforts around the world.

John Muir (U.S.): Naturalist and conservationist, he established the National Park System and helped found The Sierra Club.

The business climate has never been riper to embrace the artist nor have the needs for societal positive healthy changes been greater.

While you might associate social entrepreneurship with starting a not-for profit ( also often known for leaving no profits left for the artist), I believe there is a way to combine the very best of the not-for-profit, philanthropic world with the for profit enterprising world through the vehicle of social entrepreneurship. This is definitely part of my journey as an entrepreneur and I think a common ground for discussion with many artists.

After all, the nonprofit environment has changed. Community needs are growing in size and diversity. More non-profits are competing for government and philanthropic funds. Traditional forms of funding are becoming smaller and less reliable. Funders and donors are demanding more accountability.

To me, all this information is an opportunity to face this new reality and embrace it. Build your social entrepreneurial venture like a for profit with a mission founded in integrity and a ” good word” that needs to be shared. This kind of hybrid is the wave of the future- so join the wave. It has started and you’re not too early or too late to jump on it.

What’s your mission? Who are you going to save or change and how will you profit doing it through your art?

  1. Here here! I run a business incubator for folks in the arts – and a BIG part of our focus is – yep, you guessed is – SOCIAL ENTREPRENUERSHIP!

    The arts are proven to provide new avenues for healing, thinking, being and doing.

    Thank you for publishing this article!

    Adrienne Fritze
    Founder, Working Artists LLC

  2. Well, I am delighted to find this article! I am searching for a social business that utilizes graphic design skills to promote artists (image or word) with a message of justice. I feel compelled toward a mission that builds a bridge between the artist world and the broader community in a way that would expose the artist and gain for her/him greater publicity, and would expose the broader community to art with a positive message to influence social change. Through a product line and networking skills, both sides of the bridge would benefit. Please let me know if you have any connections I could make with businesses of this sort in the Minnesota area. Would love to travel too.

  3. Donna: I’m a graphic design student writing my thesis on social entrepreneurism/travel – if you found what you were looking for since posting this, get in touch! thanks

  4. Lisa…I think you’ve put your finger on the pulse of something extraordinarily powerful. Social entrepreneurship has codified over the last 10 years around issues related to essentially two aspects of the business model; innovation and sustainability. One of the most innovative and sustainable business models out there is Bill Strickland’s Pittsburgh based Manchester-Bidwell Corporation, which combines business enterprises in multiple industries with the development of artists in several mediums. Strickland is a social enterprise luminary, and perhaps the sole strategist of any size using the philosophical model you’ve proposed. Here in Dallas where social entrepreneurship is entirely embryonic, the Strategic Business Intelligence Group is working to utilize a model like the one you’ve presented inorder to tap into the passion pursuits of women, and particuarly minority women entrepreneurs. These business markets represent high performance growth acceleration and they are loaded with people who display tremendous individual passion for change. I believe the opportunity to bridge those two things within the arts world represents next decade thinking that will empower the US economy for well past the mid-21st century. I commend you for taking a pioneering approach most have not yet seen.

    Mark R. Lewis

  5. Mark,
    Thank you for your comment. On behalf of our readership, I very much appreciate your post. I am very aware of Bill Strickland’s model and am in awe of all he has accomplished. I actually wrote him a letter when I started ETA and asked him if he had even a small amount of time to be a mentor to me. Needless to say, I was not lucky enough to have heard back from him. We learn the most from modeling and working under those who do amazing things like Bill. I am a firm believer in always being in a position to learn from someone who knows more and continue to put myself in situations where that can occur.

    I am extremely impressed by the work you are doing to empower women. Please encourage them to come here and contribute or even blog. This site can be of support to them. As a side note, you business perspective is quite valuable and I hope you continue to share it with the community here as well as share this blog with anyone in the business world you think would be open to being part of building a bridge. We need all the helping hands we can get!

    If there is any way you envision cross fertilizing our work – by all means we must connect.

  6. Dear Lisa Canning,

    I am very pleased to read your article and its comments. I am searching and carrying out about social Entrepreneur of arts and implications for writing an article to the international NGO’s congress of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University in Turkey. The article subject is ; an evaluation arts events/projects of NGO’s supporting to social transformation. So, I am searching national and international NGO’s arts events and projects.

    I know a bit diffucult for me as art educator because of its wise and diverse subject. This subject included artists and public two main group that they are required supports. The other problematic things, changing means of arts funcion, fundings according to historical and current societies, systems and keeping artistic, aesthetic etc. values between artists and public.

    Could you give some suggestions on this subject?

    Best Regards

  7. Did you check out Babson’s program that launched last year? Here is a link:

    What about Mark Lewis’s site Strategic

    Also have you checked out this project?

    Hope this suggestions help you!


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