Innovating Through Artistry

Why I am a Serial Artistic Entrepreneur

In Leadership on June 27, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Back in March of this year my husband, Chuck, was looking for a new job. In his search process, one night together we were looking at jobs on-line, when I stumbled into an opening for the Executive Director of The Arts and Business Council of Chicago. They were looking for someone entrepreneurial and courageous and while I have never had a “job” before, I could not help but apply. I am always looking for an opportunity to transform the arts into something more, and this sure seemed like a chance to do exactly that.

It has taken me a long time to write this post because the process, for me, with this position, just ended but two weeks ago. Out of 350 applicants I made it down to the final five before I was cut.

The position at the Arts and Business Council in Chicago, in my opinion, requires overhauling the mission of the organization. As an organization, its current focus is helping the major Chicago arts groups develop and improve their business strategy. But what is really happening, in my opinion, is not enough of that. For an organization that is the premier organization to support the intersection of business and arts, the Chicago Arts & Business Council’s income is on a five year decline. Both Urban Gateways and Chicago Arts Partnership in Education bring in more dollars than the prestigious Business and Arts Council of Chicago. With only a million dollars of income they do less than $300,000 of consulting for major arts groups in town. I am not speaking out of turn here- as their financial statement is public record and can be found on Guide Star.

As is the case in most areas in the arts, everyone is so busy protecting their “turf” that little that is innovative or imaginative is happening to entice new audiences and create a new buzz for the power of the arts. The arts, from the top down, are largely struggling because new ideas, new people and innovation are taboo. After all its all about how it ” looks” to the outside world, that’s most important, right?

Now, before any of you jump all over me, this of course is not universally happening, but far more than any of us want to admit.

In my final interview, the one that resulted in my getting cut, I met with board members from the Business and Arts Council. Several on the search committee were in not-for-profit positions and others came out of the business environment. What was striking to me was how much more imaginative and curious the business people seemed and how un-entrepreneurial and lacking in creativity those coming from the arts not-for-profits seemed. My ideas for reform and change clearly struck me as threatening to the not-for-profit types, at least that is how I interpreted their body language at the time.

But this is not a surprise, really. It is all too common of a reaction in the arts. I have seen this attitude countless times: “I have been in this position for years- it took me forever to have this authority and power and who do you think you are?” And you also get, “If your not an artist in my genre working in my field of expertise, you could not possible understand the issues. Who did you study with anyway?”

I cannot begin to tell you how experiencing that kind of all too familiar attitude in my interview left me feeling relieved when I found out I had been cut– and simultaneously reminded my why I became a serial artistic entrepreneur in the first place.

Through out my time studying music at Northwestern University, I played with and alongside some fantastic technicians. At the top of my class, many went on to be great players in major orchestras. However, when I was in school back then, what hit me was not how imaginative and creative most of my peers were, or how passionately they played necessarily, but instead how they cut classes and were interested in little more than sitting in the practice room to focus on becoming technically accomplished. At the expense of all else in life- their happiness, their health, their mental stability.

I was asked recently by someone who respects my playing as a clarinetist, why I did not pursue taking auditions to become a full time performer? It’s not that I wasn’t good enough- I was at the top of my class studying with a world class teacher, Robert Marcellus. What turned me off from performing, frankly, was that I wanted then and still do now for the arts to inspire me- to feel a sense of collaboration and creative energy. I want the arts to be brimming with light and possibility.

As an adult in the business-of-art world, while I did not find exactly the same types of experiences, what I have often found is a bunch of artists running businesses with more unimaginative thinking, a lack of entrepreneurial behavior and little to no interest in collaborating with anyone else because they often are in it for their own sole gain. It’s no wonder the arts suffer. It’s no wonder artists hate the word “sales”. How ironic that the most creative people in the world have trouble collaborating in a field that screams INNOVATE WITH ME, please.

So, why did I not go off and pursue some other field of study, you might be thinking? Why did I stick with the arts despite everything I have told you?

I am passionately in this industry because I believe in the power of art to transform, enlighten, bond and heal all who encounter it. I believe that one person can make a difference and that a group of people working together can change the world into a much better place. I simply cannot image a better tool than art to do it with, either.

We simply must find a way to explore and exploit its potential, setting aside our ego’s and opening our minds and imaginations to the world of possibility.

This is why I am and will continue to be an artistic entrepreneur– because I believe the arts can be something more than what I have seen.

Thankfully, tomorrow is another new day. And with it comes hope of what tomorrow, and you, can bring to the arts to inspire and fill this world with the light of collaborative and innovative artistry.

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