Innovating Through Artistry

Gary Beckman Speaks Out

In Interesting Articles on July 1, 2008 at 7:10 pm

As I was closing up email, before I am off-line for a week, I could not help but want to quickly drop this into a post. Gary Beckman, a friend and a visiting professor in the School of Music at the University of South Carolina and Director of Research for their Carolina Institute for Leadership and Engagement in Music, wrote this article titled: Artists as Entrepreneurs.

It will be published in Sunday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram and may run in several other newspapers around the country over the next few weeks.

As always, my goal is to place you on the front line of innovation in artistry… Enjoy.

July 6, 2008

With the June 2008 release of the National Endowment for the Arts report,”Artists in the Workforce,” Chairman Dana Gioia declared: “Compared to other U.S. workers, American artists tend to be better educated and more entrepreneurial.” American artists “more entrepreneurial” than a high-tech CEO? How can that be?

Perhaps it is because of this “place” we call America or the belief that artists are more creative than the rest of the population. When combined, “place” and “creativity” might equal “entrepreneurship.” For Gioia “place” is explicit and “creativity” seems inferred; artists know exactly want he means.

Historically, artists have always created art in, through and around the cultural systems of “place” and the act of creation is genetically ingrained in this country’s founding documents. Freedom of artistic speech, however, has a black-sheep sibling seldom and reluctantly acknowledged: entrepreneurship – another sequence in our genome. This “American Dream” does not exclude artists, though it seems the arts academy has yet to read the email.

Gioia’s comments partially reflect the success of arts higher education. Hundreds of colleges, universities and conservatories across the country have excelled at producing artists of all types and capacities. As the Chairman notes, artists represent 1.4% of the total workforce; the military represents 2.2%. Clearly, arts higher education is meeting its quota.

The paradox in all this is the seemingly mutual-exclusivity in terminology: artistic creativity and entrepreneurship. Or is it a paradox? For some reason, we popularly equate entrepreneurship with starting a business.

Can entrepreneurship be a synonym for the act of creating new art that also creates value beyond the business card size price tag at the lower right corner of a painting? Can our founding documents be “entrepreneurial” and “creative” in the same sense as Beethoven’s last string quartets and Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?”

Surely the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were the result of need, each creating new value for a burgeoning nation – at least as the founding fathers seemed to view the opportunity.

Higher education’s most pressing issue in the arts is not how efficient and streamlined the production of new artists can occur. Nor is it simply fully employing the artists we train or addressing bloated degree plans. Instead, it is how to create an accomplished and successful artist with a new sense of art’s power to transform society.

Artists can participate in the American Dream by applying their talents to better communities and make ends meet in the process.

We need the “artist-citizen.”

Let’s envision what an American artist of this new century might resemble: First, they discover and become accountable to their education in order to understand how art impacts society. Second, they perceive how their art folds into the fabric of American life both now and in the future. Finally, they view themselves as change agents for communities, collectively acting on their knowledge and creative talent.

Higher education is addressing the problem of artist employment through entrepreneurship classes, programs, centers and institutes. Laudable as this extraordinary step may be, the academy – again – is in reactionary mode.

Solving the short-term issue of artist employment without seeing our young artists as community leaders, creative catalysts, artistic revolutionaries and entrepreneurs, is short sighted. Arts entrepreneurship education without a guiding ethos is hollow.

The artist-citizen must be what Rick Cherwitz at The University of Texas has coined the “intellectual entrepreneur” – one who sees the mind as the source of inspiration and change, and who understands that the mission of institutions of higher learning should go beyond “advancing the frontiers of knowledge” to include “serving as engines of economic and social development.”

Our founding fathers collectively leveraged their education, experience and beliefs to create a free nation. Properly trained, American artists have the same potential within society.

Arts higher education must envision young artists differently in a new century – for without a vanguard of artist-citizens, we turn off the creative gene that forged and bettered this nation.

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