Innovating Through Artistry

Let me introduce myself

In Author: Linda Essig, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on August 28, 2009 at 1:18 am

Because this is my first posting on the entrepreneur-the-arts-blog I thought I would take up space this week with some introductory information. I also want to lay out some of the questions that keep me awake at night.

I’m a lighting designer, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m an educator, and I’m a researcher. There are other descriptors too, but they’re probably not relevant to this site! I smiled when in yesterday’s posting, Jim wrote “When I was active as an actor in New York, following graduation from Yale School of Drama,” because I date my own interest in entrepreneurship to “when I was an active lighting designer in New York, following graduation from New York University [then YSD’s main rival in theatre design education].” I probably didn’t even know what the word “entrepreneur” meant at that time (and who does now – but that for another day). What I did know was that I was creative, had ideas, and needed to get producers and directors to recognize me. In other words, I needed a launch, a boost, a kick in the pants to get me moving forward on a creative trajectory. Fast forward 25 years and that’s what I try to do as an educator: give smart creative young people a launch or a boost – and sometimes a kick in the pants – to get them moving forward in their creative lives.

In addition to directing a large interdisciplinary school, I lead ASU’s arts entrepreneurship initiative p.a.v.e. (the performing arts venture experience). The program includes a student arts-venture incubator. Funded in large part by a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, we’re able to provide creative students with that launch or boost that they need by providing seed money, mentorship, and office space. The first question that keeps me up at night is “What is the efficacy of this program over the long run?” Now in its third year, we’re seeing some positive results, as well as some enterprises that have failed to meet their potential. Thus, I wonder too, “How does the efficacy of this program compare to that of other arts venture incubators?” This latter is the subject of my next research project, so if you have benefitted from an arts venture incubator, I would be really interested in hearing from you.

The really big questions that keep me up at night are about public funding for the arts. I’m really intrigued by libertarian (my description) economist Tyler Cowen’s call for an arts agency that can “offer support to individual artists on a relatively arbitrary and indiscriminate basis” with far less accountability than the NEA has now. He even writes “Direct subsidies have worked best when accountability is absent.” (both quotes are from Cowen, Tyler (2006) “Good and Plenty” Princeton University Press, p. 134)

Here are a few other questions (it’s a miracle I sleep at all):
Is some artmaking fundamentally incongruous with environmental sustainability?
Can one teach “innovation?”
How does environment and geography affect arts entrepreneurship?
How can we get students more engaged in (arts) entrepreneurial activities?
Does the traditional definition of “entrepreneur” really fit the arts?
Is there a “right balance” between the new and the traditional?

That’s enough for now. As I consider these and other questions related to entrepreneurship and the arts, I’ll share my thoughts with you. I’m sure I won’t have any definite answers, but the musings will hopefully be interesting.

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