Innovating Through Artistry

Definitions are……finite

In ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on September 8, 2009 at 6:48 am

Last week, I led p.a.v.e.’s semi-annual workshop on arts entrepreneurship and grant writing. Like most entrepreneurial activities, I didn’t do this alone. I was joined by my p.a.v.e. colleagues Lynne Aspnes (music), Muriel Magenta (art), and Miguel Valenti (film). The past four workshops we’ve held started with a brief history lesson and some standard definitions of entrepreneurship like “undertaking risk for monetary gain.” This time we switched it up a bit and each one of us shared our personal definitions of arts entrepreneurship. Needless to say, the discussion was much livelier. It was also a lot more useful for our audience.

My colleague from art talked about entrepreneurship as the “but then what” moment that extends the art process from exhibition to something beyond that. My colleague from music talked about finding ways to be a catalyst, to turn events into actions, taking the artist out of the practice room and into the world. My film colleague discussed entrepreneurship as creating one’s own opportunities. I talked about arts entrepreneurship as propelling oneself forward and using art for social transformation. I did eventually sneak the two-second history lesson in, explaining that French economist J.B. Say first coined the term “entrepreneur” very early in the early nineteenth century. Because the first English translation of the word was “adventurer,” I was also able to extend our multiple definitions of entrepreneurship to include “adventuring.” Aren’t artists all adventurers, boldly going where no artist has gone before?

As the free-formed discussion continued, I realized that to attempt to distill all this down to one single definition of arts entrepreneurship would be restrictive, and therefore anti-entrepreneurial. To define one meaning is to eliminate the potential for all other alternative meanings – we need not do that. In a recent post, Jim Hart asked “is Your Identity Defined by What You Do Professionally?” Much as he suggest that artists need a wide perspective, so too do we need a wide perspective on arts entrepreneurship. Innovation can and does flourish within parameters of need and resources, but not within limitations of thinking.

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