Innovating Through Artistry

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Seed Grants to Student Arts Entrepreneurs

In Art, Author: Linda Essig, Creative Support, Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Music, Networking, The Idea, Theater/Film on November 13, 2009 at 1:40 am

Last week, I got to do the thing that I enjoy most in my job (I also got to do some things I enjoy least, but discussing those would be digressive). My colleagues and I made six seed grants to student arts entrepreneurs. If I ever feel down and out about the future, I can go back and read the 24 letters of intent and 8 full submissions to our p.a.v.e. program in arts entrepreneurship we received this October. Reading through these proposals makes me feel that the arts are relevant, vibrant, vital, and sustainable.

Students have some of the coolest ideas. With their permission, I’m sharing some information about the six awardees with you all. Yes, it’s a little bit of bragging, but it’s also sharing some of the interesting ideas that we’ll be mentoring and supporting in the months to come. (And, yes, there were a few proposals that just made you roll your eyes, but those were very few.) A lot of proposals were for projects that could be termed “social entrepreneurship” as much as “arts entrepreneurship,” a combination I find both interesting and hopeful.
With that, I bring you the Fall 2009 p.a.v.e. awardees:
join cast clipartJoin and Cast Ventures: Two Art (Intermedia) students, Jennifer C. and Catherine A., are producing a field guide to the downtown Phoenix arts scene that is itself a work of art.
radio healer clipart copyRadio Healer: Led by Arts, Media Engineering (AME) graduate student Christopher M., Radio Healer presents mediated performances that foster intercultural dialogue in Native communities.
daht clipartDance and Health Together Awards: Led by undergraduate Dance major Mary P., the DaHT Awards is a combination of dance recognition award and fundraising enterprise benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

coop films clipartCo-op Film Productions – Film and Media Production/Marketing student Chelsea R. and her team are creating a support infrastructure for student collaboration across arts and design disciplines.
different from what clip artDifferent from What? Film Festival – AME graduate student Lisa T. in collaboration with Education student Federico W. is producing a film festival focused on films by, for, and about adults with disabilities.

scrath theory clipartScratch Theory – Filmmaking Practices major Chris G. and his collaborators are developing a software/hardware interface that will first notate and then play back via synthesizer DJ scratching.

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Staying Healthy in the (Financial) Storm

In Author: Linda Essig, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 31, 2009 at 12:32 am

weathering the storm

I’ve been doing some research lately on measures of the fiscal health of not-for-profit arts organizations, especially theatres. This got me thinking about the factors that support the fiscal health of individual artists and arts entrepreneurs. In a 2001 article, Mark Hager examines four measures of fiscal stability – of the ability of an organization to withstand the kinds of economic shocks we’ve experience over the last twelve months. (He adapted these from some earlier work by Tuckman and Chang.)

The four measures are: equity balance, revenue concentration, administrative cost, and operating margin.
How can we translate these four organizational measures into something useful for individual artists and arts entrepreneurs? Here is some of my preliminary thinking:

1. Equity balance. It’s always nice to have some money in the bank. From a practical standpoint, having a cushion in the bank can help support the artist in lean times. Building up that cushion during lean times is difficult but should be a priority during the fat times. I even think there’s a story about that somewhere regarding Joseph and a pharaoh’s dreams.

2. Revenue concentration. It’s much easier for an arts entrepreneur to withstand the sudden withdrawal of one client if they have more than one. So, if you’re counting on that one big commission, you may want to backstop that with several smaller commissions as well. Multiple revenue sources guard against permanent damage when any one of those streams dries up.

3. Administrative costs. Believe it or not, studies (Hager’s and others) indicate that it’s worth investing in the people and equipment necessary to run your arts-based business. Doing so has two positive effects on financial stability: 1) solid administrative capacity and 2) there’s somewhere to cut if the times get really really lean.

4. Operating margin. Pretty simple – don’t spend more than you earn. If you do, you’ll need to dip into that equity balance from item one, further diversify your revenue, or sell off the new copier/scanner you purchased to support your office operations.
It all sounds like common sense to me and I’ve been glad to find out that that common sense is actually backed up by empirical research!

Entrepreneurship and Collaboration

In Author: Linda Essig, Creativity and Innovation on October 23, 2009 at 3:06 am

teamworkThe literature on entrepreneurship often references the one “big idea;” the singular innovative vision for something new, often the invention of one singular talent.  But, as we know, it takes a team of many to actualize that one big idea.  I’ve been preparing to teach a unit next week on collaboration and the ways in which group work supports the process of entrepreneurship, especially the kind of creative thinking that often underlies arts entrepreneurship.  In my posting a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Warren Bennis and  Patricia Ward Biederman’s book ORGANIZING GENIUS: THE SECRETS OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION (Basic Books, 1998).  To prepare for my class next week, I’m using a selection from that text, as well as disciplinarily specific one, COLLABORATION IN THEATRE: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR DEISGNERS AND DIRECTORS by Rob Roznowski and Kirk Domer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). [In the interest of full disclosure, I note that Domer worked with me when he was a grad student at UW-Madison and I was on the faculty there.]  In reading and synthesizing these, I developed a list of actions we all can undertake to be more effective collaborators and entrepreneurial team members:

  1. Communicate
  2. Know your team members
  3. Ask questions
  4. Do your research
  5. Look for the “next thing,” not the last thing
  6. Look for relationships
  7. Be “deep generalists” rather than “narrow specialists” (Bennis)
  8. Work together toward a collective purpose
  9. Articulate the group’s mission
  10. Be optimistic
  11. Embrace the idea that groups are temporary and project-focused
  12. Find commonalities
  13. Listen, then adapt
  14. Listen, then participate
  15. Reach consensus
  16. Respect your team members

Cultural Capital

In Author: Linda Essig, Creative Support, Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 13, 2009 at 1:42 am

I’m participating in a symposium this week entitled PARTNERSHIPS FOR PURPOSE: INNOVATION, CULTURAL CAPITAL, AND RESILIENCE. The panel I’ve been asked to facilitate is organized around the question “How should the university contribute to the development of cultural capital/talent in the region?” “Cultural Captial” isn’t a phrase that I use very often, so of course I looked it up. I was surprised to find that it’s a common sociological term, taken to mean (and I’m broadly paraphrasing from multiple sources), the non-economic “worth” of a family, an institution, or a society, often associated with educational attainment and socialization. This, of course, is not how the conference organizers are using the term or they wouldn’t have invited a museum director, a public art director, me, and others to be on this panel.
Cultural capital as I envision it for the purposes of my panel is a two part infrastructure made up of people and institutions. And, these people and institutions have BOTH economic and intrinsic non-economic worth. In a city such as Phoenix with only one large (public) university and several community colleges, the cultural capital of the city is inexorably intertwined with the university.
It is a fact not widely recognized that universities, especially public research universities, indirectly support arts and culture nationally by providing institutional homes — and the salaries and benefits attendant to them — for creative artists. Cultural institutions such as Actors Theatre of Phoenix, for example, draw regularly from the “human” capital of my school. Because the faculty ranks at universities include the artists, designers, directors, etc who create the work we see at the museums and performing arts venues throughout a region, the region is richer for the presence of the university (and, I would add, the faculty have an outlet for their creative work).
To build cultural capital, existing institutions need to be supported and new ones created. That’s why I’m so proud of our p.a.v.e. program in arts entrepreneurship. Through that program we’ve seed funding and mentorship to students with great ideas for arts-based ventures. Some of these, like the Phoenix Fringe Festival and the Sustainable Symphony are already making their marks on the regional cultural landscape in Phoenix.

Teamwork: a challenge of arts entrepreneurship

In Author: Linda Essig, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 2, 2009 at 1:10 am

As I work with student arts entrepreneurs, I’ve found that one of the biggest challenges they face is putting together meaningful, appropriate, and supportive project teams. Why is it harder for an arts entrepreneur to do this than a traditional business-focused entrepreneur? I think the answer lies in the entrepreneur’s motivation. The traditional entrepreneur is motivated (often, if not usually) by the bottom line desire to make money from their venture. The arts entrepreneur, especially the student arts entrepreneur, may very well be motivated by the desire to create opportunity for the production and dissemination of their art. As I implied last week, an artist may want to “hang on for dear life” to their work, making the inclusion of others appear to be a threat or a hindrance rather than a help.

As Walter Bennis points out in “Organizing Genius: The Secret of Creative Collaboration,” “one is too small a number to produce greatness” (p. 3). At the end of the book, Bennis offers some “Take-Home Lessons,” including “Greatness starts with great people” (p. 197). He goes on to define the need for great people to make up great groups. These are people who “have more than enormous talent and intelligence. They have original minds. They see things differently. They can spot the gaps in what we know….They see connections. Often they have specialized skills, combined with broad interests and multiple frames of reference. They tend to be deep generalists, not broad specialists. They are not so immersed in one discipline that they can’t see solutions on another…” (p. 198).

The attributes Bennis lists are important to the formation of an effective arts entrepreneurship team. To cite just one example, a conductor starting a new community orchestra (as one of our p.a.v.e. students did) needs to assemble a team that includes not only musicians, but musicians with knowledge of community cultural development and a marketing manager who not only understands marketing but also has a deep knowledge of music. Fledgling arts entrepreneurs will need to learn to be open to input from their teams, because teams are smarter than individuals (see Bennis and also “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki). They need not “hang on for dear life” to one singular idea, but rather open their arms wide to embrace both the broad interests and specific skills of those smart and talented individuals they want on their teams.

The next challenge, then, is to locate appropriate team members and recruit them effectively. More on that next time!

Holding on for dear life.

In Author: Linda Essig, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on September 22, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Maybe it’s because I’m hosting a talk on “Intellectual Property in the Arts” later this fall, or maybe it’s because the new LORT (League of Resident Theatres) agreement with designers includes provisions for media reproduction of our work, but I’ve been thinking about the issue of competition, confidentiality and intellectual property recently.

At the workshop my p.a.v.e. colleagues and I led two weeks ago, one of the student attendees was very concerned about confidentiality, about the proprietary nature of his ideas. This student was way ahead of me in considering the protection of his ideas. I wish I had been as wary (I hesitate to say “paranoid”) twenty-five years ago when I designed a summer production of a new musical bound, I found out later, for Broadway. Imagine my surprise/disgust/dismay when a version of the custom templates (aka “gobos”) I designed for the finale appeared in the Broadway production a year later, “designed” by someone else.

I think we all want to be good collaborators and citizens of the global arts community, but at what point do we hold up our hands and say: “That’s mine and not yours and I deserve the credit and the financial reward!” Should we ever do so? Students are starting to submit applications for our next round of p.a.v.e. funding. Without sharing any specific information, or divulging anyone’s intellectual property, I note with interest that one team’s business plan actually calls for credit and revenue sharing equally in a kind of artistic co-op. While this idea isn’t new, I’m intrigued by the idea of revenue sharing within an entrepreneurial framework. With all the misplaced accusations of “socialism” in the media lately, what I’m seeing from the trenches of academia is that it may be possible to be both socialistic and profitable. That it just might be more innovative to share one’s intellectual property freely than hold on to it for dear life.

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.

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.