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New College Course: Teaching Artists To Manage Themselves

School is about to start in some places of the country and at some levels, so it seems like a good time to go back to some news released about a month ago: On Wednesday, James Hart, an award-winning actor, director and producer will take up his post at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, as the first Director of Arts Entrepreneurship, an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Division of Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship, at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts.

The new position is part of what SMU says is both new and unique in the U.S. — an arts entrepreneurship program at the college level. It’s a minor, not a major.  Meadows’s dean, José Antonio Bowen, said in a press release at the end of June

The creation of this undergraduate minor is one of Meadows’ most significant curricular initiatives, giving our students the opportunity to learn how to turn their artistic dreams into sustainable business plans. Audition skills are not enough! With the appointment of James Hart – an artist and educator with extensive experience in the fusion of arts and entrepreneurship education – the Meadows School is already positioned as the leader in this new and critical field.

I would agree on that. Again and again, we’ve seen the “talent” (as everyone says in TV so why not here?) rise into management, and sometime they mess it up. That was one excuse cited recently for the dismissal of Edward Villella as artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, as this article in the Miami Herald says. (Sample sentence: “The ballet had a deficit of over $1.5 million, and was in one of the worst financial crises in its history.” But who really knows?)

Bowen said he hired Hart because he ” s the owner, founder and former dean of TITAN Teaterskole (The International Theatre Academy Norway) – a full-time professional theater training program and the first school in Europe to offer intensive training in arts entrepreneurship at the professional conservatory level.” There, “His teaching method stresses the importance of students’ development of entrepreneurial and business skills in addition to traditional arts techniques.”

Others have tried to instill management or simple business skills in artists, but not in the same way. SMU believes it’s starting something that will become routine

As for Hart, a Dallas native. he has taught at the Yale School of Drama, New York University, the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Tufts University, Fu Ren University in Taipei, Taiwan, Harlem School of the Arts, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Kirkenaer Ballettskole (Oslo), among others, his bio says.

He has also “directed classics of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Marivaux, Gogol, Miller and others, including a large number of world-premiere productions. He has also directed several films…[is] producing The Voice Within, a documentary about master acting teacher and former head of acting at the Yale School of Drama, Earle Gister. As an actor, Hart has performed in a number of venues including the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Yale Repertory Theatre, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Dallas Theater Center, Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Theatre Alliance in D.C., and in St. Petersburg, Russia and Taichung, Taiwan. Hart earned his M.F.A. in acting from the Yale School of Drama in 1999 and graduated from SMU with a B.F.A. in theatre in 1996.”

Good move, SMU.

 

Comments

  1. Jim VanKirk says:

    Sure, an academic knows the path to artistic success. If this were true he wouldn’t be an academic. Such BS, simply a further dilution of the practicing Fine Arts much like that fine example of irrelevance Robert Storr has given to Yale.

    • Hart’s not an academic, though…

    • Bryn Gray says:

      Did you even read the article?! SMU is so lucky to have this guy…

    • Scot Montague says:

      With a degree in fine arts (UTDallas 1985), this was something that was never discussed in the details it needed to be when I studied. I know so many artists that would have been better served by their institutions if these real world issues had been a part of the curriculum. The BS is that the Fine Arts are diluted by the exigencies of the market that artists live in. What dilutes Fine Arts is the failure of so many gifted artist to have their voices emerge from our cultural cacophany. Knowing where to be heard or seen and get something for it isn’t a bad option

    • Chance Farago says:

      Apples and oranges. This program and others like it aren’t about making artists succeed. They’re about making businesses succeed. We don’t assume accountants can make beautiful art, so why do we assume artists can balance the books?

      And why the hostility toward education? Learning how to make an aesthetically pleasing or thought provoking object isn’t a natural ability (or how to sell it) – it is a learned skill; one that can be facilitated with the help of academics.

  2. In general (not exclusive to the arts) college grads have no idea how to market themselves. Very cool that SMU is trying to address that need for their arts grads. Fine artists are often unskilled at managing their careers.

  3. Jim VanKirk says:

    “As for Hart, a Dallas native. he has taught at the Yale School of Drama, New York University, the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Tufts University, Fu Ren University in Taipei, Taiwan, Harlem School of the Arts, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Kirkenaer Ballettskole (Oslo), among others, his bio says.”

    Sounds like academic credentials to me.

  4. Phillip Bush says:

    Good for SMU in establishing this arts entrepreneurship minor, but just to clarify, theirs is not exactly “new” or “unique” in the US: there are arts entrepreneurship minors at Ohio State, NC State, and the University of South Carolina launched theirs 2 years ago. However, it’s true in general these are a recent development, and SMU’s move is just the latest sign that the trend is growing within arts departments in US universities.

  5. Dear Jim VanKirk,

    It always interests me to speak with people who have such strong feelings about art and its relation to business.

    Thanks for your comment. Please dig a little deeper and you’ll see my current practice as an artist and my past experiences.

    Many people feel that art needs to only be created for arts’ sake. Art for arts’ sake has its place, but most artists, who do not romanticize the stereotype of the “starving artist”, want to make a living from their art. That is, in my mind, our responsibility as educators–to help our student artists achieve this goal.

    Creating art with others in mind is not selling out. It is selling art. More, I would argue it is an act of service, which is the only way to become necessary as an artist. Artists can create both for others, in an attempt to offer value to others’ and their lives, while also creating art for their own needs and purposes (for its own sake). Artists can simultaneously engage in their career with business sense, which will increase one’s chances of making a living.

    The current standard in arts education in America (and other countries) is one of “all arts technique” and no “technique in surviving from one’s art”. This further leads to perpetuation of the starving artist stereotype and actors being waiters, etc.

    It’s time to look at our patterns of arts education in America and ask ourselves, “Where can we be better?” The answer to me is obvious: We can be better by enabling our artists to make a living from their artistry. Training in Arts Entrepreneurship provides this.

    Best wishes and thanks again. Please continue to check out what we are doing, as our program develops. I often find that the most vocal of critics, become staunch supporters. Let’s keep chatting.

    Jim

  6. Phillip,

    Thanks for your response. What I believe you are articulating is something I have also become aware of–that this is a burgeoning discipline. Programs are popping up, simultaneously, all over the world. Each program seems to be seeking a model that works.

    In 2004, I founded TITAN Teaterakademi, a full-time, accredited 2-year conservatory in Theatre Entrepreneurship (but the skills taught are multi-disciplinary). During this time, I and we developed an approach that seems to work quite well. We have graduates who are doing very exciting things.

    This type of educational structure needs to appeal to artists’ sensibilities, which is what I believe Chance might be referring to. That said, Chance, I would point out that successful artists are smart people and smart people can learn new tasks. What is first required, is a will to do so and a will to overcome the inevitable obstacles of a new learning curve.

    Thank you, each of you who have commented and for your support. It is important to have dialog and debate, as this is how change begins.

    Jim

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