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Defending Arts Entrepreneurship

As I interact more with arts entrepreneurship professionals, especially those in music (my home field), I am appalled at how often and consistently these professionals are asked to defend their discipline. What could be more important today than equipping our students with skills that will enable them to create a new musical landscape, one that is infused with youthful energy and vitality?

Perhaps the most intractable and, in my opinion, ridiculous argument against the inclusion of entrepreneurship education in the college curriculum comes from faculty who reject its appropriateness. One hears that the academy is not the place for such activity, that students are there to learn artistry and nothing else, that if well equipped with artistic skills, they, the students will succeed in the “real world.”

I think this line of thinking harkens back to the European conservatory of the late 19th century, which served as the model for so many of our current higher education degree programs. It is astounding how higher education undergraduate degree programs continue to emulate this model.

How many indicators of the collapse of the 20th century music establishment will it take before higher education wakes up and calls an emergency?

So, in this emerging field of arts entrepreneurship, I see a growing group of truly energetic and skilled young professionals who are ready to ignite the field. But in so many cases they are asked to justify their efforts, to fight for budget allocations, to work in conditions that are sub-par. And these are the ones who have actually been employed to work. Needless to say, of the almost 500 higher education music programs in this country, only a fraction address students’ futures in any meaningful way.

It’s time we arm ourselves with powerful advocacy messages. It’s time to tell the truth. If higher education doesn’t get with it soon, we will be looking at a total mess within 10 years in the professional fields.


  1. What the academy may overlook is that entrepreneurship is another type of creativity. Artistic excellence is the goal of artists of every level, and conservatories are correct to keep standards high, but the quest for technical precision can come at the expense of creative approaches to music and music-making.
    Trust me, I’m a singer. No one wants singers to think on their own terms, disrupting the system we support with our tuition payments, lesson and coaching payments, young artist program application fees, etc. etc. If a fraction of ambitious singers stopped paying institutions in the hopes of launching their career and used the money instead to set up a concert series or a new company, it would create new artistic communities nationwide.
    But for the academy to encourage that would be to acknowledge that they do not have all the answers.

  2. The importance of brining entrepreneurial thinking and principles to the arts is discussed in these articles:
    Gary Beckman and Richard Cherwitz, Richard, “Intellectual Entrepreneurship: An Authentic Foundation for Higher Education Reform,” Planning for Higher Education, 37:4 (July-September, 2009), 27-36.
    Gary Beckman, “Artists as Entrepreneurs,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 7, 2008.
    Cherwitz, Richard and Beckman, Gary. “Re-envisioning the Arts Ph.D.: Intellectual Entrepreneurship and the Intellectual Arts Leader.” Arts Education Policy Review, 107:4 (2006), 13-20.

  3. Jeffrey Nytch says:

    And as Amanda states above, the angle I always take is that entrepreneurship is not an opposing force to creativity, it’s a complementary extension of it. But this argument only exposes another cold truth that the conservatory model doesn’t want to face: that it is, ironically, not designed to foster creativity (quite the opposite, in fact). That’s the real reason why I think the notion of entrepreneurship is so threatening to some: it exposes everything that’s wrong with our 19th-century model for educating musicians.

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