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New Degree Program

Lately I’ve been involved in a most interesting process of formulating a new degree program in arts entrepreneurship for Ithaca College. If all goes well this master’s level program will launch in fall, 2013.

What’s been most interesting has been the feedback I have received through an external commenter phase, a part of an IC-required market feasibility “test.” Eight industry leaders have given invaluable feedback on the plan I proposed. I will not quote or reveal their names: not necessary and not fair, given lack of context, but I will highlight some of the issues that arose from their commentary.

The master’s degree program will educate and prepare students to launch new ventures in either the for-profit or not-for-profit worlds. Additionally it will prepare them to enter existing organizations as innovators, able to fundamentally rethink entrenched models.

There were 3 areas of differences in reacting to and providing feedback on the design I proposed.

The first arose on how much financial and legal management education to require. One side argued that a general understanding of these matters was enough, as one can always hire this expertise (assuming one knows what the issues are!) and the other side argued that deep knowledge and acquired skills are essential.

The second difference arose around defending existing arts administration programs v. being critical of them – both in regard to entrepreneurship. One collective voice said that existing arts administration programs already focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, that there is no need for a new program with entrepreneurship at its core; the opposing voice stated that existing programs are stuck in the mud, only educating students for jobs that will soon be obsolete. This latter group welcomed the idea of a new degree program with entrepreneurship at its core.

And the third difference of opinion arose over whether students should continue their arts learning in the program. I have recommended 6 required credits in the arts. One side argued that this was essential, while the other saw it as unimportant.

Here’s how I’m thinking about each of these areas of difference.

In the financial/legal domain, graduates will need to know and understand a host of financial and legal issues and skill areas. They will not necessarily be graduated able to take authoritative action on a number of them. For example, they will need to know what a Form 990 is and what is required by it. They must be able to read it and discern it, but not be able to file it. They will need to know about a number of compliance issues, know what these compliance issues require, but not be able to take action on all of them (depending on complexity). The balance described here is defensible (in my opinion) because graduates’ energies must be directed toward the core operations of their venture, and knowing what financial and legal issues must be addressed, they can purchase services to manage them. Long-term budgeting and projections, preparation of balance sheets and other more routine financial matters: yes, these must be mastered, but not the more complex and gnarly ones.

I have to agree with those who believe that most existing arts administration programs are stuck in a mode of preparing students for existing positions in organizations that are rapidly changing or fading. In defense of these programs: the arts and culture industry still very much needs skilled and able arts administrators. A valid purpose is being served. Some of these programs do offer electives or embedded units on entrepreneurship, but I have not found one that has it at its core. Needless to say, I believe the preparation of a new type of arts leader, one who is well versed in entrepreneurial thinking and skills is paramount to creating a new future for the arts in the US.

I would not have placed 6 credits in the arts in this new program if I did not think it of utmost importance. The arts industry is morphing from what I call Maestro World, to one that is much more collaborative and interactive in its artistic decision-making. Fifteen years ago the role of the arts manager was well defined. H/she would receive the artistic package from the artistic director, and then package it and sell it, raise money to support it, hire a staff to implement it. Now, however, the arts manager is an arts leader. H/she manages a complex process of determining the artistic package in collaboration with a large number of constituents. H/she must have a deep artistic sensibility, both to assist in making final decisions, but also to maintain credibility within h/her organization or group. This is why I included 6 credits of arts instruction in the new degree.

There will be more on this topic in upcoming posts.


  1. I especially agree with the need to have credits in the arts included in such a program, for exactly the reasons you stated. But one of my biggest fears as I see arts entrepreneurship programs expanding throughout academia is that the field will suffer from some of the same problems that the marriage of academia and classical music performance has created in the last half-century. One hopes that entrepreneurship degree programs will not simply churn out graduates who are then qualified to teach in other entrepreneurship degree programs in academia, so that they may then produce other graduates of entrepreneurship degree programs, who are then qualified to get jobs in academia teaching in entrepreneurship degree programs, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.

  2. John Brown says:

    I’d advise a look at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s program with The Theatre School /DePaul — not for its curriculum, but for the fact that it culturally and intrinsically has entrepreneurship at its core through its full-time position at the theatre.

  3. Hey Folks, consider a different angle.
    Offer and promote this program to K-12 public school music and art educators.
    Here is your rational. I was an inner-city junior high band director for 40 years. The last 15 years I taught, funds were systematically cut from the program. It would have been cut entirely…except….To deal with this issue, I knew I would need a support system different than upper school administration..I needed a strong parent community. I reentered school at age 57, taking a one-year leave.
    To that end, I earned my second master’s degree in Arts Administration. Because of the three internships required in the program, my 8th grade jazz band performed at the new Guthrie Theater in Mpls, on MPR “the jazz image”, at Orchestra Hall in Mpls, opening for BB King, and the parents raised 50K to fly the group to NY and perform on the campus of Lincoln Center. With venues such as this to perform in, students practice more to be admitted into performance classes. And their parents support the practice, and the program to the school board.
    Having a support system outside of the school system, a business network, will maintain arts programs in schools, and as we all know, develop the audience base for local venues, and maintain the arts tourism economy in any city.
    This degree needs to be strategically marketed to public school music educators, to help maintain arts programs in K-12 schools across the US.
    Vicci Johnson Retired 2009 St. Paul Minnesota Public Schools

    • Dear Vicci,
      Excellent point and I hope it is strongly considered. I am the Executive Director of Arts High Foundation in Los Angeles. Our mission is to bridge the gap between available public funds ant the actual cost of the arts programs at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. The fundraising work we do is well informed by our backgrounds in the arts. I am a former professional opera singer, saxophonist and modern dancer. My Director of Institutional Advancement is a renowned visual artist. My Foundation Associate and Acountant/HR Specialist are both actresses. We get both the non-profit business matters and the arts curriculum needs. Your points are right on!

  4. I am a current MFA student in the Arts Leadership program at Seattle University. It has similar objectives to the program that you are proposing, and it would be great to take a look! One of the great things about this program is the emphasis on hands-on experience through a quarterly practicum project. This means that by the time a student graduates, they will have 2 solid years of getting their hands dirty in the field. [Also, this addresses Phillip’s fear of just churning out academics.]

    As far as arts credits go, I believe that students should be able to opt out of taking art credits if they are already involved with the arts outside of the program. I know that most members in my cohort are still involved artistically (teaching dance, playing in bands/orchestras, doing poetry readings, etc.) I feel like it should be openly encouraged and an option, but not a requirement. Hopefully, future arts leaders have a personal connection with the arts to begin with!

  5. I would argue for the need to have more-indepth accounting and law classes given that start-ups may not have the funds to pay people for such services and may need to go it alone for a bit and should also be aware of whether or not hired professionals are doing the job correctly.

  6. Great conversation. There have been many arts entrepreneurship programs emerging in the last couple of years. It is a fascinating trend. I teach in an arts administration program, and agree completely with the entrepreneurship model. It has at its heart, fundamentally – the partnership between campus and community. As academics, we must attend to community partners as full participants in educating the next gen of cultural leaders. In my program, we have an elective practicum program, with a required summer internship. Most students are active in local arts organizations throughout their graduate program,fostering innovative programming. We embed social media applications, which has also supported innovation. Most of our graduate students continue their arts practices, though I have heard many lament over the years about too little time for it. I think it is healthy to have it as a core requirement. Practicing the arts feeds the soul of our students, and is what the professional practice is all about.

  7. Any objecting to reprinting this in the USASBE ( newsletter? USASBE is the academic organization of entrepreneurship educators.

  8. This academic track is very important as ground work for the world of cultural and creative enterprise. While the classroom is theory, it is important today to encourage entrepreneurial attitudes in both non-profit as well as for profit. In this age of Innovation, entrepreneurship is key to giving innovation sustainability.
    Tom Aageson
    Executive Director
    Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship

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