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.