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Defining Entrepreneurship in the Arts

With the term, Arts Entrepreneurship, being thrown around, a bit recklessly, but with all good intentions, I feel compelled to define what I will call here “Zones of Definition.” My hope here is to clearly delineate different types of entrepreneurship, from individual empowerment to entity creation, and to help refine what is meant by social entrepreneurship within the arts. Since music is the art area where I have the deepest experience, I have chosen to use it as my core example.

Zone 1.a Empowering Oneself, Personal Entrepreneurship.

Here lie all those items that we have lived with for years: resumes, cover letters, auditions, phone interviews, in-person interviews, etc. With competition as fierce as it is now, these items need to be perfectly produced, practiced and personalized. I recently chaired a search committee and was (again) astounded that people with sterling academic qualifications used poor grammar and misspellings, and botched telephone interviews. Those who master these skills will be far ahead of most others.

Zone 1.b. Adding “Brand” to Zone 1.a.

Increasingly employers are seeking those who not only nail every item in Zone 1.a., but those who then demonstrate interesting and unique personal qualities. Employers seem now to be looking for the person who will add to their team, who will enhance the internal and external work of their organization. Finding and enhancing one’s specific talents or traits (without going weird, of course) may enhance one’s chances at existing positions.

I recently returned from the National Orchestral Institute, which I now lead, where highly accomplished musicians (average age, 22) come for the month of June to learn orchestral repertoire, and to work with top-notch orchestral players: for the purpose of ‘winning’ an audition in a symphony orchestra. I observed a number of master classes and mock auditions, and found a common theme: that audition committees are not just looking for the note perfect audition, but for a personal aspect of expression. This apparent change from simply note perfect to note perfect + personal expression supports this idea that one must “brand” oneself to effectively compete for the most desirable positions.

Zone 2.a. Making a Career for Oneself (and sometimes others).

Here lies the “portfolio” career, i.e. constructing a whole career in music with many parts, most of them created by the person, h/herself. A common construction may be playing in a ROPA* orchestra, teaching private students in a private studio or in a community school of music, and creating a concert series of chamber music. There are many other elements possible here as well, from writing and arranging to instrument repair, piano tuning, church gigs, creating and conducting community musical groups, and so forth.

When I was Dean at Eastman, I found that large numbers of alumni were happily engaged in these types of careers. There were true community members and leaders, making life better and richer on a daily basis.

Zone 2.b. Creating a New, but Recognizable Not-for-Profit Entity.

While all previous levels could be referred to as personal entrepreneurship, here true entrepreneurship begins (if one defines entrepreneurship, in part, as the creation of a new entity).

One of my former students from Eastman recently formed a new community school of music in her town. It had been her dream since she took a course in music leadership with me. This is an example of a recognizable not-for-profit entity, but new, and needed, and employs a number of others. It adds value to its community.

Another example: if a musician were to create a substantial concert series, and/or new musical performance group, it would qualify for Zone 2.b. I serve on the advisory board of a performing ensemble/concert series in Philadelphia. This group, with a visionary and untiring leader, has carved out a musical niche in a very crowded musical landscape and succeeds in adding value to its community. It also does well financially, as it has built a sustainable business model.

  • Zone 3 focuses on socially-directed entrepreneurship.

Zone 3.a. Create a Recognizable, but New Not-for-Profit Entity, but with a

Shared Purpose:  Social and Artistic.

These creations arise from applying one’s arts expertise toward a defined and known social challenge that a community has identified. These must arise from the artist approaching community leaders/activists and asking, “how can we, with what we do best, help you to accomplish your goals?” Any number of outcomes will be possible, from those in education to those in performance. I have seen interesting collaborations emerge between public schools and performing musicians that enrich both sides of the equation, and that also provide a sustainable income for the artists involved.

Zone 3. b. Create a New Not-for-Profit Entity, but Directed Entirely at a Social Purpose.

This is where social entrepreneurship as defined by the Ashoka, Skoll and Schwab Foundations lives. While these foundations tend to focus on global issues of epic proportions, one could scale the creation of an entity within one’s community or region. While in Zone 3.a. the artist continues to do “what h/she does best,” here the artist facilitates the creation of a completely new entity using h/her abilities in a more abstract fashion.

The most notable and early examples of social entrepreneurship of this type arose in assisting indigenous people in marketing their crafts to worldwide markets. These entities not only addressed poverty among these indigenous people, it recognized their remarkable artist abilities. One could imagine any number of creative endeavors (new entity creations) that attack a core societal challenge by carefully adapting existing and innate talents for “sale” in wider markets. This is a win-win-win for those who choose this route.

Zone 4.a. Create a Totally New Not-for-Profit Entity.

A pair of music students I worked with this past year have created a website to promote and sell the work of collegiate composers. They have won or placed high in 2 business competitions and plan to go “live” by the end of this calendar year. Their business model dictates a not-for-profit structure, as they will need a portion of their income from foundations and individual gifts.

Although not specifically in music, in Philadelphia, a new arts service organization was recently formed, Culture Works ( Their mission is to provide affordable, shared management resources to arts and heritage organizations and creative professionals. Among their many programmatic initiatives is a cooperative workspace for artists from all disciplines. Their mission, as it speaks to efficiency and affordability lies within the not-for-profit domain.

Level 4.b. Create a Totally New Commercial Entity.

We’ve all got to accept that it’s okay to make money. And recognizing that yes, one can make money in the not-for-profit domain; here there are no limitations.

A number of new entities have blossomed in music transfer and purveyance, i.e. providing (selling) music for use in commercial businesses (gaming, cable, cinema, advertising, etc.). The amount of money being made in this area is astounding. There are also a number of websites that offer interactivity that are set up as Limited Liability Companies, and do quite well.

Technology offers enormous opportunities for the creation of new commercial entities, but I would not limit students thinking to this in their pursuits, as I believe there are limitless possibilities here that link education, live performance and technology in creative and meaningful ways.

*ROPA: Regional Orchestra Players’ Association, a conference of the American Federation of Musicians, ROPA primarily represents orchestras with mid-sized budgets.  Member orchestras include Hartford, Fresno, Rhode Island Philharmonic, among many others.


  1. Very clear thoughts with great examples! Aligning the appropriate entrepreneurship model with crisply defined goals is key to advancing those goals effectively.

    FYI — Alison and I are moving ahead with Topografy as a new commercial entity (Zone 4.b.) and are assembling the team and working to shape our model now. We expect beta launch this fall — exciting!

  2. Michael Ketner says:

    As always, it’s great to read your posts, and I am happy to see that you have set out to define all of this, as arts entrepreneurship certainly means different things to different people (in my experience). My question would be if there should be an additional zone that accounts for entrepreneurial thinking within an already existing entity/organization. For example, an administrator in an organization creates a new program that develops new revenue streams for that organization. Would that warrant a new zone or would it fit into one of the ones in your post?

    Whether a new zone should be created is probably not really the point, though. To me, it is important to promote the notion that everyone who works in the arts should be looking for opportunities to be creative in this way, regardless of the situation in which they find themselves.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this; I look forward to reading more…

    Mike Ketner

  3. Comrade remimakinde says:

    i am currently wrting a paper on “character development in art entrepreneurship:the factor of nigerian folktales”, your blog is more than an eye opener, it is a “scope widener”. well done.

  4. Lyndia Carlile   says:

    I was looking through some of your posts on this website and I conceive this web site is really informative! Retain putting up.

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