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Arts Entrepreneurship — Third Dimension

After digesting the many superb responses, both published here and private, to last week’s blog entry, I spent a lot of time pondering what is really bothering me about the arts entrepreneurship “movement.”  I realized that I have been hoping for and imagining a third dimension.  Let me explain.

The first discernable dimension of arts entrepreneurship appears in higher education and in post-education career counseling.  It consists of how to make yourself more marketable for identified positions.  It’s a hyper-charged version of former models.

The second discernable dimension consists of the many creative adaptations and extensions of one’s artistic expertise.  These range from education programming for people of all ages and conditions to product extensions, e.g. oboe reeds or specialized visual or media arts supplies or equipment.  Most of the higher education programs focus on these extensions.  And yes, these exercises broaden students’ perspectives and give them expanded skills in human relations, management techniques and fund-raising, but for the most part they do not give them career opportunities.  Of the many projects I spawned and oversaw when I was at Eastman, only a handful continues to thrive.  This said: those who tried to succeed with these extension projects and programs have in many cases transferred the skills they acquired to other apparently successful ventures in their arts fields.

The third dimension is that place where whole systems are rethought and reconstructed, where fundamental changes, both in substance and thought take place.  I’m convinced that unless we encourage each other and our students to think in the third dimension, the arts will continue to bang up against societal walls and stagnate.  I think I began to hope for activity in this third dimension when I was doing research on innovative and alternative organizational designs.  I thought (perhaps naively) that I would find something out there that would liberate the arts from their organizational entrapment.  Yes I found the L3C and the B Corporation, as many others, including my good friend, Andrew Taylor did, but after fleshing them out, they didn’t, in my opinion, provide the spark or the grist for artistic liberation. 

Now the third dimension should not be restricted to organizational design thinking.  I’m only using this as an example, one that I’m familiar with.  All aspects of the arts and how they connect to people must be re-imagined, rethought and recast.  Here is where our efforts in arts entrepreneurship should be focused


  1. Good to continue this conversation…
    I think you’re right that the biggest barrier is our habit of mind about what the arts are and how they operate. The more we can check in with the function of art to make our world a better place, and the less we are limited by non-profit structures and “the way things have been done” the better. It’s not about losing excellence, but finding ways to connect what we do with today’s opportunities (e.g., note how many iPads and mobile devices are out there now and kudos to InstantEncore and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for showing the way).
    This is what is so painful about watching the DSO strike in my backyard here in Michigan — the anguish of artists trained and rewarded for one thing being told that it is no longer enough and the whole orchestra industry struggling to grasp what and who they are. The biggest obstacle here is our own thinking and the inability to imagine the best of tradition in the opportunities of the present.
    Inspired by your posts, as well as Andrew Taylor’s and others who have been commenting, I wrote my own blog post about the spirit of enterprise that I think is needed in the arts today. I invite you to check it out at

  2. Great stuff, Jim. Like Mark, I was also inspired to respond. Let’s keep the conversation going:

  3. Stimulating topic, James–
    I think there are a number of individuals and organizations that are working with arts entrepreneurship in the “third dimension” that you talk about.
    One that comes to mind is Creative Capital, a nationwide organization that I know about through one of its workshop leaders, my friend and colleague Aaron Landsman. This organization is interested in tailoring its work for artists to do what they do, but “better” in the sense that each artist gets more income, has more time, feels more satisfied, and embodies the kind of life that he/she wishes. CC and Aaron in the private workshops that he conducts, is far more interested in thinking outside the box than just referring people to seek pre-existing jobs (which would uphold the current system, for better or for worse).
    Another is the new Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship, based in Chicago, and lead by Lisa Canning. This is seeking entrepreneurs in the creative disciplines to develop an idea that can be profitable. Whatever the idea, whatever the discipline. Students are invited to learn how to balance both hemispheres of their brain, and to make thorough analysis of their project, before doing the heavy lifting. If anything, IAE is hoping to change the landscape in Chicago, if not have ripple-effects in other parts of the world.
    As someone working in theater & performing arts, the two organizations above parallel the kind of thinking and information I attempt to instill in my students and collaborators, as we are often having to invent the wheels on the vehicles for us to go where we want to go. We work often in Norway, where there is not a tradition of entrepreneurship or independent art-making, including theater. Thus, being resourceful and creating new ways of working is not only desirable, but crucial.
    Brendan McCall
    Founder & Artistic Director
    Ensemble Free Theater Norway

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful postings on this topic — I posit a fourth dimension at

  5. Brendan, your examples re. Creative Capital and Aaron Landsman are right on target (and yep, I am friends with Aaron as well, full disclosure.
    James, I am also distressed by the “entrepreneurship movement” and its pervasion in the funding landscape of the past few years. As ED of The Field (a non-profit service org in NYC) we got a good chunk of change from The Rockefeller Foundation’s Cultural Innovation Fund to “help performing artists innovate new models to support their art-making.” (; the Back in 2008.
    Oh, how naive I was.
    We learned a ton and we gave seven ambitious artists more than $120,000 (total) over two years to help them test out their approaches to money-art-making. (Download the book here
    I feel almost more confused NOW about how to move forward than I was when we started back in 2008.
    Is anything really shifting? All this money that funders are pouring into “innovation” and “entrepreneurship bootcamps”? is anything helping?
    What’s the goal again? Provocative, inspiring, joyous, colorful, infuriating, and delightful art! Artists living with appropriate and healthy income and resources!
    A big question for me is now all about Sustainability*. Why is this so often the criteria for funders etal? What if something is fantastic and resource-appropriate (financial and human etc) and burns out in 2 or 3 years? Why is that less important than a 15 year old company that churns out the same old play/dance/music every year for the same audience? (*Hats off to the brilliant Esther Robinson and John Killacky for pushing the sustainability question forward!!!)
    One small step forward? The Field is hosting the Creative Capital Intensive Weekend in May 20-22, 2011 (applications at!). I am aiming for as much long-term impact as possible. One weekend flies by and its tons of material to digest.
    Two small steps forward!: OurGoods and Trade School. Alternative economies of barter and skill-sharing. through April 17th in NYC. I’m going to their “Mend Your Life: Pragmatic and Expressive Sweater Darning” on April 6th and I am bartering one organic chocolate bar in exchange for the class.
    Thanks for this post!

  6. From other research we already know that thought leadership has been playing an increasingly important role in short-listing decisions, but it’s always been expressed in positive terms, along the lines of “If a firm has written a …

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