The Future of Arts Entrepreneurship: Observations and Yes, More Work to Do

November 5, 2023

The 2010 CMS Summit entitled Music Entrepreneurship Education: Catching the Second Wave was a wonderful affair. It was, perhaps, the best example of academic collaboration I have ever experienced. Of course, this was due to many, many hands coordinating aspects of the Summit I seldom saw, but when I did get a glimpse, it was amazing. Honestly, it was academia at its best and everything graduate school promised about the profession: a collaborative platform in service of our students. This was 13 years ago, and since then, the field of arts entrepreneurship has grown.

What strikes me about this emerging academic field since the Summit is its growth. There are (by rough count) over 100 academic efforts in the United States, two peer-reviewed journals and our own academic society (the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education, or SAEE). Of course, the best part is that students are positively impacted by our efforts. While counting arts business startups is probably the best administrative metric in this context, the more intrinsic metric is the sense of community and support—on both sides of the desk. For many students, it is a lifeline. All this should be celebrated as many hands are making very difficult work much lighter. Collectively, thanks to all.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the following: changing the lives of arts students is a privilege we educators share. Yet, seeing the face of a student who sold their first piece, booked their first wedding gig or secured their first gallery show is not simply something to be celebrated. It is a promise fulfilled and a direct outcome of our field’s very name: to entrepreneur (as a verb) with art. As educators, this privilege comes with significant responsibilities, and one of those is to ensure the field continues to impact our future students.

However, there is more work to do. We should ask why there are so many academic minor programs, so few major programs and virtually no dedicated masters programs training students to not only replace us but also further the field’s intellectual and pedagogical enterprise. While some would say there has not been enough time to establish these degrees (an argument having merit), I see the issue as multifaceted. As I have said many times, dedicated scholarship is the foundation of an academic discipline. By dedicated, I mean scholarship exploring our suffix, our prefix and their interrelated complexities—all with a keen focus on student impact. Watered-down scholarship from would-be related fields or papers recycling thirty-year-old ideas from entrepreneurship journals threaten this enterprise and the potential our suffix explicitly promises arts students. The courage to creatively explore the union of aesthetics, entrepreneurship, marketing and basic market psychology will take effort. Dedicated scholarship intellectually advocates for—and articulates—this field. We were trained to do this creative research in graduate school, and we had better get cracking if we care about our students as much as we say we do.

Another aspect of our future work is pedagogical development. We have only a handful of dedicated textbooks and far fewer curricular innovations. Moving forward, our students should have a dedicated and unique case study experience. Borrowing this method, learning to teach it and making it our own will be a crucial part of the field’s near-term pedagogical development. Indeed, the modeling and engagement case studies provide will help further deliver our field’s promise. We see the beginnings of this with both the recent publication of the field’s first dedicated collection of case studies and suggested field-specific parameters for case study development.1 See Mark Tonelli and Andrew Heise, Cases on Arts Entrepreneurship (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2023) and the special edition of the Journal of Arts Entrepreneurship Education 3, no. 1 (2021).

Of course, the elephant in the room—and yes, this is difficult to write—is fad. Is arts entrepreneurship a fad? What we have yet to prove as a field is that arts entrepreneurship is not a fad—either through scholarship, studies, marketing or by other, more unique means. If we are to remove the elephant, we must be entrepreneurial and collaborative. Certainly, addressing the previous two paragraphs will go far, but ultimately, we must develop unique ways to teach the sustainability of student startups. A sustainable student arts venture is proof of a successful academic program outcome. Fads do not produce sustainable outcomes because fads cannot sustain interrogation over time, which is the role of scholarship and its promised manifestation through pedagogy. Arts entrepreneurship educators and scholars—partnering with forward-thinking administration—are ultimately responsible for ensuring this effort is not a fad. Educators cannot do this alone, and we must partner with those who take the charge of servant leadership seriously.

To close and take a bit from the previous paragraph, let me acknowledge both Tayloe Harding, Dean of the School of Music at the University of South Carolina (my former boss), and Robby Gunstream, then-Executive Director of CMS at the time of the Summit’s development. Together, their efforts made the Summit a reality as my role was more of an “idea guy.” There was much needing to be done and frankly it went off very smoothly due to their collective efforts, staff and expertise. Both Tayloe and Robby taught me many things throughout the planning of the Summit. For example, while I still miss my weekly IHOP breakfasts with Tayloe, it was at one of these uniquely American institutions that I both learned about and saw the impact of servant leadership. Tayloe’s role in the Summit was a perfect example and I will always be thankful for his effort, patience, guidance and belief in both myself and the field.

Robby demonstrated the same. He taught me—as a very junior faculty member—that servant leadership is not exclusively for academic administration as it extends to leadership of all kinds. Robby was as invested in the Summit as both Tayloe and myself. Truly, he cared about the topic, but particularly how the Summit could impact CMS membership. It should be said that their combined role—along with my mentors Doug Dempster and the late Bob Freeman—did much to legitimize the field of arts entrepreneurship. (I will add that Sam Hope’s keynote at the Summit helped as well). We should recognize all of them for their collective roles and contributions to our field’s success. I know our fledgling academic organization, the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education, will soon mature, gain expertise and truly be the servant leader for our membership that Robby modeled.

[1] See Mark Tonelli and Andrew Heise, Cases on Arts Entrepreneurship (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2023) and the special edition of the Journal of Arts Entrepreneurship Education 3, no. 1 (2021).

References

Beckman, Gary D., and Josef Hanson, eds. Journal of Arts Entrepreneurship Education 3, no. 1 (2021).

Tonelli, Mark, and Andrew Heise. Cases on Arts Entrepreneurship. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2023.

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