What is the point of Arts Entrepreneurship?

Over the past decade, I think Schools of Music have answered that question in this way: Arts Entrepreneurship helps our students find success in the field.

Academia has long placed an emphasis on outcomes based learning that prepares students for success. But what if those proposed outcomes aren’t preparing students for the field, or worse, they’re preparing students for a field that doesn’t exist?

Since the economic downturn in the mid-2000’s (and probably longer), defining student success has been plaguing institutions of higher education because the degrees offered don’t necessarily accommodate the available jobs in the field. This is particularly true in the arts, where over-saturation is rampant and even those who manage to find work find themselves underpaid, and often undervalued.

In an effort to counterbalance this trend, a large number of institutions have adopted arts entrepreneurship programming, rooted in the idea that if students can use their talents as a force to generate wealth on an individualized basis, they will dramatically improve their chances of landing a job when they graduate.

I believe embedding Arts Entrepreneurship into a curriculum within a school of music is a challenge for the following reasons:

  • Like a degree in Music Performance, Arts Entrepreneurship is too focused. My guess is that, if you look at the student body of any given school of music, you might find that 5% of students are deeply interested in Arts Entrepreneurship as a career path. A few students will be inspired by this work and some will take this path, however, entrepreneurship training is not a one-size-fits all discipline. Advice: Encourage a pathways program in which one potential path is entrepreneurship, along with a multitude of other options that have the potential to inspire your students and allow them to be in control of their career.
  • Arts Entrepreneurship folds the discipline back into over-saturated models that aren’t necessarily working. When artists explore Arts Entrepreneurship in the company of other artists, they potentially miss out on developing a strategy for addressing one of the biggest challenges artists face in entrepreneurship: They don’t develop the business vernacular necessary to cross sectors, so necessary in entrepreneurial endeavors. Advice: Instead of creating a unit within your college of music, partner with the business school and encourage interested students to take straight up entrepreneurship courses. I love the diversity of thought that comes when you smash students with different career pursuits together through cross-campus collaborations. 
  • Students need context. I think what the Arts Entrepreneurship movement is really trying to do is provide context to the bigger world for our students. In pursuit of perfection on an instrument, what students often miss is that they are one of the most important pieces of the 21st century economy. This is especially true because we’ve moved away from a manufacturing economy to a service economy where creativity and context rule the workforce. Advice: Infuse context with the deep work students do in their degree in order to help them define their career after graduation.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset as an artist in the 21st century is incredibly important. This mindset should introduced to all, and nurtured in a few who show interest and proclivity. The rest of our time should be spent helping our students find a path to success on an individualized basis. That is the only way they will truly find the path that is right for them.

How does this resonate with you? What programs or advice to you give your students as they embark upon their career.  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.


(Photo Credit: Imagen’s Portal)

Published by Nate Zeisler

Nathaniel Zeisler is passionate about supporting and developing the careers of artists and artistically minded entrepreneurs. Serving as the Director of Community Engagement and Adult Studies at the Colburn School, Zeisler is working to build a program that offers a menu of services and training to world-class artists who seek sustainable careers, through engagement activities in Southern California. In 2004, Nathaniel founded the Envision Chamber Consort; an organization dedicated to presenting music as a form of contemporary communication. Continuing to pursue connections between the business and arts communities, Zeisler co-founded and led Arts Enterprise, an organization that helps students find sustainable careers in their chosen field. Additionally, Dr. Zeisler served as the assistant professor of bassoon and professor of entrepreneurship at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. As a musician, Nate served as the principal bassoonist of the Ann Arbor Symphony and performed as second bassoonist with the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit. Nathaniel earned his doctorate of musical arts and master’s degree in bassoon performance from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degree in choral and instrumental education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

4 thoughts on “What is the point of Arts Entrepreneurship?

  1. This is great Nate advice. Thanks! I will pass it on.
    Context is esp. critical; because entrepreneurs need to identify and serve a niche (an itch) that only they can see (at first) and fill. The market CutTime® serves became increasingly apparent during several years in a major orchestra how we could start to fill the tremendous gap between orchestra and non-arts-oriented communities (the curious masses). And soon we could be ready to audition, interview, hire and train the first dozen music school alum to start chapters across the country.

    In school, would-be entrepreneurial musicians face a knotty dilemma (who doesn’t). They must accept both non-profit thinking as well as commercial thinking. The former focusing on artistry, fundraising and tickets sales; the latter focusing on total product, consumers and sales volume. And yes, learning business-speak in either world is a critical networking skill. Perhaps your class should literally change hats to bring this point home.

    1. Thanks for your great thoughts, Rick! I love your comment on non-profit vs. commercial thinking. They really are two different animals and both require a some navigating in order to be understood. Thanks for passing along and I hope this note finds you well. -NZ

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