There is no sect of people that lack the capacity to be entrepreneurial. 3DS facilitators have witnessed this potential at programs all over the globe.
There still persists, however, a false but pervasive belief that entrepreneurship is for business students who want to start tech companies.
The word “startup” itself comes with a particular connotation that one has to be something like Uber or Snapchat –– a largely tech based venture hubbed in Silicon Valley. But entrepreneurship is quickly becoming a skillset and a practice that not only applies to everyone but is necessary for everyone.
This holds particularly true for students pursuing arts degrees.
Young actors, musicians, and fine artists enter into their programs with passion oozing from every pore, but once they leave, making that passion their work becomes too difficult for many to sustain. And so they slowly slip into the “starving artist” stereotype, barely scraping by and sacrificing their health and well-being for the sake of their art.
Arts entrepreneurship programs could finally be the answer the this persistent and long-time problem within arts communities.
Jim Hart, the Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at Meadows School of the Arts at SMU first recognized this problem during his own acting studies:
“I went to SMU for theatre and went to Yale School of Drama for my Masters program in acting and I graduated these remarkable training programs highly skilled as an artist but with no understanding of how to make a living through my art.
The standard in arts education is all arts technique and no real business skill. I was taught, do these things after your graduate: get your headshots together, go audition, talk to casting directors etc.
But that’s what everyone is doing. So I would show up at the door of opportunity, and there would literally be 100 people behind me. What I very quickly learned is that, if I’m following the path that everyone else is on, my chances of measurable, sustainable success are probably on par with winning the lottery.”
That realization is a harsh one for artists just entering the market.
It is jarring and, by and large, not something they were fully prepared for in their studies. They have to try and square with the fact that when entering the market, what they really need to know is how to be entrepreneurial and market themselves.
Hart experienced this revelation first hand, recalling “What I discovered is that if I made my own opportunities by self producing, then I had opportunity. And when I went from job seeker to job giver, the world just opened up to me. And I was able to access credible talent that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have access to.
Tony award winning actors and such. Suddenly I was directing them. That was so empowering that I just never looked back.”
From there, Hart went on to found a successful acting school (in Norway!) that began his lifelong pursuit and passion of training artists to be entrepreneurial.
And now he isn’t alone.
When Hart first looked into arts entrepreneurship, there were maybe 4 or 5 schools currently embracing the discipline. Now, he knows of over 100.
But what is “arts entrepreneurship” exactly? And what does it mean for young artists?
For Hart and for 3DS, it’s that artistic expression alone isn’t enough anymore. Students need more than art, they need the business of art. They need to develop entrepreneurial skill, as Hart puts it, “to demonstrate the efficacy of their training.”
And this skill development must be experiential in nature. At Meadows School of the Arts, Hart has developed his own pedagogy to directly address the disconnects artists often feel with traditional business classes.
“I try to address the topic of entrepreneurship with artists, and artists historically have kind of fled from business classes. The average artist does not want to take traditional business classes. I had to ask myself how to appeal to these artists and the answer was the artist love of ‘play.’ So I developed these educational games to address this.”
The transformation Hart sees in his students with this kind of experiential method is not unlike what we see during 3DS programs. To Hart, this transformation is proof not only of the efficacy of experiential learning, but also of the similarities between fine arts and entrepreneurship.
“These are both processes that revolve around creation. And they are both experiential processes by nature, you have to do it to really get it. You can learn about painting all day long from a book, but you’re not going to know it at all unless you paint.
The same is true in entrepreneurship.”
But arts entrepreneurship programs still face issues knocking down the status quo
As Hart puts it, “the status quo is largely interested in preserving itself. This pushback can come from tenured faculty. Some people are very resistant to the word entrepreneurship itself because they relate it to things like capitalism and corporations and the bad things that can sometimes come along with those institutions.
However, resistance to new courses or pedagogy that incorporate entrepreneurship and business skill face pushback from not only from education institutions, but also from students who don’t always see the programs as necessary.
Part of this hesitancy comes from the fact that these students simply don’t know what they don’t know, which is often the case across all disciplines.
But with artists –– perhaps more than anyone else –– they come in with a certain expectation that doesn’t always square well with the rigors of the market once they graduate. Young artists are still auditioning as their primary career strategy and ending up in survival jobs trying to pay rent.
According to Hart and our own experience with 3DS, entrepreneurship education can reverse that for good.
Becoming independent and in charge of your own destiny as an artist can be a life changing experience. And entrepreneurial training can allow artists to live their passion comfortably without having to fall back to a survival job out of necessity.
Through Hart’s program, over 70 alumni have set up entrepreneurial channels to allow them to more successfully sell their art.
Arts entrepreneurship is trending upward and continuing to grow.
Which is good for everyone.
As Hart argues, “When we educate artists within our institutions, the artists benefit. When the artists work, the institution benefits. It’s good business to teach artists how to make a living. Everyone benefits from this process.”
And that includes all of us. The best thing we can do to help continue this growth is to support arts entrepreneurship and continue pushing for entrepreneurship education for students of all kinds.