Arts Entrepreneurship

I’m also concerned, personally, that there are simply too many young people going into debt over this profession that has very little room or need for them when they graduate. – David Dower, New Play Blog

I have found the term that might be the theme of much of my writing for 2010: arts entrepreneurship. Dower’s comment above, as well as the writings of many theatrosphere bloggers, has caused me to come to the conclusion that for young artists, the current theater profession/system is one that is unsustainable and I question if it’s worth pursuing. This is nothing new, and probably for many people that read blogs associated with the theatrosphere, but it is something that seems to be ignored.

Discovering that I have written on similar themes (starving artist myth, celebrity, social media) of entrepreneurial blogs like Entrepreneur the Arts, this theme could be considered a continuation of 2009. This post becomes a commitment to deeper exploration of entrepreneurship, in light of self-producing, that looks to “share a sense of creativity to our society…sense of connection between people, [and] helping people find meaning in their lives and relationships.” (Walters, Theatre Ideas) While my personal life is not at a place to self-produce, I am curious to explore what others are doing, and aid is exploring tools that will empower theater artists to break out of the current hoops that one has to go through to work in theater.

While I agree with Travis Bedard’s post that, “the idea that theatre companies are just like any mini-mart (small businesses with small but measurable economic effects) is patently ridiculous”, artists can still learn from current entrepreneurial business leaders. Bedard encourages more focus on the day-to-day, hands on practice, than the theoretical discussions currently going on in the theatrosphere. But as Josh Hart points out:

The bulk of American theatre training programs train students in a technique of arts education that leads to rampant unemployment. The techniques popularly taught in the bulk of our training institutions are all art technique and no real business technique. Entrepreneurial training in the arts needs to become the new standard in American Theatre training.

While the discussion continues and change seems to be growing, the study of entrepreneurship by young artists is something that needs more exploration, dialogue and examination. In the age of the internet and social media, it is evident that the gatekeepers of various business fields are becoming obsolete, how is this seen in current theater system? Yes, there are indie theaters, but how is indie theater structuring itself away from becoming “smaller” versions of the bigger commercial theaters? As 99seat states, “If new organizations are built on the same standard model foundation, that won’t do any good.” So is 2010 the year where new models are tried and blogged about for discussion? Is that The Prof’s Theatre Tribe model? What other theater models are people working on or thinking they want to try? How is it different than the current theater system?

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    6 thoughts on “Arts Entrepreneurship

    1. Travis Bedard

      I agree that we need more business acumen in our approach to the business of theatre. I think that we spend too much of our talking time talking about how we don’t have any money and trying to figure out the next bake sale to make that happen.

      Which is why the discussion moved to new models… the two most exciting at the moment being the CST model that Stolen Chair is running and the partnership model the New Leaf just unveiled.

      Folks who aren’t trying to ignore that we don;t have a widget to sell but rather are trying to adapt their model to monetizing what we DO have.

    2. Uke Jackson

      I’m not certain that entrepreneurship is the right model. That still requires a capitalist approach. and capitalism in theater leads to middle brow dreck.

      I advise everyone thinking about these things to read “Free for All” the new Joe Papp biography, if you haven’t already.

      I posted my review of the book on my blog last night:

    3. Dennis Baker

      I don’t think theater has to be completely void of capitalism. Non-profit does not mean “no profit”. In an ideal world, the theater is paying livable wages to all the artists, technicians, etc (pause for the sighs from all the artists and technicians, as we know this is not usually the case). For that to happen there has to be money made, and therefore entrepreneurship. What I am curious for in 2010 is bringing to light the different models that are being explored in the light of all that has been discussed in the theatrosphere.

      Papp’s biography is high on the reading list and something I look forward to reading.

    4. Lisa Canning

      Thanks for the shout out! Don’t know if you also know that I am rolling out a brand new school to teach artists how to earn a living called The Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship.

      Since you are interested, like I am, in getting rid of the notion that artists have to starve, your readers might like to support the mission and get a free button. Here is the link.

      Every good wish,

      Lisa Canning

    5. Dennis Baker

      Hi Lisa,

      Mick was someone I quoted on Twitter. I saw the Institute website, congrats. I have been in email conversation with Cory Huff over at Abundant Artist. I am curious about an arts entrepreneur online hub of content and classes, with physical meeting at satellite locations like Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, etc. for online community members that can attend. I agree that artists are not getting the entrepreneur skills they needs, and with today’s technology, I think more artists can be reached that do no live in the location that the schools is at. I look forward to hear how classes are going.

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