There is an opinion piece in today’s Arizona Republic by Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, about creating an environment for innovation in the state in which I live. Among his other observations, he writes, “just look at the thousands of start-up companies around Stanford and UC-Berkeley and Harvard and MIT.”This got me thinking, why aren’t there scads of start-up-theatre companies in New Haven, home of the Yale School of Drama, or a multitude of music oriented ventures in Rochester, home of the Eastman School of Music. Perhaps it’s because not enough of our universities, and most especially not our conservatories, are teaching students about innovation and venture creation. Actually, it’s unfair of me to single out Rochester, because Eastman’s new Institute for Music Leadership Center for Music Innovation strives to do just that. In universities and conservatories across the country, however, students are taught by master teachers, imparting wisdom and techniques taught to them by their “master teachers“ hence the very term CONSERVatory. Such tradition creates generations of highly skilled but narrowly focused artists and craftspeople who don’t see themselves as innovators, yet innovation, as Peter Drucker says, is the foundation of entrepreneurship.
How then can we impart a spirit of entrepreneurship in our students? I’m not convinced that it’s through business plan competitions (as Eastman and others are doing), although such competitions can certainly be one part of a multi-faceted approach to arts entrepreneurship education. Some students in the arts need foundational or even remedial education in topics like financial literacy and career planning, and that might be another facet. But those too are not enough. We need to look at Craig Barrett’s charge to create an environment for innovation, an environment where student artists can be seen as co-creators, not merely empty vessels to be filled with the wisdom of past masters. Only through innovation and the creation of new work (and new forms of work) will the arts and culture (and the economy) advance.