The Balancing Act of an Arts Entrepreneurship Curriculum

I’ve been having a great time the last several weeks developing the syllabus for a course we’re calling Foundations of Arts Entrepreneurship that I’ll teach for the first time a year from now. It’s a challenge to determine the right balance between content related to creativity and innovation, content related to self management, and content related to venture creation — what business schools think of as entrepreneurship. What seems most important, as is the case with an entrepreneurial venture, is to set clear goals. The goals for the course focus on developing foundational skills and knowledge needed to undertake an entrepreneurial approach to art making and art management AND developing entrepreneurial knowledge and skills to support the self actualization and self efficacy of the emerging artists in the class.

In a class that may be taken by as many as 80 student artists per year, I have to recognize that not every one of those 80 will start the next great arts-based venture. The take-aways from the class need to be as much the self-actualization mindset as the fiscal literacy and knowledge of business models. In the hierarchy of needs (at least as defined by Abraham Maslow), self actualization is at the very top. Is it ethical to focus on self-actualization without providing some means by which the student artists can achieve the lower rungs of that hierarchy (food, shelter)? Balance will again be key. Students will ” hopefully“ leave the course not only with an understanding of opportunity creation but also with a solid professional looking resume and some self-management and self-marketing skills that will help them climb above the first two rungs of the hierarchy of needs.

Another question I struggle with is around the teaching of creativity and innovation. My arts entrepreneurship course will have as a prerequisite a lower level course called something like Creativity and Innovation across Design and the Arts. My own intellectual struggle is around whether or not it is possible to actually teach people this topic. There’s plenty of literature out there, especially recent literature from the cognitive and behavioral sciences about creative process, literature on exercises that incite creativity, and great inspiring talks on Ted.com by really creative people. My current view is that before creativity or innovation can be taught, we need to create an environment in which students are actually allowed to be creative and innovative. Creativity and innovation is rarely linear, so teaching step-by-step processes and testing and assessment can be limiting and counterproductive.

Yet, we live in a culture where evaluation and assessment are valued to the extreme, especially as both private and public arts funding shrinks. Granting organizations often require both self- and external assessments, and academic courses include student assessment and faculty assessment. One of the course modules I’m struggling with the most is the one near the end of the course on self-assessment. Venture success can be measured by the financial balance sheet, but creativity, rather than productivity, is harder to measure. Despite my struggles, I’m having a really good time searching for and reviewing the literature!

Your input is welcome. Send me your comments, suggestions, and resources.

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