Arts Entrepreneurship: The Student Perspective

This post appeared on  The Savvy Musician blog| March 25, 2010.  It was written by Emily Weingarten. David Cutler, The Savvy Musician, sends out a monthly newsletter that is terrific. You can sign up for it here:  The Savvy Musician Newsletter.

We’ve heard the facts many times: arts institutions are graduating more students than ever, orchestras are decreasing in number, and support for the arts is waning.  From a purely economic standpoint, many feel that the supply of musicians exceeds the demand for the art.  This has created a dilemma for young musicians: not enough of us are getting jobs doing what we have been trained to do.  Recently, however, music schools have been attempting to incorporate arts entrepreneurship and career development curricula to address this issue.  This is an encouraging sign, as 21st-century musicians can greatly benefit by learning more about the intersection of the art and business sectors.

As part of a team of leaders from Arts Enterprise Central, a nonprofit arts entrepreneurship organization, we decided to ask current students and young professionals what they really want and need.

We surveyed almost 200 students, ranging from undergraduate to doctoral from a variety of music schools nationwide.  More than fifty professionals, defined as anyone with an arts degree (including college faculty, freelancers, multiple-job holders, and private teachers), also took the survey.  We looked for answers to four big questions:

  1. What is the correlation between students’ career goals and the realities of the young professional artists surveyed?
  2. Are students aware of and participating in existing arts entrepreneurship offerings on their campuses?
  3. What do students hope to learn in regards to arts entrepreneurship?
  4. In what format (i.e. how) would students like to learn about arts entrepreneurship?

Professionals were asked their opinions retrospectively. The survey results, expressed in quantitative and qualitative terms, pointed towards four big conclusions:

  1. The reality of young professional artists is vastly different from the career for which they are prepared at schools of music.
  2. Results indicated an overall lack of awareness of and participation in existing arts entrepreneurship offerings on college campuses.
  3. Participants overwhelmingly expressed an interest in arts entrepreneurship classes that combine lecture- and project-based curricular education with a non-curricular arts entrepreneurship student club.
  4. Arts entrepreneurship education must be flexible and personalized towards the needs and realities of the post-graduate 21st-century artist.

We reached the first conclusion by comparing the degree programs and career goals of students with the career activities of professionals surveyed.  Of the surveyed students, 67% were in an undergraduate or graduate performance program.  Nearly 100% of student participants wanted performance to comprise the majority of their professional activities.  But when asked to define their careers, not one of the professional respondents had a career in which they only performed.  One participant performed in just one orchestra, but he also supplemented his income with private teaching.  Thirty two percent of respondents taught at a college level, 18% identified as freelancers, and 20% defined themselves as having multiple jobs, some of which were not in the arts field.  This demonstrates disconnect between what students are being taught and the demands of the professional world.

Students and professionals alike are aware of and concerned about this reality.  The survey question related to post-college anxieties drew four times as many free responses (88 in total) as any other question, emphasizing the fears of young artists entering the professional world.  This student’s response best captures these concerns:

[I worry] that I won’t be prepared for real life as a working musician outside of the school environment, that I will have to give up my artistic pursuits in order to make a living for myself, and that all of the time I spent preparing to be a performer was not time well spent after all.

In the case of professionals, these realities translate to a need for arts entrepreneurship offerings:

Most music performance students are groomed and prepared only for careers as orchestral players, when in fact very few make a living doing only that. We need to be prepared to understand business, marketing, and community relations to have maximum success in these endeavors.

Although both students and professionals agree that arts students are poorly prepared for the professional world and affirm the importance of arts entrepreneurship, only 46% of students reported having arts entrepreneurship offerings on their campus and 61% reported to have not engaged in these offerings if they were present.  Nearly half of students surveyed didn’t know if their campus had any sort of arts entrepreneurship offering.

Despite these statistics, the survey results indicate that 73% of students wanted to learn about arts entrepreneurship, and 81% of students were enthusiastic about taking a class on the subject.  Most of these students were interested in a class that allowed them to explore arts entrepreneurship through a variety of formats: lectures, projects, and in conjunction with a non-curricular arts entrepreneurship club.  This format allows students to apply ideas learned in the classroom in a low risk environment in preparation to enter the professional world in which consequences of failure are much higher.

The fourth conclusion, calling for arts entrepreneurship programs to be flexible and adaptable, is probably the most important.  Both students and professionals agreed that arts entrepreneurship education needed to be personalized towards individual students’ needs and that realities of the 21st-century artist must be addressed.  The following two responses, the first from a student, and the second from a professional, reinforce the need for personalized curricula:

I enrolled in the [Nonprofit management] certificate as part of my doctoral studies so that I can be a stronger teacher, leader, and organizer in the arts.…Many of the classes are inflexible and designed to fit a butts-in-the-seat style of teaching. The teachers cover theory and literature, but are not able to cope with the diverse backgrounds of their students or [their fields of interest]. Entrepreneurship should be more like private coaching so that individual attention can be paid to the specifics of each field.

Arts Entrepreneurship is thinking outside the box and allowing our students to relate to the music field in new and meaningful ways that may differ from previous generations. As educators, we need to honor the creativity and authenticity of our students and nurture their own development as artists and professionals. We need to serve as mentors that are not just interested in creating clones of ourselves, but rather embrace the new visionary models of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.

The survey results call for substantial changes to collegiate arts training.  Not only do 74% of students and 86% of professionals agree that music schools need arts entrepreneurship programs, but the programs developed must be carefully planned and the student voice considered.  We have evidence that students see arts entrepreneurship training as valuable to their careers and professionals are ready to promote relevant ideas to these students.  Finding the ways to do this, however, will be the next great challenge for our music schools.

Emily Weingarten is a community musician and aspiring entrepreneur residing in Ann Arbor, MI.  She is in the process of starting a business to empower young artists called Independent Artists Consulting.  Emily is also the Chapter Development Specialist for Arts Enterprise.  Click the following links to read more about Independent Artists Consulting or contact Emily.

Creative Commons License
Resource Center for Arts Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur The Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.