Entrepreneurship and the arts.

That goddamn buzzword is back: "entrepreneurship." A while ago, I discussed Charles Wuorinen's views on the idea. I also linked to David Cutler's posts about entrepreneurship in music, which ignited quite the discussion (in the same blog post).

This time, I'm taking a different track. I'm still refusing to go point by point over Cutler's model, though I will say one thing: it sacrifices art for money. It's swinging the pendulum the other way, away from donorship and public funds, to a for-profit model, which, honestly, won't work. But even more than that, it moves away from art.

Away from music, I've seen a few posts in the theater and dance realms lately that make a lot of sense. The first is by Shawn Renee Lent entitled "Am I A Dancer Who Gave Up." Shawn was asked a question by an undegraduate who was still too caught up in the academic machine: "Did you have any sort of breakdown when you gave up on your dreams." Lent's answer is spectacular and worth considering. The most salient parts of me break down as "artists have agency, don't give that up," and "a career in the arts doesn't necessarily mean being on stage. And that doesn't mean you give up on your dream."

These are such important words and ideas to consider. How many musicians go through conservatory training thinking that the only end goal is an orchestra? Or a teaching gig? Or somehow (magically) living just off writing music? That's the essence of entrepreneurship--not how to get people to show up for your solo recital (HA!), but what can you do with these skills, these passions, and these ideas, that can not only make money, but be worthwhile to yourself and others.

Moving on, I started going through posts by Scott Walters. He blogs many places, and here's a good collection of his posts. Lent linked to one of Walters' blog posts, and it was the first I grabbed, "A New Education for a New Theater." Again, great points, focusing mainly on agency, and how to create that in young students. And showing students all the different things that they can do, and SHOULD do--not just pigeonholing yourself into one specific area of theater, or following all the rules passed on by the faculty, but becoming a great, well-rounded theatrical artist. Walters is on to something--think about that with music degrees, and with other degrees (such as arts administration). And think about all the avenues of study, work, and interest in music that we barely touch on.

What if every student had to take a seminar on arts administration, and their project was to work with people giving recitals, and collaborate. They find spaces, make programs, etc...but it's not ONE person trying to do it all (which, btw, never works) but a group, and all of them learning important skills that will help them in the long run. And what about a movement away from the solo OR orchestra career paradigm, and focus more on chamber groups, how to found a group, run it, produce concerts...But not done in a fashion that take away from the musical experience.

And then the rabbit hole continues, running through the posts by Walters. How about "Business Models: The Next Frontier." Walters calls into question the current trends (or lack of trends) in theater business models. He breaks it down into two areas: for profit, Broadway style, or non-profit begging style. And he's right, these are the big styles, and there are major problems with both of them. I err on the side of non-profit, but you can develop a non-profit that generates revenue in strong ways. The biggest areas of weakness I see in music? Education, outreach, accessibility, and venues. Orchestras do a decent job with these, but what about chamber groups? Are chamber groups, especially local ones, doing enough differentiation, or are they mainly focusing on giving the occasional concert from a scratch group?

The last of Walters' poignant posts is "On Saying It to Their Faces." Oh man, is he right on so much of this. This line says so much about the experience in theater and music: "First, let’s get real: ever since Richard Wagner decided to turn off the house lights on the audience, theatre people don’t say anything to anybody’s faces anymore. “We’re the ones who say it to the gaping void” would be more the case, but doesn’t really have the same ring to it."

Further on, Walters brings in a story by Patrick Overton from Overton's book Rebuilding the Front Porch of America. It's an amazing story about the power of a poem during the opening of a Vietnam War memorial. The most important thing?

Overtone didn't "tell" it to their faces, he "extended an invitation." The main crux of the article is summarized by Walters quoting Overton again. “Art transcends. Art transforms. Art is the deep voice that heals the wounded heart and lifts the human spirit."

Damn straight--and what you can do with art is much deeper than just playing a single concert to a darkened audience.

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