The Artist as Entrepreneur

How creative folks are putting a business buzzword into action.

It’s the buzzword you can’t avoid. Here it is, trailing its francophone vowels across the covers of magazines, popping into earshot from TV ads and talk shows, punctuating office seminars and professional-development sessions, lionizing or eulogizing the rich and famous as the media recount their accomplishments. Who wouldn’t want to be an entrepreneur? We use the word these days as a virtual synonym for “success.”

What does entrepreneurship mean, though, for people in the arts? Is it a practice that artists should value and aspire to, or is it in some way antithetical to the creative spirit? What’s the best way for theatre professionals to learn to apply the principles and benefits of entrepreneurship to their lives and work?

Those are some of the questions American Theatre set out to answer in this issue’s annual Approaches to Theatre Training special section.

The first thing we noticed as a measure of the theme’s crossover from the business and corporate sector to the arts world was that ubiquitous buzzword, showing up in course descriptions and job titles in fine arts departments at colleges and universities across the country: Students were lining up, we heard, for Arizona State University of Tempe’s new MFA theatre concentration in arts entrepreneurship and management; in Texas, Southern Methodist University now sports a division of arts management and arts entrepreneurship; the University of Iowa bestows upon select graduates a performing arts entrepreneurship certificate; North Carolina’s Wake Forest College emphasizes interdisciplinary entrepreneurship. Those four schools were just the tip of the iceberg—you’ll hear from a host of others in the following pages—but they yielded a savvy quartet of educators willing to compare notes, in “Open for Business,” on the escalating integration of entrepreneurship into academe. Journalist Janice Simpson, of City University of New York, skillfully moderates.

Nobody craves empowerment like actors, so for our second feature we enlisted a fine actor who also happens to be an engaging writer—Bryce Pinkham, who, in “To Thine Own Brand Be True,” bears entertaining witness to the business-minded impulses in his own career and gleans additional insight from fellow actors and those who teach and counsel them.

Finally, we wanted to hear from a spectrum of theatre folk who we suspected had distinctive points of view about entrepreneurship and how it can give artists a leg up. “Voices from the Trenches” opens the conversation to a dozen movers and shakers in the field with pertinent thoughts about harnessing one’s inner resources for success. Some of them, you can’t help noticing, preach entrepreneurship like a gospel.

After delving into the buzz behind the buzzword, we at American Theatre aren’t inclined to elevate entrepreneurship to gospel status. Artists will always place transcendent value on the work they do, not on marketing or promoting it. Still, it was a man of the theatre, Thornton Wilder, who coined the famous aphorism: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” The same can be said for art.

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