The term “arts entrepreneurship” seems to have flummoxed the music profession, with half believing it’s a merger of B-school and conservatory practices and the rest decrying “l’art pour l’art.” While at first glance, the artist and the entrepreneur may seem worlds apart, in fact they are remarkably similar. Artists, by definition, exude curiosity about the world we live in and help us see opportunities and ideas from a rare vantage point. Through creativity, they find new ways to usher beauty into the world and challenge popular assumptions. And who is more collaborative than members of a string quartet or a jazz trio or more tenacious than a musician who has faced difficulty or failure in the practice room or concert stage but pushed through anyway, striving for the unattainable?
What artists and entrepreneurs share is the ability to address complexity and thrive while playing in the messy, fertile space of uncertainty, ambiguity and promise.
By that same token, entrepreneurs begin by “problem finding.” They want to both identify the issues and opportunities that they are best equipped to address and then solve them with innovative solutions. They are driven by the question “what can be?” rather than “what is?” These pioneers understand that succeeding where others have failed is their defining task. Then they build collaborative teams to usher in new ways of conducting the world’s business.
What artists and entrepreneurs share is the ability to address complexity and thrive while playing in the messy, fertile space of uncertainty, ambiguity and promise. Arts entrepreneurship embodies this ethos of creativity and risk taking, and has gained a footing in university curricula and summer workshops. Institutions like the Eastman School’s Arts Leadership Program; University of South Carolina’s Spark Laboratory; and DePauw’s 21st Century Musician initiative are paving the way for a new model of learning that helps emerging musicians envision themselves as creative agents of change. Organizations like fresh inc, created by Fifth House ensemble’s Melissa Snoza, provide continuing education for musicians who have an entrepreneurial idea or initiative, offering workshops that live up to the company’s tagline “equal parts new music and new ideas.”
Promising young artist-ensembles that are emerging from organizations like the ACJW fellowship program, are being trained to create a unique identity rooted in artistic vision, built upon collective skill sets and fueled by a shared passion to make a difference. Decoda is one such ensemble. Their Performance + Community programs engage meaningfully with the homeless and hospitalized, the incarcerated and, through their Guerilla-style Street Studio workshops, the innocent bystanders who find themselves pulled into impromptu moments of joyful music making.
Decoda violist and founder of Musicambia, Nathan Schram, recently spoke at DePauw University about his organization’s commitment to developing conservatories in the prison systems, suggesting that inmates were in the perfect position to harness the full potential of an artistic journey. “How many of you would say that music has been life changing? And if we believe this to be true, then who more than those incarcerated in our prison systems are poised to take advantage of an opportunity to engage in the life-changing experience of making music?”
Our shared challenge is to build synergy across a unique set of local conditions and take on the ideas we are best equipped to address.
It is easy to discount our own ability, or even feel overwhelmed by the suggestion that we too must run out and launch a program similar to Musicambia. Even if that were possible, it would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the very essence and strength of the entrepreneurial mindset – the ability to look at a local problem, where many of these opportunities reside, and invent a unique solution that draws upon one’s skills, knowledge, passions and
resources. Our shared challenge is to build synergy across a unique set of local conditions and take on the ideas we are best equipped to address.
Musicians, by design, are built to be creative agents of change, yet, somehow we have fallen victim to a narrowly defined set of professional standards focused on memorizing and mastering set repertoire and a list of career options that hasn’t expanded much since the Middle Ages, particularly if you are a classical musician. Not only does this not align with the opportunities that exist in today’s marketplace, it does not align with what most people, especially today’s under-30 generation, want out of a career – a life of means, the ability to provide for those whom they love most, a life of meaning, doing good work and making an impact within their community and a chance to give back. Rather than fearing the trends of shrinking traditional career paths, we must embrace a willingness to invent our own most promising futures and craft an excitedly uncertain future for our music.
Whether you are talking to Peter Seymour, the innovative bassist and founder of Project Trio; self-proclaimed banjoist-instigator Jayme Stone of The Lomax Project; or academics studying the field of arts entrepreneurship, they all seem to agree that meaningful change begins by feeding your curiosity about the world around you and asking yourself what impact you hope to make.
To position ourselves as change agents, we must continue to foster our own creativity, build collaborative teams of like-minded artists who have a shared vision for what the future might hold and turn our imaginations toward establishing new connections – between the power of music and our desire to deepen our relationships with the communities we hope to impact.
Musicians of the golden age of music were composers, performers, improvisers and connectors. In a word: they were creatives.
In Schram’s remarks, he also said, “So many musicians fear we are living at a time when music is dying. But for me, we are living in the second golden age of music where anything is possible, everything is possible. Just by staying true to your art, your vision, you can create something that did not exist otherwise, something beautiful, joyful, powerful and draped in meaning.”
Musicians of the golden age of music were composers, performers, improvisers and connectors. In a word: they were creatives. This is precisely what characterizes the most impactful musicians of our day: they understand the power of music to do good in a world full of need.
Perhaps the second golden age of music is upon us, one that prepares a generation of artist-revolutionaries. I think of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, arguably the most beloved and respected artist of the 21st century, as a great example of the artist-revolutionary. Ma could have continued to play Bach Cello Suites for the remainder of his career and would have done just fine. But instead, we see a revolutionary spirit, in both performance and pedagogy, expanding the boundaries of classical music by embracing world influences (Silk Road Ensemble) and cross-genre exploration (Goat Rodeo Sessions and his recent appearance with ballerina Misty Copeland) as well as his work with emerging musicians through the Silkroad’s Global Musician Workshop and his launch of the Citizen Musician Initiative with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. And he’s not alone. From Gustavo Dudamel to pretty much every artist and organization on POP there is proof that something very special is happening.
So why not an artist revolution? Artists want more than a life chained to the same chair. Music is embraced throughout every culture without boundaries. An increasingly connected world provides influence and inspiration for opening our imagination to a world of music waiting to be created. Technology provides viral access to a global audience. And the entrepreneurial mindset being explored throughout the profession has unleashed the curious, creative, and collaborative energy of the artist-entrepreneur.
Some will say leave art for arts’ sake. I say, let the revolution begin.