Arts Entrepreneurship: You are closer than you think.

by Jim Hart and Gary D. Beckman

in Artistry & Artistic Innovation,National Conference

(This post is a part of the Artistic Innovation blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

“My second conclusion is that attributes of creative individuals and attributes of entrepreneurs are so similar that even attempting to define a set of predetermined characteristics is a futile exercise.”

(Bygrave & Zacharakis The Portable MBA for Entrepreneurship)

 Arts Entrepreneurship has been widely spoken about in many circles. No doubt by now, we have all heard about the Arts in relation to Entrepreneurship. So, what is it, how do we do it and who benefits?

In its crudest form, arts entrepreneurship is about earning a 21st century living from one’s art. Philosophically, the term is about how art can impact audiences and communities. For artists, it is about manifesting the empowerment creative autonomy promises. The premise is simple: artists possess the temperament and skills to not only act entrepreneurially, they can receive the same benefits as any entrepreneur.

The purpose of this article is to briefly explore how, as creative professionals, we not only possess the skills to make an entrepreneurial living with our art but that we may have a responsibility to ourselves and those that follow to take responsibility for changing how we manifest our Art as professionals. Some might deem this a “call to action” and that is exactly what this article suggests.

Shared, Embedded and Honed Skills

Theatre – as a discipline, Art form, industry and community – can lead the way in this emerging discipline of Arts Entrepreneurship as it exists both in higher education and professionally. The training we undertake is (perhaps without most participants’ knowledge) preparing us for a possible life as an entrepreneur.

Most in the business of theatre begin in acting class. Acting is the window into the industry and from there, many either leave the industry, continue acting or find new talents, passions and interests like directing, writing, producing, designing, and all other aspects of theatre and roles within its process.

In theatre training, we do not learn just acting, but we explore front of the house to the back of the house. We do practicum that requires hanging lights, we sell tickets, answer phones on occasion, build and strike sets. We do it all. We don’t just play one role, we make Theatre. “Entrepreneurs” do the same thing; they just make “Business Theatre” – the overarching premise in Pine and Gilmore’s 2011 tome, The Experience Economy.

For example, the improvisation classes we take develop a sensitivity to imagination and impulses. We learn how to say, “Yes” and to follow impulses without fear, judgment or resources. We find ourselves acting with others in highly bizarre and complex scenarios that we have to “act” our ways through. Entrepreneurs, similarly, often find themselves in such situations and must rely on quick thinking, problem solving and the following of impulses.

Further, the storytelling skills we learn as performers, play well into branding ourselves as an artist, entrepreneur or arts business. The research skills we use to research a play and character can simply be repurposed to research one’s market and competition. Our understanding and experience in collaboration aids us in building a culture around creative businesses that represents values: personal, professional, political, artistic, etc. Just like we cast plays, entrepreneurs hire employees.

The self discipline we develop from long nights and countless hours of rehearsal help us in practicing the determination and endurance to plan and build creative businesses, even if the business is an actor alone, a business of one. The hardships we endure in struggling with lines, dealing with difficult emotions on stage, performing in previews before a live audience, being vulnerable and open to those we are working with, listening skills, being available for our scene partners and filling in where necessary when a crisis arises on stage; these theatre skills are also entrepreneurial skills. Entrepreneurs use these skills in working with others and in growing and managing the business they create.

As a collaborative art form Theatre cannot be created alone. One must have at least one actor and at least one audience member. Similarly, an entrepreneur must have donors, sponsors, investors and customers. (The latter better conceived as an audience member). But as we know, theatre requires more people than just two. It involves many individuals who are often working in the background, seemingly unnoticed, but nonetheless vital to the process. No entrepreneur builds a business alone. Entrepreneurs need others to manifest “Business Theatre” just like theatre artists.

Those in the Theatre Arts are skilled in collaboration, taking direction (adaptability) and vision building (creating something out of nothing). We have skills in problem solving in the moment, in selling ourselves, which we learn through auditions. In brief, theatre artists are the ideal candidates to lead the way in showing other artists how a living can be made in the arts as so many of our skills are entrepreneurial skills. For most theatre artists, they are in the theatre business as any typical entrepreneur is in “Business Theatre.”

Many artists feel that they are, at their essence, artists; entrepreneurs feel similarly – the act of “entrepreneuring” is an art. Meaning and passion fuel creativity and drive through the difficult and lean times. Entrepreneurs are also creators. But rather than focusing on the creation of a character, they are creating a big vision and tremendous value as they realize opportunity. They are creating jobs and in the process, stimulating the economy.

What then becomes required of these creatives, once they discover the parallels between their innate theatrical skills and the skills of entrepreneurship (or “Business Theatre”), is to acquire those skills absent from their college training, such as budgeting, business plan creation and fundraising. All of this can be taught and are practiced by artists everyday.

Action, Action, Action

In my own process of teaching Arts Entrepreneurship for the past ten years, I have found that what appears to be most lacking in creating entrepreneurial businesses is an understanding of a business plan and its execution, becoming comfortable with applied math skills and attracting money. The Internet today makes all of this much easier. For Generation Y – those students now in college and relatively new in the workforce – they were raised with digital technology and most are quite at home working with apps and online applications. Today we have access to Facebook, Twitter, Constant Contact and a myriad of others services that enable artists to identify, reach out and gather a personalized audience of choice, which is what we are doing HERE at Arts Entrepreneurship: The Movement.

Every movement has to have a goal and ours is to usher in a new standard in artistic education – one that incorporates entrepreneurial skills for the artist. We reify the starving artist path every college semester and all involved know a new normal is afoot. There is no reason one cannot create entrepreneurially, do whatever other creative process they love and make a living simultaneously.

Imagine a new standard in arts education – one that incorporates entrepreneurship into artistic training. In such training, we empower our artists, our sensitive souls, dreamers, visionaries, mythmakers and storytellers with entrepreneurial skills. What are entrepreneurial skills? Manifesting the empowerment creative autonomy promises. Such skills serve an individual in life, just as they do in art and entrepreneurship.

What is this Movement? More directly put, it is one of mass autonomy for emerging artists, working artists and creative visionaries. Autonomy is self-governance, independence, and self-sufficiency. But entrepreneurial skills are also that of creativity, imagining, envisioning, all skills that are just like that of the artist.

The Movement is afoot and I ask you to act for, with and through this effort. In the interest of brevity and directness, below is pseudo-FAQ:

What’s it for? This is a movement to equip our creative artists with entrepreneurial skills. What are entrepreneurial skills? They are skills of self-sufficiency, of autonomy and of business.

What Makes this a Movement? Today there are approximately 130 colleges and universities offering programs in Arts Entrepreneurship. They appear to be springing up at once. Jimmy Levine and Dr. Dre gave the University of Southern California a $70 Million dollar gift, part of which is to train artists in entrepreneurship. Harvard has an initiative, Juilliard does too, as well as MIT and SMU and others, like the University of Texas at Austin, North Carolina State University and the University of Arizona’s P.A.V.E. program. In fact, it’s international:

South Africa: Re-dreaming the economy: why creative entrepreneurs are the future

Great Britain: Kickstarter entrepreneurs doing big business in the UK

Australia: Not a dirty word: Arts entrepreneurship and higher education

The Movement is well underway already. We can bring working artists and the academy to the table together.

We have officially called it a Movement and have created the communication platform around which people can gather and interact, engage and take some inspiration, information and value.

Arts Entrepreneurship: The Movement

Whose movement is this? It is everyone’s. We are defining a new artistic discipline and created this platform to serve as a bridge between academia and those in the profession. We have gathered a like-minded body of people around this shared imperative for all constituencies, including Art itself.

Why should I join? Learn some new tools that might be missing in your creative tool arsenal. Learn about a new developing artistic discipline, which is historic. Participate in the dialog and your voice becomes part of what defines this Movement and Arts Entrepreneurship in the classroom, in performance and in communities.

Who should participate? Working artists, entrepreneurs, academics, new and emerging arts students, observers, and those who seek to learn and gain something out of this discussion and value sharing.

What do I do to be a part of the Movement? If you could create anything, regardless of struggle or money, what would you create? Who would benefit? Where do they live and how could you get a message to them? How would your experience and embedded entrepreneurial skills impact your community, emerging artists, the Movement and Art itself?

But first you must decide what you will do. Note the word: Decide.

There are many ways you can participate. Starting small or piloting an arts venture is typically easy, low risk and low cost. Something simple like the “pop up shop” model is always helpful. Perhaps there is a small work you’ve always wanted to direct but were stymied by the costs? Renting unused commercial space to act as a temporary theatre for two weeks is ideal in this case. Securing in-kind donations for staging materials, costumes and perhaps the space itself is a great way to get to know your local business community and secure future partners. (Donations may be tax deductible in some cases, so businesses are actually incentivized to help). Then, partner with a local college or university’s theatre department as there are plenty of in-training, enthusiastic and creative collaborators eager to build their resume. Make sure to document your process and creative works with high quality digital recordings (both sound and audio). The materials you document (video, audio, image, text, etc.) can serve as content for content creation around a new audience that you can create around your interest. Want to learn how? Watch the Movement. The key to entrepreneurship is to start. If you enjoy the process, your first attempt will likely not be your last and just as your talents in Theatre have grown over time, so to will entrepreneurial skills. Remember, there is always help on Arts Entrepreneurship: The Movement.

Information is out there, but the best information available is from the ground level, mom and pop, working everyday entrepreneurs. They will have great stories, wisdom and value to share.

Or, if you possess some significant arts experience, you can mentor an emerging artist – either in the Art, how to succeed in the profession or how to raise funds. Call a local university and offer a master class or a weekend workshop that shares your existing entrepreneurial and professional skills to those aspiring to the profession. If there are higher education Arts Entrepreneurship efforts locally (see www.ae2n.net for the most up-to-date list) call the director and offer to guest lecture. Take Arts Entrepreneurship courses at these institutions; instructors typically find a much richer experience for students and working artists learn cutting edge ways to reach younger audiences. Find a toolbox for arts entrepreneurs. Truly, to act within the Movement is limited only by one’s own creativity and these are two good starting links.

Once this necessary step is taken, do what is most necessary right now. Then, do the most pressing and necessary thing next. Make a plan. Set goals daily and if you don’t accomplish them, don’t despair, but move them to the next day’s goals, if possible. The self-discipline we develop in theatre makes a successful artist in this game of entrepreneurship.

Next, find the audience. Create for them. Create a dialog and help them feel a part of your creative process, as they will want to engage in the process again. Learn about the community. Work with people. Ask what they need and serve their needs. Build so much goodwill around the actions of “entrepreneuring” Art that communities want to contribute.

Think about available skills, talents, experiences and interests (especially interests) and imagine them repurposed. Get into a war generation mind frame—be frugal and thoughtful about available resources and needs. Just as Stanislavsky taught us to pursue our needs, serving others creates necessity and being necessary leads to profitability, value, more Art and most importantly, autonomous artists.

Wasn’t this started in the 70’s? The seeds were indeed and we owe much to those who have paved the path for the field. We stand upon their shoulders. Arts Entrepreneurship is nothing new, as artists have done it for ages. But the formalized structuring of an academic field is new.

Why is this on Facebook? Facebook is quite popular and this platform allows for discussion and sharing. Come to the page, click like and read the content. See if there is something of interest for you there. Feel free to start a group discussion. There are many who are looking for answers and many who have them to share.

Come join us. Join the Movement.

As this is a timely topic (American Theatre featured 5 articles on Arts Entrepreneurship in the January edition), many others have expressed an interest in contributing to the message of this article, here for readers at TCG. The quotes below are from individuals who represent many aspects of the fields of Theatre and Arts Entrepreneurship. Each was asked to speak to why we have a need for arts entrepreneurship education. Here is what they said:

Gary beckmanDr. Gary D. Beckman Director of Entrepreneurial Studies in the Arts at North Carolina State University (Long time scholar, teacher and leader in Arts Entrepreneurship Education) “The ethical question in higher education arts training is clear: if we demand that emerging artists pay for their training, then we (as arts educators, institutions and disciplines) have a responsibility to our art, our students and their future audiences to holistically and entrepreneurially prepare them to succeed in the profession – a 21st century profession, not a 19th century western cultural construct.”

pun bandhuPun Bandhu (is an actor who has appeared on Broadway, regionally, in TV and Film and is a two time Tony Award-winning Broadway Producer.) “In my experience, the type of success that can catapult an artist above his or her peers needs to be self-generated. Only you know what you are truly capable of. In an industry where people with no training whatsoever are often chosen over those with craft; in a digital age where self-starters can translate hits on YouTube into mainstream success; at a time when there is a surfeit of young theatre companies and indiegogo campaigns, administrators must ask themselves, “what tools can we give to their students that will give them the edge they need to meld business acumen with their artistry?”

KeithKeith Wahrer (Karmikaze studios founder, founder of Daily Juice Cafe and Rhythm Super Foods. Keith is an Arts entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur, and creative artist) “It’s 2013. Global economic conditions have tightened budgets worldwide. The Internet is redistributing communication and creating markets where non existed. The traditional paths to success no longer serve the majority of artists. Now, in this brave new world, artists must be empowered with the skills to survive and to thrive. It is time for arts entrepreneurship training to be integrated into every arts program, everywhere!”

Rick CherwitzDr. Richard Cherwitz (Long time advocate for Arts Entrepreneurship Education and Founder of The University of Texas at Austin’s Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program) “Sustaining efforts that bring entrepreneurial thinking to the arts and sciences requires a solution intrinsic to and issuing from academe’s best humanistic traditions-one that can inspire students and faculty to reach and exceed their goals for the benefit of themselves and society at large.”

adam dietrichAdam Dietrich (Consistently working professional film maker, theatrically trained.) “If we want artists to go to college, we need to show them there is a value in higher education, by giving them the tools to acquire work in their chosen profession. I’m tired of watching the most talented people I know, both graduates and drop-outs, serve cappuccino’s for a living, and ‘create’ after work.”

Daniel CooneyDaniel C. Cooney (Currently starring on Broadway in “Mamma Mia, the Musical”. Cooney is an arts entrepreneur and founded (Encore Musical Theatre) “I used to wait–to wait for my agents, the business, to wait for casting directors, to wait for my friends, to wait to audition, for opportunities to be given to me and then I could audition. But we need to be much more active players in our careers if we want to be a success and of any level to speak of.”

Adrienne CarterAdrienne Carter (Actor, Television Writer and Producer, Professor) “Colleges and universities should feed artists on multiple levels. Teaching them the importance of generating their own work, and giving them to tools to self-produce it, will allow them to take ownership of their artistry and lovingly share their stories with the world. Why rehearse a great version of Hamlet that will only be performed in your living room?

nathanamondonNathan Amondson (Independent Hollywood Film Production Designer. Amondson works at the top of his industry). “Going through an arts education from high school through college, business and entrepreneurship were the furthest subjects from the main curriculum. Even the thought of the business world mingling within the arts world seemed a very foreign concept. As a feature film production designer and the head of a department, the two worlds are not only mingled but also completely reliant on each other. Without an understanding business and entrepreneurship, today’s artist will only be pawns to those that do. I believe that arts entrepreneurship training is essential to anyone hoping to build a lasting career in the arts.”

clay mcleod chapmanClay McCleod Chapman (Published author, founder of “Pumpkin Pie Show”, educator, Arts Entrepreneur) “The DIY-ethos has always yielded the most rewarding creative output, but historically the lowest financial return… And yet that never stops artists from pounding the pavement and doing whatever it takes to make great work. You want to tell me there’s a class that marries one’s creative spirit with the proper entrepreneurial tools to build up a body of work that is both artistically satisfying and financially fruitful? Hell, I’d go back to school just for someone to teach me that…”

Headshot for James David HartJim Hart (Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University) “Entrepreneurship in the arts is the missing puzzle piece in addressing the starving artist stereotype. It’s the best hope we’ve got to increase not just a few, but all artists chances of making a living from their art and creativity.”

willieWillie Baronet (Artist, Marketing Expert, Arts Entrepreneur, Professor) “Arts entrepreneurship gets at one of the great paradoxes of the creative life, which is evident in this wonderful quote by John Updike, “Art is like baby shoes. When you coat them with gold, they can no longer be worn.” How artists wrestle with this issue is critical to their creative and financial success, and a rigorous and deep education is key.”

JoseDean José Anotonio Bowen (Dean of Meadows School of the Arts, SMU) “Most artists will never be famous, but thanks to our arts entrepreneurship courses and minor, most of our students are now able to continue supporting themselves as artists. Artistic craft remains essential (so AE will never be a major), but it is not sufficient training for a successful life in the arts.”


Jim Hart serves as Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University. Hart founded The International Theatre Academy Norway (TITAN Theatre Academy), a two-year accredited conservatory for Theatre Entrepreneurship in Oslo, Norway. Hart directs, acts, produces and writes in addition to a wide range of entrepreneurial pursuits. Hart earned his M.F.A. in Acting from the Yale School of Drama and holds a BFA in Theatre/Acting from SMU. Click HERE for more on Jim Hart.


Gary D. Beckman is Director of Entrepreneurial Studies in the Arts at North Carolina State University where he developed and administers the nation’s first campus-wide Arts Entrepreneurship Minor.
He earned a Ph.D. in Musicology from The University of Texas at Austin, a M.A. in Musicology from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in Music from the University of Southern Maine. At UT Austin, he was principle investigator the first nation-wide study of arts entrepreneurship efforts in higher education, funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. This work remains the only national study of Arts Entrepreneurship programs.

  • Jane Robinson- Art Epicurean

    How timely. I am an artist and entrepreneur. I am leading a series of workshops for Spring Arbor University – Hosmer Center for Entrepreneurs and Innovation for the creative industries. I led an artist live/work community and found that the artists lacked confidence in their business ability. They lacked a plan to put their goals into action steps. They then become discouraged. The partnership of creatives and higher education is a perfect fit. Creative entrepreneurs are the new economy – their skills make perfect entrepreneurs. I am looking forward to this discussion. Thank you.