What Is This Stuff?

On my mom’s nights to cook, my dad invariably takes one look at her culinary adventures (regardless of how not adventurous they were) and says to the room, “What is this stuff?”  Both my brother and I have come to love this question, it’s a comfortable meal time tradition that is now used to tease both parents about their cooking, and eating, habits.  The question of what is arts entrepreneurship is taking on that same familiar feel.  It’s become a common refrain of a real question, worthy of serious dialogue and lots of scholarly writing, but also something that has begun to feel comfortable.

I feel like this question has surrounded me in these first few weeks of my second semester in the Arts Entrepreneurship and Management program.  I sat and listened and took notes as the editorial board of Artivate discussed the scope of the journal, and with that came the inevitable question.  Each member of the board had a different take, a fascinating discussion of audience and discipline ensued.  What makes arts entrepreneurship interdisciplinary?  How closely related to social entrepreneurship is it? What should we be thinking about and questioning that will move this not yet defined field forward? 

In another class, Research Methods, I posited during a class exercise that artists are uniquely positioned to be entrepreneurs as the entrepreneurial process is similar to creation of a new art piece.  Both require creativity, willingness to take risks, and, perhaps most importantly, follow through.  I was questioned by my fellow students about what the entrepreneurial process is, and what skills and personality traits artists and profit seeking entrepreneurs shared.  I realized I didn’t have a great answer, and that I was mostly making educated guesses based on my person experiences.

It was in that frame of mind that I approached the series of readings in preparation for the first day of Arts Entrepreneurship, all of them centered on the question, “What is this stuff?”  I was looking forward to some sort of answer, as I am pursuing a degree with arts entrepreneurship in the name….so I was feeling like I better figure it out soon.  What I discovered was a dialogue among scholars and practitioners who all had different thoughts and theories, and very little consensus.  Is entrepreneurship the process of new business creation?  Is it a set of skills and/or traits and/or practices that make a person entrepreneurial?  What is that process? What are those traits?

We began our class armed with sharpies and sticky notes, 6 women sitting around a table.  Our guide, Professor Linda Essig, asked us The Question.  Our answers came fast and furious, and we ended up with a wall covered in sticky notes with words and phrases written on them.  We talked about the process, the product, arts being at the center, the nitty gritty business functions, personality traits, and more.  Together, though, we found some commonalities: risk taking, follow through, focused on the art, and innovation.

I am no more prepared to give a dictionary style definition of this thing that I am studying, but I am ready to discover what it means to me.  And hopefully this class can help define the words, the field, and while we’re at it, discover what it means to be an arts entrepreneur for ourselves.  I am ready to dive head first into this process of experiential learning with this team of ferocious, self-reliant women, and see what we create.

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