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TEACHING CASE: TEACHING ARTS ENTREPRENEURSHIP
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James Undercofler, SUNY-Purchase [Ed. Note: Jim has background both in arts administration as CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra, et al and teaching arts administration and arts entrepreneurship at Drexel University, Ithaca College and now as Professor and Chair, Arts Management, School of the Arts, Purchase College, SUNY and Artistic Director, National Orchestral Institute, University of Maryland.]

I believe I’m getting closer to how to best teach this subject. I’ve now taught it six times in 3 different colleges, each time with varying conditions, e.g. number of students, number of credits, available resources. In this course at Ithaca College I had the liberty to experiment, and as such, was able to personally progress as a teacher of this subject.

Thirty students: 15 upper-level undergraduates and 15 master’s-level students met once a week for half a semester (I had already taught a similar course during the first half of the semester, also for one credit). The advertised focus:

Entrepreneurship in Music and the Arts in Practice

Frequently the failure of the most creative ideas lies with an inability to build a working model and "business plan." In this course students will learn to build business plans, both linear and non-linear for projects and entities in the arts. Having a pre-existing project idea is not a pre-requisite for this course, as for students without project ideas; the instructor will provide theoretical ones.

The half semester course that I had taught prior to this one, which included a number of the students registered for this one read:

Entrepreneurship in Music and the Arts

Never has it been more critical for students in the arts to imagine new cultural landscapes, to develop fresh ideas to revitalize the impact of the arts on society. In this course students will explore and shape innovative ideas. They will learn how to develop, then take an abstract idea and mold it into a feasible form, ready for the next step: making it a reality.

This reason I list this is because I want the reader here to understand that most of the students in this second half course came into it with ideas already formed.

I had decided to form teams that would work to develop business plans for a select number of "ideas.” I chose to do this because of the heavy emphasis in entrepreneurship literature on the important of the executive team. My intent was to instruct the teams to divvy up the work as it might be done in an actual entity. I suppose I also wanted to observe music students (most were) working in chamber music-like groupings. In other words, I wanted to see if their skills from chamber music carried over into business entity planning. – it did.

I asked students to come to class with pitches for their ideas. They would have 2 minutes + one minute for questioning. During this class, after each pitch the student wrote the name of h/her entity idea on an 8.5X11 paper and stuck it on the wall. After all pitches were completed, I gave each student 3 sticky dots and asked them to vote with their dots. They could place all 3 on one paper, or one on each of three.

Seven entity ideas received most of the dots (my goal was six). Then, spontaneously, two of the seven began negotiations to merge. It was one of those delightful unexpected events that can happen in a classroom where students feel free to explore and interact.

Once the six projects were selected I instructed students to select their group. I started with the most senior students and worked downward, i.e. 2nd year master to undergraduates. The result was 6 teams of 5 each.

I believe since the topic of the course was learning the mechanics of business entity planning, those students whose project ideas were not selected were not upset. I had emphasized this element repeatedly, and had explained how those projects that were not selected could still benefit from the learning and experience that was about to take place.

I introduced 2 business plan rubrics, one traditional and one that is outlined in Osterwalder’s and Pigneur’s book "Business Model Generation.” In retrospect I would have only used the traditional business plan model, as I didn’t have sufficient time to discuss the Osterwalder and Pigneur "Business Model Canvas.”

Consistently in my mind were concerns that I had collected from my previous teaching with students in the arts. Foremost among these was how they can become totally married to their ideas, that during the market testing and feasibility stages they can dismiss critical information. Other areas of concern focused on marketing, where I had experienced students with amazing energy for marketing, but with weak, or shallow plans; and on financial planning. As such, in my class planning I concentrated on presenting in-depth lectures and materials in these 3 areas.

Before I continue with a description of my class planning, here is a summary of the 6 project ideas, in the students’ own words.

Sound for Spaces is a group of musicians and composers that specializes in creating sound installations, designed to aurally transform a space. These installations utilize space in unique ways, surrounding listeners with sound and musical texture. By performing these works in art galleries, Sound for Spaces helps create a unique experience for visitors, while simultaneously attracting new patrons. Installations can also be created to cater to specific needs, tying in directly with the current exhibit, or even incorporating the artists themselves.

Chameleon Cafe is a profit/non-profit organization that has live performances for aspiring musicians while providing a source of entertainment, food and drink to the community. Chameleon Cafe invests in its performers by giving weekly clinics on various skills and tools for entertainers. Every third month, Chameleon Cafe will host a showcase for the musicians and perform for talent agencies in hopes to attain possible contracts.

Finger Lakes Opera - FLO - will provide professional opera for the Finger Lakes and surrounding area audiences. FLO will produce 3 fully staged productions a season and will include standard operatic repertoire, musical theater, and contemporary works.These 3 productions will be supplemented by special performances, concerts, and lectures throughout the season.FLO will encourage tourism & patronage for area businesses including hotel, restaurant, and wineries. FLO will also enhance the community culture by creating jobs, and through educational outreach programs.

Will Power is a consulting/arranging business focusing on marching ensembles. It will provide custom arrangements/compositions to organizations along with visual design. Additionally, it will provide in-person consulting and rehearsal techniques for each individualized show.

OpLift is a non-for-profit organization that provides classical voice training to underprivileged youth, allowing them to perform opera scenes and small recitals. Our mission is to further diversify the audiences and performers of classical music.

Ensemble Integrate develops and establishes a cross-discipline chamber music ensemble dedicated to artistic collaborations, true audience engagement, and sound financial organization. By allying with established arts organizations and locally known individual artists, the ensemble will help weave itself into the fabric of the community it serves, and by offering unique concert experiences in flexible ways, will seek to establish a strong audience following. Further, extensive use of technology, from social networking to concert dissemination to fundraising, the ensemble will reach a wider audience and open itself up to new collaborative opportunities.

I was pleased when during the market testing phase one of the groups found that a similar entity already existing. It provided an opportunity to discuss when to abandon and remap, or to more deeply analyze the marketplace and modify. The group chose the latter and created a unique entity, but only because they had the existing model in the marketplace off of which to build. This example also launched an unplanned teaching (and learning) unit on competition, building brand, patents, and the use of pricing to hold market position.

We discussed marketing plans, but only in a critique-style manner. We looked at each of the marketing plans and abstracted out to general principles. One of the groups that was clearly not-for-profit asked me who their customers were. When I explained that customers were those from whom the money would come, they were surprised, as their had seen their customers as those receiving the benefits of their programming. This new realization completely changed their marketing plan, as it was now focused on their potential donors: foundations, individuals, small government agencies (arts councils).

I inserted a lecture on internal organizational structure, giving the students a standard Table of Organization, and then taking each group’s personnel needs and demonstrating how each one might develop, from start up to 3-5 years out. I also explained (briefly for lack of time) various business structures, from the not-for-profit to various profit-oriented ones. There was considerable personal interest in the room, as it was tax time, and several of the students were already involved in private income-generating activities.

I presented a standard business pro forma and worked through, in a general way (so little time), income and expenses in each project group. I was pleased that they each were able to identify with some detail what each entity would require. As I had given them an admonition against high capital expense earlier in the term, I was also pleased that all groups heeded this advice.

I asked my friend, Bob Ellis, in the IC Business School if he would develop a rubric to judge students’ final presentations. This rubric was shared with the students 3 weeks before their final presentations were due, so class time in the final weeks was devoted entirely to shoring up areas related to the Ellis rubric.

All presentations were superb – they are all performers! However, in the end, Will Power won, and Sound for Spaces finished 2nd. In both cases, the ultimate size of their markets provided a sound basis for their business entities. Will Power’s market is all high schools and small colleges throughout the country, a total nearing 45,000. Will Power had also already put its team together and had begun to make contacts that assured them, and us that they would be successful right out of the chute. Sound for Spaces placed high, from my perspective, because their business plan was impeccable and their idea fresh and new. Their market is large, galleries and museums, but they will face challenges, if successful, in holding their market position. Others could easily jump in and undercut them. However, they, like Will Power, had already contacted local galleries and had booked a first "gig.”

I’m now teaching a 3-credit course at SUNY Purchase. This one involves 20 students, mostly seniors, and is taught both live and with both asynchronous and synchronous technology. Putting the syllabus together has been a bit like doing the New York Times acrostic puzzle!

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