What Artists and Entrepreneurs Can Teach One Another

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March 29 , 2022  |  By Abbi Ross, Adrienne Callander, Michael Cummings

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To be or not to be? That is the question Shakespeare posed in Hamlet 400 years ago. From a fictional prince questioning life to those trying to understand a growing field – like arts entrepreneurship – it is a question that still applies to so much.

Art entrepreneurship is in its early stages as a field of academic and scholarly study, leaving room for people to question its boundaries and attempt to fully understand its purpose, impact, and future.

In their study, Adrienne Callander and Michael E. Cummings introduce readers to the intersection of arts and entrepreneurship – a field of increasing interest – but one that is often focused on explicit definitions and boundary conditions that can leave potential perspectives overlooked. As was the case in Hamlet, the questions we ask – or don’t ask – can dictate how we see things. If we ask the wrong questions, we’ll get the wrong answers. Our view of the world or of other ways of thinking will be, at best, limited or skewed. 

Callander and Cummings understand the importance of the right sort of questions. Asking the right questions might be the first step in creating the shared understanding that could “encourage the integration of arts and entrepreneurship.” Their article, “Liminal spaces: A review of the art in entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurship in art,” poses three questions that may help foster this integration:

  • How does the field of entrepreneurship conceptualize art?  
  • How does the arts field conceptualize entrepreneurship?
  • How do (or how should) these conceptualizations inform the integration of art and entrepreneurship in the arts entrepreneurship field?

Their questions focus primarily on the visual and performing arts, but future research could take these questions and apply them to other areas such as crafts or creative writing. They can serve as a model for a deeper discussion that fosters an ever-deeper alignment between arts and entrepreneurship. 

The Art in Entrepreneurship

Callander and Cummings’ study found little consensus about the role of art in entrepreneurship. What they did find was that “singular conceptualizations” were uncommon in entrepreneurship articles. Instead, the arts field was seen mostly as an industry and was framed as “existing within commercial contexts,” a domain “somewhat indifferent to the commercial realm,” and as a tool, a means to end – something that makes things happens and finds solutions. 

For example, the entrepreneurship literature varies between seeing the arts as a cultural industry subsector (an industry), as disciplines within programs of study in art schools and universities (a domain),  or as bringing attention to and facilitating the relief of food insecurity or  providing necessary context for exploring “deeper sensibilities and strategies in the nature of entrepreneurship”(a tool).

Art, in short, does not mean one thing in entrepreneurial circles; instead, "the arts” evokes a variety of associations. 

The Entrepreneurship in Art

Saying that one is looking for entrepreneurship in art almost sounds wrong. It goes against the typical view many of us have of the arts and is a concept that seems focused on shortsightedly monetizing the freedom and creativity we value in the arts without caring anything at all about the art itself. But that’s not what Callander and Cummings found when they assessed how entrepreneurship was viewed in the arts. 

The potential for profit-making – the generating of a “financial return in exchange for arts products or services” - via entrepreneurial activity was mostly applauded and seen as “the measure of success.” However, 37% of the research they analyzed had a more cautious view of these returns, demonstrating a wariness of commercialization and a tension between critical and commercial success. Profit, then, is seen as problematic by some or, at best, a double-edged sword.

In other instances, though, an interesting undercurrent can be found in how the arts view entrepreneurship. The value of entrepreneurship can be seen as a symbolic challenging of dominant modes of thinking and acting, namely “neoliberal values of privatization, individualism, and deregulation, and their implied assault on individual and collective well-being.” Likewise, the entrepreneur was seen as “a pioneer who creates space for marginalized creatives” or as a “free agent...who negotiates for creative independence. ” The entrepreneur, in short, is not a sell-out but someone who can create new opportunities.

Arts Entrepreneurship as a Field of Study

The arts world and the entrepreneurial world both move at a rapid pace and may seem to bounce off one another, ricochet, and depart from one another than intersect with one another. One essential feature that both worlds share, however, is the capacity for dissent.

While Callander and Cummings rightly warn against “an overly porous definition of arts entrepreneurship [that is] so inclusive it encompasses everything and becomes meaningless,” they also indicate that a sense of productive deviance animates both fields.

Artists and entrepreneurs alike are known for breaking rules and a key feature of arts entrepreneurship research could be in helping determining what levels and types “of this productive (or sometimes unproductive) deviance can be facilitated or tolerated within entrepreneurial organizations.” Alternatively, that exploration could help individual artists or entrepreneurs “explore their contrarian theories and objectives” while working in more traditional commercial or social settings.

This productive deviance may further allow individuals and organizations to push boundaries without doing away with boundaries altogether. In short, it helps identify productive areas of dissent that don’t endanger an organization’s operations. 

To return to Hamlet, I’ve always found the “to be or not to be” question a bit, well, inward-looking. After all, while that question is a profound interrogation of life, it also can be seen as demonstrating Hamlet’s own tunnel vision and inability to see or engage with the world around him. 

Arts entrepreneurship, as it grows and defines itself as a field, will do well to ask the sort of questions Callander and Cummings put forth in their research. Doing so will better locate sites for further study as well as illuminate liminal spaces’ inherent value to the field.

Callander and Cummings have also discussed the potential teaching implications of their research and are currently piloting a class that teaches entrepreneurial principles through the study of fiction. They plan to publish future research on this course, co-created with Kristie Moergen, in the near future.

Abbi RossAbbi Ross is a recent graduate from the University of Arkansas's journalism program. She served as editor-in-chief of The Arkansas Traveler, the campus newspaper, and has since worked as a city reporter for The Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith. She is currently an intern at The Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington D.C.