Commentary: Where is the incubator for new business ideas for the arts?

Barry Hessenius, WESTAF Blog, 9/18/11

Where are the big ideas for the arts and culture sector going to come from? We have grant programs that specifically seek to incubate new projects and good ideas of value to artists, but where is the grant program to incubate good ideas of value to the business of the nonprofit arts sector?  Why don't we have some means to support think tanks the purpose of which is innovation in our approaches to how we function?  I'm not sure I can argue that innovation in the administration side of the nonprofit arts sector is dead, because I'm not sure I can argue it was ever alive. I think most of the management ideas we employ that work and were at some point new and novel originated from outside of our sphere. Ditto models we have co-opted for use in everything from fundraising to advocacy, communications to program development. This week Brain Pickings (my favorite site about all things creative), featured "5 timeless insights on fear and the creative process":

"...the myth of the genius and the muse perseveres in how we think about great artists. And yet most art, statistically speaking, is made by non-geniuses but people with passion and dedication who face daily challenges and doubts, both practical and psychological, in making their art."

If indeed creativity is more (or as much) about perspiration than inspiration, we ought to be able to figure out how to design and nurture ecosystems that encourage ideas and innovation -- starting with ourselves. Moreover, I think that fact might be enormously helpful to us if the public (and the business community in particular) understood that reality -- for it would help to demystify creativity as all about genius. Creativity and innovation are very likely about process. And how that process actually works, what principles govern its genesis are subjects ripe for discussion with stakeholders, decision makers and especially the media and the general public. The more we can get people across all sectors to think about creativity and innovation and to begin an ongoing dialogue about it all -- the better for us on multiple levels.


Commentary: The case for a new arts business incubator model

Devon Smith, 24 Usable Hours blog, 9/18/11

Next week I'll be speaking at Arizona State University's P.A.V.E. program -- the Performing Arts Venture Experience, one of the few arts incubators in the country. I am fascinated by the way the arts and other industries think about developing new products, new ideas, and new teams. Certainly the arts aren't devoid of incubator-like spaces...but there are a few rather key qualities I've yet to find in (m)any of these so-called (and in some cases, not called at all) arts incubators:

Industry Mentorship. The brightest, best, most interesting, most well connected, successful professional entrepreneurs dedicate their time free of charge to supporting incubators. Where is the support from Barry's Top 25, or from Diane's list of artists?
usiness Model. Tech incubators tend to take some percentage of equity stake in their startups as part of their revenue model. Most arts incubators tend to charge subsidized rent combined with foundation/government grants as their revenue model. Why couldn't an arts incubator ask for 5% of all future revenues from one of their "startups"?
emo or Die. Not launching a new product is not an option for tech startups, yet most of our current models for arts incubators are "we're here to support you in however much you get accomplished for however long you're here". Sometimes I think we're too forgiving, too nice.

Alumni Network. While I have heard people drop into conversation with me, for example, "I used to be in residence at Spaces @ 520" I don't get the sense there is a strong concept of an alumni community once you've "left the nest." Why don't arts incubators list "alumni" on their websites, or host networking events for their "graduates"?
ollaboration Between Startups. Certainly I've heard of arts orgs associated with Fractured Atlas, for example, talk about how getting to know the other arts orgs under fiscal sponsorship helped shape some sort of partnership -- a co-production or sharing of some other resources. But I haven't heard much from arts orgs in these spaces that they're sitting around, trying to help each other solve difficult business problems together. So what could arts incubators do to foster more of this type of collaboration?

I don't mean to imply that the arts are doing it all wrong, or that tech incubators are doing it all right. But I'm interested in the idea that the two concepts of incubators between these industries are so different. Perhaps they've evolved to be ideally suited to the types of companies they're trying to support. But are there any arts companies out there interested in joining a new model of arts incubator? Any funders interested in creating one? Anyone have ideas about how to make this concept better? I'd love to discuss.

Commentary: An arts business incubator idea for a new symphony orchestra

Lewis Whittington,, 8/29/11

Strikes, closures, bankruptcies, record deficits -- the classical-music world has been rocked by troubling financial news in recent months. A crisis can sometimes be an incubator for innovation, but some observers worry that there's a lack of bold new ideas -- and that without them, many city and regional orchestras are simply doomed. Patrick Jones is head of the music department at Syracuse and also oversees the Center for Live Music in the 21st Century, a think tank trying to blend artistic excellence and business acumen, two things not usually joined in one sentence. "We don't just have a five-year plan to have an orchestra, but a plan to have a sustainable orchestra," Jones said. "The university, the county, the symphony foundation, the business community are all involved in creating a new model. This will be a research center and an arts business incubator. We have a flourishing music industry and education program at the school, so there is no reason for the Syracuse Phil to hire funding staff, for instance ... we can come up with different marketing plans, or educational materials." Perhaps all cities should look to smaller orchestras for bolder plans. John Thomas Dodson, musical director of the Adrian Symphony Orchestra, located in southern Michigan, has fostered artistic development, as well as robust new audiences and solvency. However, Jeffrey Nytch, director of the Entrepreneurship Center for Music at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says he sees "precious little" evidence of new ideas and predicts more bankruptcies to come. "Because these are all big issues with no easy solutions (and solutions will, by definition, vary from community to community), the inertia of large organizations tends to set in: Most orchestras are just trying to hold on, with another spiffy marketing campaign or another plea to their big donors to bail them out."

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