We’ve heard the facts many times: arts institutions are graduating more students than ever, orchestras are decreasing in number, and support for the arts is waning.  From a purely economic standpoint, many feel that the supply of artists exceeds the demand for the art.  This has created a dilemma for young musicians: not enough of us are getting jobs doing what we have been trained to do.  Recently, however, music schools have been attempting to incorporate arts entrepreneurship and career development curricula to address this issue.  This is an encouraging sign, as many successful musicians are inherently entrepreneurial, and 21st-century musicians can greatly benefit from learning more about the intersection of the arts and business sectors.

Although the dilemma and the proposed solutions focus on young musicians, music students and recent graduates have yet to adequately voice their opinion in the discussion.  As part of a team of leaders from Arts Enterprise Central, a nonprofit arts entrepreneurship organization, we decided to ask current students and young artists in the field what they really want.

We surveyed almost 200 students, ranging from undergraduate to doctoral from a variety of music schools nationwide.  More than fifty professionals, defined as anyone with an arts degree and included college faculty, freelancers and multiple-job holders, to private teachers, also took the survey.  We were looking for answers to four big questions:
1.    What is the correlation between students’ career goals and the realities of the young professional artists surveyed?
2.    Are students aware of and participating in existing arts entrepreneurship offerings on their campuses?
3.    What would students like to learn in regards to arts entrepreneurship?
4.    In what format (i.e. how) would students like to learn about arts entrepreneurship?
Professionals were asked their opinions retrospectively.

The survey results, expressed in quantitative and qualitative terms, pointed towards four big conclusions:
1.    The reality of young professional artists is vastly different from the career for which they are prepared at schools of music.
2.    Results indicated an overall lack of awareness of and participation in existing arts entrepreneurship offerings on college campuses.
3.    Participants overwhelmingly expressed an interest in arts entrepreneurship classes that combines lecture- and project-based curricular education with a non-curricular arts entrepreneurship student club.
4.    Arts entrepreneurship education must be flexible and personalized towards the needs and realities of the post-graduate 21st-century artist.

We reached the first conclusion by comparing the degree programs and career goals of the students with the degrees obtained by and career activities of the professionals surveyed.  Of the surveyed students, 67% were in an undergraduate or graduate performance program.  Nearly 100% of student participants wanted performance to comprise the majority of their professional activities.  But when asked to define their careers, not one of the professional respondents had a career in which they only performed.  One participant performed in just one orchestra, but he also supplemented his income with private teaching.  Thirty two percent of respondents taught at a college level, 18% identified as freelancers, and 20% defined themselves as having multiple jobs, some of which were not in the arts field.  This demonstrates disconnect between what students are being taught and the demands of the professional world.

Students and professionals alike are aware of and concerned about this reality.  The survey question related to post-college anxieties drew four times as many free responses (88 in total) as any other question, emphasizing the fears of young artists entering the professional world.  This student’s response best captures these concerns:

[I worry] that I won't be prepared for real life as a working musician outside of the school environment, that I will have to give up my artistic pursuits in order to make a living for myself, and that all of the time I spent preparing to be a performer was not time well spent after all.

In the case of professionals, these realities translate to a need for arts entrepreneurship offerings:

Most music performance students are groomed and prepared only for careers as orchestral players, when in fact very few make a living doing only that. We need to be prepared to understand business, marketing, and community relations to have maximum success in these endeavors.

Although both students and professionals acknowledge that arts students are poorly prepared for the professional world and affirm the importance of arts entrepreneurship, only 46% of students reported having arts entrepreneurship offerings on their campus and 61% reported to have not engaged in these offerings if they were present.  Nearly half of students surveyed didn’t know if their campus had any sort of arts entrepreneurship offering.

Despite these statistics, the survey results indicate that 73% of students wanted to learn about arts entrepreneurship, and 81% of students were enthusiastic about taking a class on the subject.  Most of these students wanted a class that allowed them to explore arts entrepreneurship through a variety of formats: lectures, projects, and in conjunction with a non-curricular arts entrepreneurship club.  This format allows students to apply ideas learned in the classroom in a low risk environment in preparation to enter the professional world in which consequences of failure are much higher.

The fourth conclusion, calling for arts entrepreneurship programs to be flexible and adaptable, is probably the most important.  Both students and professionals agreed that arts entrepreneurship education needed to be personalized towards individual students’ needs and that realities of the 21st-century artist must be addressed.  The following two responses, the first from a student, and the second from a professional, reinforce the need for personalized curricula:

I enrolled in the [Nonprofit management] certificate as part of my doctoral studies so that I can be a stronger teacher, leader, and organizer in the arts.…Many of the classes are inflexible and designed to fit a butts-in-the-seat style of teaching. The teachers cover theory and literature, but are not able to cope with the diverse backgrounds of their students or [their fields of interest]. Entrepreneurship should be more like private coaching so that individual attention can be paid to the specifics of each field.

Arts Entrepreneurship is thinking outside the box and allowing our students to relate to the music field in new and meaningful ways that may differ from previous generations. As educators, we need to honor the creativity and authenticity of our students and nurture their own development as artists and professionals. We need to serve as mentors that are not just interested in creating clones of ourselves, but rather embrace the new visionary models of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.    

The survey results call for substantial changes to collegiate arts training.  Not only do 74% of students and 86% of professionals agree that music schools need arts entrepreneurship programs, but the programs developed must be carefully planned and the student voice must be considered.  We have evidence that students see arts entrepreneurship training as valuable to their careers and professionals are ready to promote relevant ideas to these students.  Finding the ways to do this, however, will be the next great challenge for our music schools.

Emily Weingarten is a community musician and aspiring entrepreneur residing in Ann Arbor, MI.  She is in the process of starting a business to empower young artists called Independent Artists Consulting.  Emily is also the Chapter Development Specialist for Arts Enterprise.  Click the following links to read more about Independent Artists Consulting or contact Emily.
 
 
In asking students if and how they would want to learn about arts entrepreneurship, we found that they were eager to do so and wanted a combination of curricular and non-curricular offerings.  When thinking about an arts entrepreneurship class, participants said they wanted a class that was a combination of lectures, guest speakers, and projects.  Even better, they reported, would be a class that was combined with a non-curricular club or student organization that would provide meaningful experiential learning opportunities in a low-risk environment.  An organization like this would allow students to work with like- and diverse-minded colleagues to think about some of the problems artists face and how to create meaningful solutions for them.  

What’s concerning is conclusion number three, that students and graduates are unaware of or don’t take advantage of arts entrepreneurship offerings on their campuses.  This could mean one, two, or all three of the following inferences: (1) students don’t have arts entrepreneurship offerings on their campus; (2) arts entrepreneurship offerings are not effectively publicized; or (3) existing arts entrepreneurship offerings are not attractive to students for some reason (scheduling, topics of course, etc.).  I’m willing to believe reason number one, that some students don’t have arts entrepreneurship offerings as the movement, and the consequential move towards creating classes is still very much in progress.  I’m not as opt to believe reason number two, as it would be in the entrepreneurial spirit for arts entrepreneurship organizers to effectively market their product, be it club or class.  As for reason number three, I think this might be a sad reality for initial arts entrepreneurship offerings being formed by an administration that is not in tune to the interests, anxieties, and realities of the 21st-century music student.  Consider, for example, a response from one student survey participant:

"[My institution] offers has an MBA program, an Entrepreneurship program, and a certificate in Nonprofit Management. I enrolled in the certificate as part of my doctoral studies so that I can be a stronger teacher, leader, and organizer in the arts. What I discovered was that many of the classes are inflexible and designed to fit a butts-in-the-seat style of teaching. The teachers cover theory and literature, but are not able to cope with the diverse backgrounds of their students or [their fields of interest]. Entrepreneurship should be more like private coaching so that individual attention can be paid to the specifics of each field."

This arts entrepreneurship program was created and implemented without enough input from students—or better yet, recent graduates—who can articulately voice what they want to learn, their impressions of the 21st-century economy and how it effects the arts, and their anxieties about their careers.  Thankfully, some educators understand the nature and importance of the arts entrepreneurship:

"Arts Entrepreneurship is thinking outside the box and allowing our students to relate to the music field in new and meaningful ways that may differ from previous generations. As educators, we need to honor the creativity and authenticity of our students and nurture their own development as artists and professionals. We need to serve as mentors who are not just interested in creating clones of ourselves, but rather embrace the new visionary models of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century."

It’s an inspiring—and selfless—quote from an educator who clearly understands the nature of the current arts field.  This participant recognizes that students have creative potential and original ideas.  They just need guidance to turn these ideas into meaningful endeavors.

Finally, when asked to think about their ideal arts entrepreneurship offerings, participants wanted a program that would be flexible and able to be tailored to their personal interests and needs.  I suspect this is in response to a desire to be proactive and opportunistic coupled with an incredible amount of anxiety when it comes to thinking about their futures.  Although it might be obvious to some, here are some things artists are worried about:

"That I will have done all this training, have all these loans to pay off, and be exactly where I was when I graduated from undergrad—lost, worried about finances, and stuck in a job I had been working too long and really hated. Unhappy."

"I have no idea where to begin. And I feel that no matter how prepared I am my career will be left mainly up to chance (being in the right place, at the right time)."

"That I won’t be prepared for real life as a working musician outside of the school environment, that I will have to give up my artistic pursuits in order to make a living for myself, that all of the time I spent preparing to be a performer was not time well spent after all."

"Being culturally irrelevant."

Then we have to overcome–or at least work around—obstacles that institutional cultural creates:

"Faculty, students, and others in the [arts] field stigmatize training diversification, which is ironic and disappointing, given that the 21st-century artist needs [a broader variety of] skills and a good balance of them in order to get started. Artists should be cultural citizens and artistic ambassadors, and getting the word out and drawing others into artistic experiences is absolutely crucial. I wish I had more options and knowledge of what’s out there. I might have taken a different path."

How can we take these anxieties, fears, and old attitudes into account and motivate artists in the right direction to having sustainable, fulfilling, and socially relevant careers?  Integrating an arts entrepreneurship program into arts curricula is certainly a workable solution, and as the survey results indicate, students would be in favor of taking a class that would provide a meaningful way for them to learn about arts entrepreneurship.  But before creating the class, educators need to be mindful of the realities of the 21st-century (arts) economy and the effect this has on their students’ attitude and perceptions of professional possibilities.  A class would need to be able to reconcile theoretical ideas with practical advice from successful young artists who are working in a variety of sectors.  The course instructor would need to be available—and be a knowledgeable source—for career counseling, and he or she would need to have the advising finesse to direct students towards meaningful goals without micromanaging.  

A non-curricular arts entrepreneurship organization, such as Arts Enterprise (AE), has certainly proven to be a viable attempt at addressing these problems.  As AE is entirely run by students with the guiding support of a faculty advisor, activities and involvement level are completely up to the students, so long as they are in accordance with AE’s mission and values, which guide programs towards experiential arts entrepreneurship learning.  Among AE’s programs have included business skills and entrepreneurship workshops for musicians, creativity workshops for business students, and brainstorming sessions for students to develop creative ideas working towards success in arts entrepreneurship education.  AE has successfully implemented larger programs including a two-campus interdisciplinary service expedition to New Orleans where students helped evaluate the effectiveness of a New Orleans arts programs, effectively acting as researchers and consultants to an area in need.

All these activities help empower students to be successful, proactive, business-minded artists (and creatively-minded business students as well).  AE is attractive to some administrators because of its ability to create big changes among student attitudes on a shoestring budget.  An arts entrepreneurship that is a combination of the flexibly designed class and an AE chapter could certainly be an excellent solution to the issue at hand.  But what happens when artists leave the safe haven of their school and their AE chapter?  Who is to advocate for them?  How will they have the tools to use their art to be productive members of society?

It’s certainly time to move young artists into the next step of productivity.  What that will look like now is unclear, advocating for the value of artists—rather than embrace the image of the “starving artist”—will be central to the movement.  The movement will require artists’ desire to be proactive in creating their own careers, creating a cross-disciplinary support group or “tribe” for themselves, and using their pooled resources for the betterment of all.  Educators will need to serve as mentors, guiding artists towards their full potential without being micromanaging or self-serving.  And we’ll all need to be more open about the professional possibilities for the creative artist, including more than just playing in or in front of an orchestra.  
 
 
I was fortunate to work this fall with a team of Arts Enterprise leaders, Kristen Hoverman (Chapter President, Bowling Green State University) and Jonathan Kuuskoski (Chapter President, University of Wisconsin-Madison) to conduct a national survey on arts entrepreneurship offerings in schools of music.  Participants in the survey included current students from a variety of degree programs and former students who are pursuing careers in the arts.  We asked them what they would want to learn about arts entrepreneurship and how they would want to learn it (former students were asked retrospectively).  Participants were asked to relate to several versions of arts entrepreneurship definitions.  They were also asked if they were interested in learning about arts entrepreneurship and how: in a class or series of classes, through a club/student group, in a lecture format, through experiential projects, or in some combination of these options.

Kristen, Jonathan, and I arrived at four big conclusions in our analysis of the collected data:
1.    The reality of young professional artists is much different from the career for which they are prepared at schools of music.
2.    Many students—and former students—want an arts entrepreneurship class that combines lecture- and project-based curricular education with a non-curricular arts entrepreneurship club or student group.
3.    Results indicated an overall lack of awareness of and participation in existing arts entrepreneurship offerings on college campuses.
4.    Participants want an arts entrepreneurship educational program that is personalized towards their needs and takes into account the realities of the post-graduate 21st-century artist.

How can we interpret these results?  Although only 55 professionals were surveyed, not one participant had a career in which they only performed, and only one participant had a career performing in one orchestra and teaching privately.  Thirty two percent of the respondents indicated that they taught on a college level; however, this proportion is probably skewed as the survey was disseminated primarily among college networks. The next largest category of professionals was “multiple job holder, some of which are in the arts.”  I would hypothesize in reality this is probably the largest category with the performing jobs comprising less than half of an artist’s total income.  Many young artist I know—some of whom may not have taken this survey—play in regional orchestras that pay anywhere from $35–65 per service, teach private lessons, and work some other job, in the restaurant or retail business, for example, to pay the remaining 75% of their income, and if they’re lucky, to get health insurance benefits.

Why has this happened? This isn’t a new problem, which is probably why we haven’t addressed it properly.  Even before Mozart’s time, artists were poor, the lucky ones making their living as part of a royal court.  Mozart and Beethoven—among the first glorified freelancers—were able to make money through commissions, although we know they were notably poor.  But let’s go back to the late 20th and 21st century.  Music schools are increasing in number and accepting more and more students than ever.  Combine that with declining support for the arts and a poor economy and we have fewer and fewer arts jobs than ever before—in performing and administration.  This is a basic supply-demand issue: too many musicians, not enough jobs.  We seem to be aware of this:  

From a student:
Right now [arts institutions] just push us out on the street with no idea of how to support ourselves! Most people end up getting dead-end jobs or giving up on their art entirely. That needs to change.    

From graduate/professional:
Most music performance students are groomed and prepared only for careers as orchestral players, when in fact very few make a living doing only that. Almost every musician also teaches, administrates, does chamber music, organizes concerts, etc. as part of their careers, even those with decent orchestral jobs. We need to be prepared to understand business, marketing, and community relations to have maximum success in these endeavors.

Yet we are not doing enough to factor the above perceptions into music school education and prepare music students for sustainable careers in the arts.  Rather, we prepare students for a tradition performance career that only exists for those musicians who secure jobs playing in major orchestras or who gain immediate management and tour the world as prominent soloists among the likes of Yo Yo Ma and Lang Lang.  But detected in the student response is pessimism and fear, and in the professionals’ responses are realization, openness, and motivation.  The questions now remains can we use the latter to inspire and empower the former?