Entrepreneurship and the Arts

As many of my consulting clients seek to move in new directions, I am increasingly involved in helping arts organizations select their leaders. This has forced me to consider what characteristics are essential for a strong arts leader. I am consistently drawn back to the realization that the best arts managers are, at heart, entrepreneurs. They have a strong sense of direction and clear plans, but they are able to adapt the implementation of their plans to the opportunities that present themselves. They are ever-watchful of possibilities to create exciting programming, events and announcements and to engage their institutional families in that excitement. These managers run the most dynamic, visible and fun arts organizations with which to engage. Not surprisingly, these organizations also have the happiest and most engaged donors and board members.

But can one learn to be an entrepreneur? Is this a God-given talent or can one develop these skills? The answer is probably: a little bit of both. Some people can innately appreciate the potential of a new opportunity and seize it. But most people would benefit from practicing their entrepreneurship skills and developing confidence in their ability to take advantage of each situation as it arises. Over time, entrepreneurship can become a habit, a way of doing business.

The new home of my DeVos Institute of Arts Management, the University of Maryland, has made it possible for its students to exercise their entrepreneurial muscles in many ways. On April 1, the University will kick off its 4th annual 30 Days of EnTERPreneurship, a program that illustrates the commitment of the University's President, Wallace Loh, to implementing fearless ideas.

Events include a startup career and internship fair, a Twitter chat about innovation and entrepreneurship, a hackathon, and Cupid's Cup, one of the world's toughest business competitions hosted at the University's Robert H. Smith School of Business. For the entire month of April, the University of Maryland becomes a safe haven for would-be entrepreneurs and innovators.

The University's commitment to entrepreneurship, however, is not limited to the month of April. Throughout the year there are business plan competitions, mentoring programs and opportunities for students to engage with world-class entrepreneurs. The University has a goal of involving all of its 37,000 students in entrepreneurship programs.

Arts and culture play a role in the University's entrepreneurship program. The Baltimore Thinkathon is a "think and do" event in which scholars, artists, social activists, foundation representatives and others come together to imagine and plan the ways in which arts and culture can address the city's challenges. That arts and culture is placed at the center of this discussion is heartening to all of us who care deeply for the arts and understand their power to effect change. I look forward to enhancing the University's arts entrepreneurs program in the years ahead. The future of the arts will depend, in great measure, on the development of a new generation of skilled arts entrepreneurs who can cope with our ever-changing arts ecology in new and innovative ways.