Fund- and Friend-Raising from the Crowd

crowdfundingKickstarter and Indiegogo have launched thousands of music, film, theatre and art projects. Indiegogo doesn’t make its stats readily available, but Kickstarter does. In music alone, the site has funded over 14,000 projects to the tune of over $84 million (that’s an average of about $6000 per project). The funding potential of the crowd is incredible and given the state of the arts economy, it’s likely that this source of venture capital will increasingly be tapped by individual artistic entrepreneurs as well as institutions. Donors like investing in the ideas and individuals behind crowd funding pitches (it’s fun); crowdfunding invites artists to develop ideas into a coherent pitch that underscores impact and value. Yet only about 55% of projects reach their goal. Having just completed a successful Indiegogo campaign for my own project—a set of recordings and a book of musical scores tracing the history of the U.S. national anthem—I wanted to share some observations and potentially advice that I learned from the journey.

The Details
We raised $13,497 from 144 funders through a 33-day Indiegogo campaign with an initial goal of $11,700 (click here to see the campaign). We chose Indiegogo because it allowed us to raise funds as a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, so that contributions could be tax deductible. (Kickstarter is better known but does not facilitate non-profit tax deductions.) For us, the non-profit facilitation encouraged larger donations as well as board participation. That several of our non-profit directors took an active role in the fundraising campaign by sending personal emails and forwarding campaign communications likewise proved  key to our success.

Back in 2010, I worked with four supporters to create the Star Spangled Music Foundation and we successfully applied for 501(c)(3) status. That we launched our first crowdfunding campaign with an established website, several successful grant proposals to our credit, and preliminary results from our recording project already on our Youtube channel, propelled our success. (For those who don’t want the expense or administrative work of creating their own non-profit, Fractured Atlas offers a collaborative option that may work for you.)n

All 0r Nothing vs. Flexible Funding
We used Indiegogo’s “flexible funding” option that allows any funds raised to be distributed to the campaign.  This is opposed to the all-or-nothing option. The flexible option made the campaign less emotionally precipitous, but misses out on the inspiration that the possibility of failure presents. Donors may dig deeper if they know that falling short means nothing happens.  The choice, however, really depends on your project. If you need a minimum amount of money to do the project at all, you need the protection that an all-or-nothing funding scheme offers since you can’t deliver on your perks if you don’t raise that minimum starting fund. If you fall short, no money is collected and promised donor perks are void. Since we were raising money to expand the presentation and distribution of a recording we had already made (using earlier grant monies that were already on hand), we knew we could deliver on our promises regardless of the outcome. Our board was willing to donate enough to keep our commitments even if the Indiegogo campaign fell short. If you can’t afford only partial success, don’t use flexible funding. Also, even with flexible funding, there is a need to meet your goal (and thus set reasonable goals) as we received a 3% service fee discount after reaching our goal. This reduced our fees to about 7% overall.

We used email and Facebook to spread the word. A free MailChimp account facilitated our email strategy. We had only about 435 contacts in our email list and if we did the campaign again, I’d certainly try to double that list. I’d recommend starting your email list at least two-weeks in advance of your campaign launch, and even earlier would be better. Aim for 1000 contacts. Organize your list into categories that will allow you to target different recipients: friends and colleagues, project collaborators, news outlets and blogs. As email recipients donated, I moved them into a donor category. As the communications matured, our pitch shifted from 1) hey, check out this great idea to 2) we’re gonna succeed with your help, to 3) don’t miss out, contribute now! After posting our campaign, we received a half dozen offers from support businesses to help with press releases or to increase our social media presence. We explored but chose to bypass these services.

The Video
I made two completely different versions of the video and was much more comfortable with the process the second time around. I learned to use a tight “close up” shot so that my face was clearly visible and my personality and emotion come through along with the pitch. I shared the video drafts with friends and potential supporters to get valuable feedback and to build commitment from my collaborators and potential donors. In the end, I think my video was too long, but I trusted that donors interested in K-12 education would give me 5 minutes of their time. Such a long video may have limited the potential of our project to go viral. All but a handful of donors came through people someone involved with the project knew personally. Here’s the video we used:

Donation Dynamics
My campaign followed what is apparently a typical pattern in which there is slow, but encouraging initial response from close friends and family and then a final burst of donations as time is expiring. In the 33 days of the campaign, daily donations ranged from $0 to $2000. Days with no gifts were depressing, while a great response put a jump in my step. The challenge is propelling your contacts to take action, and I found email much more effective than social media in this regard. We counteracted the mid-campaign doldrums with a 1:1 matching campaign.  This led to the single best day of donations in the 33-day effort. When friends told me they planned to donate but hadn’t done so yet, I told asked them to add their promised contribution to a matching fund. It was also an advantage for us that we were an established non-profit with a business account such that we could accept checks in the name of the foundation as well. We received emails from some donors who were not comfortable giving online and they mailed in checks that added another $2000 to our fundraising total. In response, I added a “What Is Indiegogo?” section to my emails and if I were to do it over again, I’d probably add a mailing address for checks to the emails as well.

Social Media
Social media alone did not result in many contributions. It may be that since Facebook trains people to act only in ways that ask for limited effort — say the posting of pithy comments, a quick birthday wish, or simply by clicking “like,” that the more involved proposition of going to another website, watching a pitch video, selecting a donor perk, getting out your credit card and registering on the site was too much to ask. We are more accustomed to thoughtful engagement with email communication, however, so it may be that email is a more natural vehicle for calls to action, such as a fundraising pitch.

We sent out about sixteen emails during the course of the campaign as well as five updates through the Indiegogo site. Emails were targeted to specific audiences: two went as press releases to news agencies (these produced no stories or coverage), eight went out to potential donors, two went to project collaborators and other institutional partners to encourage them to spread the news and help recruit donors, two went to previous donors to thank them and encourage them to spread the news, two others targeted new potential donors added to our email list mid-campaign. I also sent individual emails to some friends and institutional partners early in the campaign to help jumpstart activity. About 25% of our email list donated to the campaign. Some who I barely knew were extraordinarily generous; others who I knew well never responded. As far as I know, we received no boost from the Indiegogo site and were never featured in such as way as to inspire unexpected donations. This was disappointing. I was told by others who had done successful crowdfunding campaigns to send out emails every 2 or 3 days and that coming up with enough inspiring communication material was one reason to keep the campaign short. Since my list was made up primarily of friends, family, and professional contacts, I was reluctant to spam them too badly, so erred (especially mid-campaign) on the side of less communication. I found that emails during the week were more productive than those sent on the weekend. One sent on a Saturday evening produced only one donation that day and none on Sunday, but led to more activity on Monday morning.

The Emotional Roller Coaster
As the campaign matured and we got closer to success, I found myself more able to pull away from watching for contributions. Before then it was easy to become obsessive. I also came to appreciate that some of my contacts would never donate: maybe their spam filters captured my emails, maybe they didn’t like the idea or had other priorities, maybe they just weren’t in the habit of donating to things. I learned to not take it personally, but I sent thank you emails to those who did contribute. Ideally soon after their gift. The campaign overall was both time and mind-consuming. I got less done on the project itself during this period, as managing the campaign took much of my time and attention. Making the goal was fantastic, but also exhausting.

Raising money to make your dream possible is certainly the most important benefit of crowdfunding, yet it’s not the only one. In addition to raising funds, your crowdfunding effort serves as a great marketing tool to get the word out about your project. Making your goal gives your effort a boost; it shows people care about what you do and gives you the sheen of success. We raised funds, but we also raised friends. Today’s mediascape is open but cacophonous and it’s difficult to be heard above the din. Our crowdfunding campaign cut through — at least among our own social circles. I also think that putting the campaign together helped our foundation to better articulate its goals and to develop a stronger project. We also worked hard to improve our website during the campaign and added content and playlists to our Youtube channel, which raised the quality of the whole effort. Our website traffic increased about 500% during the campaign and remains stronger even now after the campaign has finished. We’ve also built a database of 150 supporters who we will share news with in the future and who we hope will continue to be interested in and support our work.

Seek Advice and Take Your Time
I spoke with three creators of previously successful crowdfunding campaigns to get advice and insights into the process. (One of the best was a talk by U-M SMTD alumnus and Open Goldberg Project Co-Founder Robert Douglass who gave a talk for Arts Enterprise — click here.) I also read the many online guides and suggestions on the Kickstarter and Indiegogo sites. From each source I found things to imitate as well as suggestions that seemed less applicable to our specific situation. In the end, I think you can be both successful and true to your own ideas and ideals.  I can also admit that I delayed the anticipated start of our campaign for a couple of weeks as it became clear that being successful was more than a great video and project description. You have to develop a strong communications plan and large list of email addresses. You need a plan for a matching fund and for future information updates that show that your project is progressing even as the campaign continues. It’ll never be perfect, but don’t rush into the campaign without preparing for your email communications.

Crowdfunding is a powerful tool and for our purposes the Indiegogo 501(c)(3) benefits were worth any sacrifice in name recognition. Having succeeded, I can enjoy the bonus emotional boost and the sheen of success that the crowdfunding campaing has given our organization. There is risk, however, as to fail might damage not just this one project, but the organization. Yet, I think the risk is worth it, especially if you make the commitment to giving your crowdfunding campaign your best effort.

Posted in Arts Enterprise, Crowdfunding, Entrepreneurship Education, Fundraising, Indiegogo | 1 Comment

Why Teach “The Star Spangled Banner” Today?—It’s Who We Are

PrintOn the occasion of the 199th birthday of the US national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I thought it’d be worth taking some time to reflect on the meaning of the song and specifically the question of why it’s important for K-12 education in the U.S.A.

My students at the University of Michigan tease me a bit about my obsession. But my fascination comes to me honestly: when I was a kid my father dragged this unappreciative son to seemingly every American Revolution and Civil War battlefield between Michigan, Maine, St. Augustine, and San Antionio, during our annual summer driving trips around the nation. I protested, but something apparently took root. I also vividly recall decorating my Schwinn banana-seat bicycle —  my personal pride — in red, white, and blue streamers with a flag on the back to join our neighborhood U.S. bicentennial parade on July 4, 1976. I was nine. It’s not a surprise then that I like bicentennials and, beside, you don’t get many—so the anthem’s own 200th birthday seems to hold a similarly deep, personal connection for me. And I don’t think I’m alone…

Me setting off to the parade on July 4, 1976 (courtesy of my mom!)

Me setting off to the parade on July 4, 1976 (courtesy of my mom!)

I think every American has similarly wonderful personal connections to the anthem — memories of summer days at the ballpark or other events with pageantry and pomp — but celebrating of our own personal identity is only one reason to sing the song—maybe the best reason, but still just one among many.

What I’ve discovered in spending so much time with literally hundreds upon hundreds of Banner renditions and many dozens of alternate lyrics to the tune of Anacreon is that our anthem offers a window into the nation and how it came to be. These songs offer a series of revealing snapshots of crisis points in American history. They record not only events, but the feelings of the poet at witnessing an historic event — such as the Battle of Baltimore which turned the course of the War of 1812 — or at confronting a problem of national scope and vision — say the legal status of alcohol or slavery. Party politics and presidential elections likewise spring to life in lyrics such as “The Glorious Fourteenth of July” or “Harrison and Liberty.” One also sees the burgeoning sense of nation and indelible pride in the words of countless citizen poets whose names are now all-but-lost to history, but for a lyric printed in a neglected newspaper.

Studying “The Star-Spangled Banner” showcases the power of music in our lives, not only as a reflection or symbol, but as a tool for living— a vehicle of conceptual transformation that shapes our ideas and relationships and inspires action. To understand the story of the anthem, is to explore the development of the nation — not only through events and  people, but the aspirations and ideals that propelled our democracy. In the classroom, discussing the Banner brings up vital issues of citizenship, who we are, where we came from, who gets to be a citizen and why, who wasn’t a citizen in the past and how that changed, what citizenship means for us today? These are vital questions and they are no less vital today than when Key penned his lyric.

I’m pleased to serve as board chair of the Star Spangled Music Foundation (see and to be working with great colleagues to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” loud and proud with an ear to both the nation’s past and its future.

Note: this post is the first in a series of 199th birthday tributes to be published over the next month. Check back for more!

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Support the Arts in Michigan—Bill 4407 Promises to Create an Arts Funding License Plate

Today—March 12, 2013—Michigan State Representative Douglas A. Geiss, with the support of seven co-sponsors from both parties, introduced House Bill 4407 (2013) to create an arts fundraising automobile license plate for the State of Michigan. The bill will create an account in the state treasury, funded by license plate fees, that will support the grants of Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. In turn, the Michigan Arts Council will disburse the money in the form of grants to artists, arts organizations, and arts education initiatives throughout the State of Michigan.

TexCAAlaThe roots of the bill lead in part to my daughter Hannah and her friends Stina and Sophie—each students at Ann Arbor Skyline High School. They were assigned a research project by their teacher Ms. Pat Jenkins to explore public policy and chose to research arts funding in the United States. Based on the example of states like Alabama, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, Nevada, South Carolina, and Tennessee, the three budding public policy experts proposed in their paper that the state of Michigan consider an arts funding license plate. Through a chance meeting with a member of Representative Geiss’s staff and with the support of Representative Irwin of Ann Arbor, what was once a research paper is now an official bill in the Michigan State Legislature!

As the fund supports arts throughout the state and for every Michigander or Michiganian, the bill has already received co-sponsorship from representatives from both parties and across the state, including the Upper Penninsula. Arts license plate co-sponsors include: Rudy Hobbs (D-Southfield / District 35), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor / District 53), Bill LaVoy (D-Wayne / District 17), Rose Mary Robinson (D-Wayne / District 4), Phil Potvin (R-Cadillac / District 102), Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan / District 108), and Wayne A. Schmidt (R-Traverse City / District 104). Representative Schmidt also serves as chair of the Michigan House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which offers prominent support to the initiative.

INKanSCTo make the bill a reality, all who support the arts in Michigan—from every community and each party—need to write their House Representative (click here to find your representative). Use the contact link on your representative’s page or locate their direct email; it’s probably in the form of

Most helpful will be to send a personal email saying that you support MI House Bill 4407 (2013) and that you would purchase a Michigan Arts License Plate. Explain why the arts are important to you and what kinds of arts activities (performances, museums, orchestras, education projects, schools, our students, etc.), you’d like to see thrive in the State because of this funding. You might write about how the arts — music, visual art, dance, theatre, design, etc. — contribute to our economy, jobs, and educational success for all students. A personal note will carry a lot more weight than a form letter. Also, copy your email to the following addresses: Representative Schmidt (chair of the transportation committee) at ; Speaker of the House Jase Bolger at ; and Senate Majority Leader Randy RichardVille at . It is especially important to tell Governor Synder, who has expressed concern that there are too many fund raising license plates and that no one will buy a Michigan plate for the art.  Click here to fill out Governor Snyder’s contact form. Select “Ideas & Suggestions” from the topic list identify “House Bill 4407” in your message. 

FlNevTenLet’s help strengthen the arts, creativity, and education in Michigan by making the Arts License Plate a reality!!!

Here’s the full bill…


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A ‘World Premiere’ Recording of “The Star Spangled Banner”?

It’s an audacious claim to offer the premiere recording of the United States National Anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” in January 2013! Certainly, the song is already more than well known and often performed. It has been recorded by such vocal greats as operatic tenor John McCormack or soul superstar Whitney Houston. John Philip Sousa’s band recorded the anthem in 1898 (link), and American soprano Emma Eames recorded the anthem with lyrics in 1905 (link).

Yet each of these performances presents the song as we know it today — as the national anthem of the United States (a status the song did not have officially until 1931). In 1814 when the song was first published, it differed from the anthem we know today in details both small and large. For example, dotted notes were later incorporated into the melody’s rhythm serving to slow the tempo and lend more gravitas to the song as a statement of national pride and solidarity. Initially, Francis Scott Key’s lyric was sung more quickly as a song of celebration upon a rather unexpected victory. (Before attacking Baltimore, the British faced little resistance in burning most government buildings of Washington, D.C. to the ground. That Baltimore’s fighters turned the tide of the battle was both a turning point in the war and a big surprise, especially to the British!)

Key’s poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry” was initially published in September 1814 only as a set of lyrics—first as a broadside and shortly thereafter in newspapers. The Baltimore music publisher Joseph Carr published the original sheet music edition of the song that same fall, pairing the already famous words to its melody as arranged by his son Thomas Carr. This arrangement is based closely on the initial printing of the tune’s source, an anthem for a London-based amateur musicians club known as The Anacreontic Society.

The video here offers what I believe to be the first recorded version of Carr’s original 1814 sheet music edition, using methods of historically informed performance practice to capture a sense of what an early performance might have been like. We’ve tried to recreate something akin to the first documented performance of the song on October 19, 1814 when an actor identified as a Mr. Hardinge at Baltimore’s Holliday Street Theatre sang the song as part of a bill presenting August von Kotzebue’s drama Count Benyowsky, of The Conspiracy of Kamschatka.(1)

Rather than a group rendition, the lyric is performed mainly by a tenor soloist—here Mr. Justin Berkowitz, a master’s student at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Justin in effect plays the role of Mr. Hardinge who similarly echoes the president of The Anacreontic Society who likewise sang its club anthem as a solo. (This helps explain the rather wide range of the song’s melody which is intended for an amateur yet operatic voice.) Our chorus echoes the final line of each verse as directed by the original publication in precise imitation of “The Anacreontic Song.” All four verses of Key’s original lyric are presented here and the accompaniment is played as notated in Carr’s imprint.

With the 200th anniversary of the anthem rapidly approaching, I’m working to make a recorded history of the anthem available and have partnered with the Star Spangled Music Foundation to help share these and other historical documents related to the anthem with teachers across the nation. Please check back for updates. If you’re interested in learning more about the Star Spangled Music Foundation or finding out how you could help celebrate the anthem’s upcoming birthday, contact the Foundation’s Executive Director Susan Key at

(1) Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents: Harmonies and Discords of the First Hundred Years. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1975), p. 205

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The Spirit of Music Business Success: Ella Riot Speaks

Members of Ella Riot talk @ Musicology 140: American Music (UM School of Music, Theatre & Dance), 3/23/11From Left: Prof. Mark Clague, Bob Lester, Tyler Duncan, & Michelle Chamuel

Three members of the band Ella Riot (formerly My Dear Disco) came to my Introduction to Musicology / American Music course this morning and instead of my normal overview lecture on popular music we had a “fireside chat” about real life experiences in navigating the music industry. This was particularly exciting because Tyler Duncan (jazz studies), Bob Lester (Performing Art Technology), and Michelle Chamuel (Performing Art Technology / Voice) are graduates of the UMichigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance and had (in the case of Tyler and Michelle) taken this very course with me during their time on campus.(1) It’s certainly fantastic when alumni come back and share their success and even better when they remember their educational experiences as a positive force in their careers. (Ella Riot is in part named after Ella Fitzgerald who is one of Michelle’s inspirations and a jazz vocalist we discussed in class alongside Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan!)

What I want to discuss here and, indeed, what the class session was about is what has helped these musicians succeed.  We hear a lot of bad news today about the career potential of music, and our guests affirmed that things are indeed “tough.” Yet Ella Riot is an example of musicians doing what they do for a growing audience while staying true to their artistic convictions. The three are by any measure a success and thus a model for all.

Tyler and Michelle talk with students after class.

The key to Ella Riot’s success, at least from my vantage point, is passion. They love what they do, so much and so completely, that they worked for two years writing music and building a local audience through whatever gigs they could get.  Since they were still in school at this point, they put every cent earned into a shared band account that reinvested in their future. They didn’t spend it on pizza and beer. They immediately saw themselves as a unified business, a band rather than a bunch of independent musicians.

Ella Riot love what they do so much that they worked ’round the clock upon graduation, not just writing and recording songs for their first full album, but learning about and writing a business plan. When their demo tapes arrived on the desk of potential agents it stood out. Sure the music was great, but a lot of bands have a solid demo. However, not many bands have a business plan, and that distinguished Ella Riot from their competitors. A business plan tells an agent that this group is going places and understands the game, that this band is worth an agent’s time and promotion budget, that these musicians will pay a return on investment. The same, of course, would be true for an aspiring conductor, composer, countertenor, or string quartet. Write a business plan.

Ella Riot loves what they do so much, that in the midst of an upcoming 3-week album release tour they’ll play a late show in Dayton, pack up, catch a few winks,  drive nine hours, unpack, and put on another high energy show in Huntsville. Through all this, they’ll make great music, connect with fans, update their Twitter, Myspace, and Facebook accounts, etc., etc. Michelle will give dozens of interviews about the group’s name change, each time refining her presentation because making a personal connecting with fans is vital.(2) And if the audio technicians at the next venue tell they there’s no time for a soundcheck, as Bob puts it “We’ll kill ’em with kindness. Smile so big that they can’t help but get excited about what we’re doing and help us succeed.” They’ll get a sound check. Their enthusiasm and commitment to what they do is infectious. And this makes their network of friends and supporters more powerful. Who you know is still vital, Tyler admits. They used connections to get jobs and their recent video was shot for about $3700, while the lighting equipment they borrowed should have cost them 10 grand alone. Yet a network is not just a lot of  friends, but friends who act on your behalf. Ella Riot’s infectious energy and tenacity in making something really special happen inspires belief in others and, in turn, action.

MichelleMichelle, Bob, & Tyler offered lots of great advice (read the book Tour:Smart by Martin Atkins), make the music that you love and that find a way to bring out the qualities that make your voice special, if you try to do something commercial that’s false to your art, it’ll fail, do Twitter and Facebook updates yourself and in ways that really strive to communicate with your fans (if you do it’ll get interesting to both you and your fans).

It was fantastic to have Ella Riot visit Musicology 140; I’m proud to know them as my students. What about their efforts strikes you as special? What is key to their success?

(1) Ella Riot drummer Mike Shea (percussion performance) is also a U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance graduate.
(2) As the band brainstormed new names they initially settled on “Bella Riot” [Beautiful Riot] before choosing “Ella Riot.” Because the tale of their name change (confusion with the Australian band “My Disco” and continual explanations that they were not a disco cover band) gets too so very long when it includes all the alternatives they leave this part out — you heard it hear though!

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The Sustainable Musician

What would it mean to make music "green"?

The sustainable musician makes music now in ways that nurture music tomorrow. Like an organic farmer, the sustainable musician enriches the cultural soil to increase our human capacity for expression. Sustainable music is both art making and arts advocacy; it talks and walks the embrace of culture as living, since no matter how excellent, an extinct, unsustainable music serves no one. Sustainable music nutures both musician and listener, making our communities into more vibrant, meaning-full environments for communication. Sustainable music provides immediate spiritual sustenance, while increasing our ability to listen, to think, to experience, to love, to care about art, about ourselves and each other.

Today the status of professional musician is under siege. We can blame this on the global economic crisis (and that’s certainly a problem), but it’s also a predictable effect of unsustainable musical thinking. When excellence becomes more about serving music than serving humanity, music withers, art dies away. For well over a century, the notion of the musician amateur, the “lover of” music who makes music for pleasure and enrichment of self, family, and friends, has been discounted in part to create the category of professional. Yet the resulting gap between music lover and music earner while it may temporarily elevate the status of the professional in the short term, degrades the fertility of the cultural soil that feeds human culture and connects music to life. It pushes the professional away from his or her listener. Any gap between artist and audience—between art and engagement—distances the listener from participation in musical experience. It is this gap that makes music making elite, disconnected from its audience, an absent partner in its community. It rips the roots of music as art from the soil of community and that gives musicians their purpose.  It removes music from life itself.

What would happen if we thought about musicianship as sustainable music making? How might the thinking of a musician change? Would it change a lot or just a little? Would music be less about competition, about beating others, and more about the embrace of the human capacity to think through artistry? Would playing music at a school, a retirement community, or the town square suddenly seem as important as performing in the concert hall? Would playing in a concert hall seem more significant, more potent, and more likely to enhance the human experience? Would the walls dividing classical from popular, improvisation from note reading, hip hop from fiddlin’, film music from concert music seem less in need of defense?

Would the sustainable musician see the World Wide Web as an opportunity rather than a threat? Would it seem more natural to invite youth orchestra musicians to sit in with members of the Boston, Chicago, or Your City Symphony Orchestras? Would more orchestras imitate Baltimore’s “Rusty Musicians Project” or create New Horizons Ensembles? Would the requirements for a music school degree in sustainable music making change to include learning how to teach as well as perform? Would it include advocating for public policy that supports art, not for art’s sake but for the sake of global peace, public health, and human understanding? Would excellence find additional purpose? Would music matter, even just a little more?

In this spirit, I’d like to propose “the sustainable musician.” What do you think this would mean?

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What Is Arts Enterprise?

Arts Enterprise (AE) is a network of extracurricular entrepreneurship clubs, linking business and arts schools across the United States. Yet, the longer I’m involved with AE’s efforts to bring business and the arts together to enhance both, the less satisfactory I find simple definitions. AE’s campus chapters are linked, but they are each unique. What they share is a spirit of possibility—the belief that action is good merged with the desire to make a difference.

It’s easier to define what Arts Enterprise is not. It’s not a template or a formula or a structure. It’s not about any one theory or any one person. It’s not about getting a job, as much as it is about inventing a new one. It is about imagining sustainable ventures in the arts and business and harnessing our very human creativity to make them more effective. It is inherently energetic and optimistic. AE is about possibility.

Arts Enterprise is simply an invitation to action. It taps into and nurtures our passion. It recruits an actor —that is, “you,” whether you are an undergrad or grad student, businessperson, sculptor or musician; whether you are just beginning your career or in the midst of it. AE asks what you want to do—to fulfill your goals, to thrive in your chosen role, and, at its core, to make the world better. This invitation contains an imperative to do something, but AE is still a choice, a commitment, just an opportunity along with the supportive environment in which to work with others to make things happen.

Problem Solving Session @ AE Summit in Kansas City, Feb. 2011

AE’s support environment is key, Rather than rules or required programs, Arts Enterprise connects its members with examples of success. These include Amy Bogard and Adam Siemiginowski who created “Drawing Down the Vision” to bring the benefits of visual thinking to corporate strategy and personal discovery. Trumpeter Micah Killion, who lives the reality of the “portfolio career,” teaching, composing, inventing instruments, managing, and making music. Entrepreneur Margo Drakos who created InstantEncore to reshape how musicians reach audiences through the web and handheld media. And AE Alums including Chris Genteel, a manager for Google by day and a singer songwriter by night who entertains, educates, and raises money for humanitarian relief efforts around the globe, plus Emily Weingarten, owner operator of Bread Nut Bakery, a social enterprise venture which puts baking in service of community through sales, workshops, and a blog.

As a network of Arts Enterprise chapters on a growing list of campuses, Arts Enterprise shares ideas and best practices from school to school, student to student, doer to doer. Under such rubrics as “Beyond Talent” or “From the Bard to the Boardroom,” AE chapters bring local musicians and actors into art and business schools for active workshops on leadership or creating a business. Some groups support career development, others do community consulting work to aid regional non-profit organizations, still others do summer social service ventures, such as AE4NOLA, a two-week long adventure in post-Katrina New Orleans to aid charter schools by improving arts education and take better advantage of local teaching artists. AE4NOLA’s successful strategic plan and grant proposal brought concrete value to the Ninth Ward. Yet, vital to any of these ideas is that they are created and executed by the members of a local AE chapter. Student leadership is the defining feature of any Arts Enterprise venture. If those doing the work didn’t imagine the project, it’s not AE.

As a professor at an art school, specifically the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, I’ve seen the power of Arts Enterprise as an idea, as the inspiration for students to make something happen—not at some ambiguous future time, but now. AE has even helped me as an educator to reconceive my own teaching and to strive to bring my research to a larger audience in hopes of making a difference in public discourse (see my Star Spangled Banner book/blog here). Being an AE faculty advisor on my campus takes time and attention, but it’s energizing and deeply fulfilling to see students thrive and make a way in the world.

To get involved in Arts Enterprise is a leap of faith. It takes courage, optimism, and hope. It takes strength, the ability to work with others, and the willingness to try something new and thus to grow. Yet within the safety of an educational institution, with the examples of others who have done the same, and—most important—with the support of like-minded individuals working together to leverage the best in creativity and business savvy, I can only report that amazing things happen.

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