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.
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.