It’s a cold Saturday morning at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. A crowd gathers. They listen to a young man playing traditional Chinese instruments. The crowd isn’t just listening—they’re engaged with the song. After the man finishes, audience members ask about the instrument’s origin and what the he does for a living.
Sherry Wagner-Henry, director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, remembers the young man saying: “I’m a student at UW-Madison.”
“I asked him if he was a music major,” Wagner-Henry said. “He started to laugh and remarked that he was a real estate major—a BBA student.”
This type of student—interested in both the arts and business—has garnered attention across the country; a recent feature in the New York Times followed an Introduction to Creative Studies course at Buffalo State College. Closer to home, a group of educators at the Wisconsin School of Business recognized the need among art students for business coursework and vice versa.
“Students come to the university and think they have to divorce themselves from their artistic interests because there is so much else on their plate, but that just isn’t the case,” Wagner-Henry explained.
Thus, the Arts Business Initiative (ABI) was born. The program, which started in the spring of 2012, has three main goals: connect creative majors with business coursework and certificates, provide activities for students that connect the arts and business, and support arts-business research and help share it among academics.
The cornerstone of the initiative is the Arts Enterprise course, which teaches art students basic principles of entrepreneurship, finance, and risk management, as well as legal, copyright, and tax matters. Students network with artists and creative professionals and participate in hands-on projects to secure grants, find donors, negotiate contracts, and price theirwork. The course also shows students how to use their creativity in careers outside of the traditional arts spectrum.
First created in the School of Music in 2009, the Arts Enterprise course was included in the ABI as the administrators at the Wisconsin School of Business recognized its popularity and broader value to students. The course now includes a number of non-art majors interested in exploring creativity in business.
Brandon Struebin, an economics major pursuing a certificate in entrepreneurship, took the Arts Enterprise course because of his love for business and music. Within the next three to five years, Struebin wants to create a community center in Madison where artists could live, work, and collaborate.
“I constantly thought about my business idea. The course allowed me to hammer out many details of my plan and build confidence in my idea,” Struebin said.
Struebin said he sees the value of creativity in any workplace or organization.
“Being creative helps you ask the important questions and devise innovative solutions,” Struebin said. “Creativity helps free thinking, which enables you to question assumptions, think outside the box, and develop greater understanding of concepts, all of which are important in the business world.”
Alan Carr, a Ph.D. candidate in musical arts composition, said the ABI helped him grow artistically and professionally as a musician.
“The course helped me think about my story and my voice,” Carr said. “By the end of the class, I had a thirty-second elevator speech about myself that I could deliver anytime, anywhere to anyone.”
As a Julliard-trained musician, Carr sees the initiative as a key part of educating those in non-arts industries on the value of creativity.
“The Arts Business Initiative is showing educators and business professionals that creativity can be taught, and that beauty, design, and aesthetics are relevant to success,” he said.
According to Wagner-Henry, few opportunities exist for students to voice their opinions about the future of arts and business. As part of the larger initiative, the Bolz Center created a conference to tackle issues and questions related to arts and business.
The inaugural Arts Business Research Symposium will examine ways arts and business organizations can collaborate, the funding models for arts-based businesses, and the role of higher education in this process. The event will be held in Madison on March 12-14, 2014.
Wagner-Henry said many other conferences on this topic focus on faculty or art professionals, but this event is an opportunity for students to contribute to the conversation.
“It’s our hope that the symposium will allow all participants, especially students, the opportunity to move their research agendas forward and share their thoughts in ways they see the field moving forward,” Wagner-Henry said.