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Matt Dreier

2014 Arts Business Research Symposium: “Bidirectionality: Art as Business as Art”

by Matt Dreier Friday, March 28, 2014

“To explore the substantive connections between arts and business and open up a conversation about research and practice at the intersection of these disciplines.”

The Bolz Center for Arts Administration, the Arts Business Initiative, and UW-Madison Continuing Studies hosted the inaugural UW Arts Business Research Symposium (ABRS), March 12-14, 2014. The event served as a starting point for creating an ongoing dialogue about the intersection between arts and business. More than 100 individuals participated in the conference, with guests joining us from across the country and offering a wide range of perspectives on the topic. It was a great experience to meet so many people interested in the intersection of arts and business, including researchers, undergraduate & graduate students, educators, and practitioners.


The symposium kicked off on the evening of March 12, with a keynote address by Dr. Erica Halverson of the UW-Madison Department of Curriculum & Instruction.  Dr. Halverson discussed the role of the Maker Movement within Education, followed by a great Q&A and open dialogue with the audience. The next two days were focused primarily on discussing three current movements within the field of creative entrepreneurship and business: The Creative Campus Environment, Collaborative Work Organizations, and New Funding Models. Each discussion topic was divided into three parts: a panel discussion by leading researchers and professionals, a breakout session and small group table discussions, and a presentation of student research on the topic. While the schedule was packed, it really allowed for each topic to be addressed in a variety of ways, instigating great conversation and idea generation.


Overall, the response of the attendees was extremely positive for this inaugural conference. I overheard a lot of great comments throughout the event, but for the sake of space, I share my favorite quote from an individual who works for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in Saint Paul, Minnesota:

“This conference inspired new ways of considering risk and reward, framing innovation as both structure and content across sectors...I was also delighted to connect with people outside of my immediate geographic community who are similarly interested in the reciprocal nature of art and entrepreneurship. In this respect, the conference solidified these relationships as a cohort of innovation champions. With super-charged enthusiasm, I’ve already reserved the dates for next

year’s symposium.”  - Shannon Forney, Program Director, MRAC


Because I am particularly interested in returning to practitioner work after graduation, it would have been exciting to dive even further into the details of how these great research projects have been implemented in the business models of various arts organizations. As the conference evolves next year, I look forward to the opportunity for it to provide even more examples of how the practical application of research is impacting the arts world. Perhaps future conferences could even incorporate a nonprofit case competition, allowing students to put their academic skills to the test solving a real-world issue!

This conference was truly a success, and another step in helping the Bolz Center solidify itself as a top program for research in the field of arts management. It was great to hear arts leaders with such a diversity of experience discussing the immediate issues facing our field. I look forward to participating in the 2015 Arts Business Research Symposium. I hope you’ll join me!