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Blog Salon Reflections: Art, Enterprise, & Equity

Ebony McKinney

“We are witnessing new practices and challenges to old assumptions.” ~ Ben Cameron during the closing keynote at this year’s Americans for the Arts Annual Convention.

A sector transformation is underway. Today’s arts administrators, activists, and cultural entrepreneurs are fashioning new routes to mission fulfillment, while contending with diminishing grant funds, demographic and technological shifts, and audience erosion. The relevance of institutions is being challenged as much of the sector experiments with new opportunities for practice and participation. The expanding definition of ‘the who, how, and where’ is evident.

The role of enterprise in this shift is of great interest to me. This fall I’ll begin a graduate program focused on how to create the infrastructure and environment needed for cultural and creative enterprise to flourish. I know for some arts and enterprise are conflicting ideas – enterprise represents the commercial, the shallow, the crude and calculated manipulation and manufacture of cultural, creative, or artistic product, but I think that enterprise can encourage resilience, flexibility, and empowerment inside and outside of institutions.

Turning ideas into reality is no easy feat, but it seems innovation is happening at the local level. The entrepreneurial mindset, evident in posts like Angela Harris’ from Concept to Implementation, seems to depend greatly on leadership and management ability, team building, and business, financial, and creative acumen.

Also required is the ability to seize opportunity, take risks, and build allies and alliances outside of the traditional arts environments. June Rogers’s Art Spa in Alaska taps into healthcare. Jamie Austin’s Zero1 festival draws support from the Silicon Valley technology community and Robbie Q. Telfers Encyclopedia Show in Chicago works to “get slam poets to perform alongside other artists from across disciplines, genres, schools, neighborhoods.”

So in the future, beyond this salon, how might we continue to support talent, innovation, and viable models of creative change and problem solving that leverage local assets? Might there be an opportunity to address issues of access and equity?

John Holden visiting professor at City University in London notes in his essay Culture & Class that “employment in the creative industries is in danger of becoming the preserve of a certain, exclusive class.” I think this is also true in the U.S. and not only in creative industry, but the nonprofit sector. How can creative change makers with keen vision and the ability to aggregate resources like enthusiasm, curiosity, passion, and energy, around a compelling and timely vision be encouraged?

Chris Rabb writes in Invisible Capital and Why We Need to Democratize Entrepreneurial Opportunity, “Invisible capital is a set of tacit assets—fixed and variable–that are invaluable to aspiring entrepreneurs. Invisible capital includes cultural capital, social capital, and what is often, in macroeconomic and corporate circles, termed human capital…”

He continues, that “when invisible capital is leveraged for the public good through innovation, it is a catalyst for the type of commerce that transcends what we now call social entrepreneurship, and represents the broad matrix for shared prosperity that must be the basis of any enduring success for a nation, community or local economy.”

I agree with Naomi Natale’s assertion in her post Where’s The Funding, that the arts should align in practice, network building, and investment with social change agencies where “programs dedicated to learning about and funding work at this intersection of art and activism” are able to take risks and evolve.

I’m also inspired by organizations like Venture for America (which places young entrepreneurs in struggling cities like Detroit and New Orleans to spur enterprise, innovation, job creation) and Echoing Green, which supports social change by investing in emerging social entrepreneurs whose work addresses “deeply-rooted social, environmental, economic, and political inequities.”

We now have the potential to shift the way we work.

Let’s continue to manifest this change by investing in local talent with an eye toward equity, access, and enterprise.

Onward. Upward.

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