Educating for Entrepreneurial Arts Education Leadership

Posted by Stephanie Riven, May 02, 2012 7 comments

Stephanie Riven

I recently spent a semester at Harvard as a visiting practitioner in the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

While working directly with the Arts in Education Program, I was also able to audit classes at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and attend special lectures and programs sponsored by the Harvard Business School. Needless to say, the entire experience was fascinating on many levels.

As one might expect, the differences between the course offerings and student culture in the above mentioned schools were striking—yet many of the future challenges students in these different institutions will face are the same.

Based on my experience, the talented students in the Arts in Education Program tended to orient themselves towards issues related to process—the process of learning and the integration of concepts in advocacy, education, research, and policy. Though each of these students expressed a deep commitment to their work, many also expressed trepidation about entering an uncertain job market that is famously under-resourced and socially marginalized.

By comparison, the students I encountered at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School were excited about their potential to begin something new. They were learning how to become entrepreneurs by developing skills related to organizing, team-building, and risk-taking while they were also growing in their understanding of how to garner financial, cultural, and social capital for their future ventures.

These students were learning how to network, build creative associations and think through the necessary steps to arrive at innovative solutions and profitable business ideas. They were learning that experimentation is central to everything they want to do in the future. These students were excited about creating or being a part of something big—and their enthusiasm was contagious!

You might not expect that the two groups of students would approach their work similarly; but, as part of the arts in education curriculum, students are encouraged to spend time developing entrepreneurial projects that they then present to a fictitious foundation. This past academic year, several Harvard Arts in Education students recognized that the skills and ideas afforded to public policy and business school students are likewise necessary to develop effective leaders in arts education.

Projects included everything from using technology as a means of furthering museum participation to developing online literacy initiatives that use multimedia storytelling techniques to encourage creation and collaboration amongst their users. In short, the Arts in Education students received first-hand experience as entrepreneurs.

In reflecting on the current set of arts leaders, I would hope that they, too, could have some time and space to develop the same entrepreneurial perspective and business acumen as those in the business world.

As a consultant working with small and midsized nonprofit organizations, I find that many arts education organizations have budgets that remain stagnant—they are in a vicious starvation cycle because leaders and boards aren’t willing or don’t have the ability to find the necessary capital to launch an earned-income stream, expand programs strategically, commit to an evaluation, or hire the next generation of staff.

One hypothesis is that today’s arts education organizations are reluctant to take on these necessary challenges because we have not given our leaders the tools that they need to reverse the cycle.

This formal and professional level training must include, but not be limited to the following:

•    Identification of the resources that will be needed for their projects whether they involve policy, research, teaching, or advocacy.

•    Practice and support in studying how strategy is developed.

•    Mentorship and training in identifying and making critical decisions that involve the allocation of time, talent, and dollars to the activities that have the greatest impact.

•    Roleplay and training in garnering resources from the wide network of individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies that are poised and ready to respond to their requests.

•    Encouragement of experimentation and risk-taking.

Can we learn from the Arts in Education entrepreneurs at Harvard and bring more business focused training to current and future leaders in our field so that organizations can become more vibrant and entrepreneurial?

7 responses for Educating for Entrepreneurial Arts Education Leadership


May 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

There are some academic graduate programs that are combining arts education with arts administration, business, and public policy. One example of this is the Arts Policy & Administration Program at The Ohio State University. The program is located in the Department of Arts Education, but is a joint degree program with the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. The graduate students take about 1/3 of their classes with the MPA students in the Glenn School. There is also an opportunity to take classes in the business school. I found my experience in this program more robust and multidimensional, which will help me as I address current issues in the arts sector.

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Stephanie Riven says
May 03, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I think you know but others may not that EMC Arts makes this possible for the field. Their Innovation Lab is a great start but we need even more opportunities. Check it out!


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May 03, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Yes indeed Stephanie. It would be exciting if, in professional practice, individuals were given the opportunity to both develop and pitch innovative new ideas that would help advance their organizations as well as the greater domain of arts education. Unfortunately, given the tight budgets, and over-booked schedules of most arts education professionals, the necessary time to experiment with new ideas is a luxury too many would-be arts education innovators are not availed. Perhaps incorporating a few unstructured hours a week to develop new ideas into each employees' schedule is a a first step our field leaders could take...

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Stephanie Riven says
May 03, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Thank you. We have to get much more sophisticated in partnering with business to both learn these skills and to find the resources to bring these projects to scale.

AIE students had an opportunity to pitch their ideas at a Harvard Business School Competition. What a great experience to further refine their ideas.

Wouldn't it be great if we could create similar experiences (mock presentations, collaboration with business) for those professionals working in the field.


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Stephanie Riven says
May 03, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Thanks Linda.
I wasn't aware of your program. I'll check it out.
Many exciting new entrepreneurs and pathways to pursue. Would love to see a more formal listing of opportunities. Perhaps AFTA could take this on.

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May 03, 2012 at 2:48 pm

It's important that we provide the next generation of arts education leaders with the entrepreneurial skills they will need to strategically advance the field of arts teaching and learning in the future. However, it's also important that we provide these innovative young leaders with the supports that they will need to bring their ideas to life once they enter (or in many cases, re-enter) the field. When all arts education leaders (those newly emerging and those well-established alike) approach their work with a spirit of cooperation, risk-taking, and open-mindedness, we can work together to proactively invent a vibrant future for the field of arts teaching and learning.

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May 03, 2012 at 12:07 pm

You ask, "Can we learn from the Arts in Education entrepreneurs at Harvard and bring more business focused training to current and future leaders in our field so that organizations can become more vibrant and entrepreneurial?" The short answer, of course, is YES! At several programs across the country, including the one with which I am affiliated, student artists and arts administrators develop not only their disciplinary skills, but also the habits of mind needed to recognize opportunity and evaluate risk. See for more information.

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