St(Art) Up Entrepreneurship

Posted by Floyd Hall, Apr 16, 2015 4 comments

Over the past several years in Atlanta, the startup entrepreneurial community has grown as many aspiring moguls have put their creative and technical capital to work to secure funds and buzz around their latest digital products. This energy has been fueled by Atlanta's unique characteristics has a hub for transportation, education, and culture, not to mention the comfortable climate and affordable cost of living.

Similarly, there's been tremendous growth in emerging Arts organizations that have begun to impact how Atlanta's citizens view the role of art in their daily lives--everything from appreciating "art for the sake of art" to realizing how the arts serve as a platform to address other aspects of society (e.g. Transportation, Politics, Sports, etc.). Again, the same characteristics of education, culture, and comfort have played a role in attracting art talent to the city in a similar fashion to the entrepreneurship community.

There are several issues that confront emerging Arts Administrators and Entrepreneurs alike, everything from securing the right type of office space to social media outreach and relationship development. Additionally, the competition for funding in both groups is always fierce. In the Arts, there's the competition for public and/or private grants; for Entrepreneurs it’s investors of the angel, private equity, or venture capital variety.

The similarities don't end there. Aside from the all-important challenge of funding the enterprise, there's always the issue of attracting customers. In the case of Arts Administrators that may mean enticing programming customers or attracting the general public to events or raising social media awareness; meanwhile Startup Entrepreneurs of this digital age are often obsessed with scaling their customer base as fast as possible to help demonstrate the viability of their product.

However, for all of the similarities I've observed among both segments of this creative class, I see one major difference between emerging Arts Administrators and emerging Entrepreneurs--a roadmap--that might enable the former to pick up some insight from the latter. This isn't to say that the Arts Administrators lack direction - far from it. But what I am stressing is that for emerging Arts Administrators or Arts Entrepreneurs, there often isn't an established methodology on how to build programming and organizational stability that supports the mission, vision, and values that the enterprise was founded upon.

As the startup entrepreneur community has begun to grow beyond its nascent phases, it’s begun to offer some valuable nuggets of wisdom that might apply elsewhere. To that end, I'd like to offer up one of the basic tenets of startup entrepreneurship, the Lean Startup Canvas, and present it a slightly modified form that speaks to emerging Arts Administrators. And I welcome your analysis and feedback to help push the conversation further.

Ash Maurya is credited with developing the Lean Startup Canvas, a revision to the Business Model Canvas developed by Alexander Osterwalder applied to lean startup methodology, that was meant to help entrepreneurs focus on simplifying some of their unique challenges, advantages, and ways to connect to customers. By no means is the Lean Canvas meant to replace all other forms of communicating high-level business/product strategy and ideas, but it does help provide a starting point for evaluating the strength of particular ideas and where the value of those ideas is highest.

Furthermore, in many cases most importantly, the Lean Canvas helps streamline an Entrepreneur's pitch to potential investors, and it could do the same for Arts Administrators who similarly pitch their organizations to a variety of audiences.

Lean Canvas Model Lean Canvas Model


In looking at the Lean Canvas, I see a few simple tweaks that might make it a useful tool for emerging Arts Administrators as they develop their organizations.

1 - Swapping out “Problem” with “Mission”

Many entrepreneurs often frame their approach by identifying a problem that their product is attempting to resolve. For many arts organizations, they have an analogous mission, a guiding focus or principle that they hold on to.

2 - Swapping out “Solution” with “Outcomes”

Many arts organizations are concerned with particular outcomes, rather than specific solutions, many of which have longer timelines than a specific solution identified by a product or service.

3 - Swapping out “Channels” with “Programming”

Instead of looking at channels as the path to customers, many Arts organizations achieve this similar reach via particular programming for their identified audiences.

Lean Arts Org Canvas Model Lean Arts Org Canvas Model


The two sectors of the Lean Canvas that jump out to me the most are Unique Value Proposition and Unfair Advantage. In most of my conversations with would-be entrepreneurs, they often hammer home the idea of Unique Value Proposition and Unfair Advantage in some form or fashion (directly or indirectly), and I wonder how that might apply to the Arts. If more Arts Administrators thought about the Unique Value Proposition and Unfair Advantage of their organizations, how would that change programming? Customer outreach? Grant proposals?

In the years ahead, what if more emerging Arts Administrators borrowed from their fellow emerging Startup Entrepreneurs, honing product and pitch with a certain methodology until they found the best ideas with the biggest impact?

The analogy between Arts Administration and Startup Entrepreneurship isn’t a perfect one, but I sense some valuable overlap between these two creative communities that could prove beneficial. In the Arts, as in Business, ideas and practices evolve over time; and perhaps Arts Administrators could capitalize on this cultural moment to develop an Arts Administration Canvas for subsequent generations to build upon.

4 responses for St(Art) Up Entrepreneurship


April 18, 2015 at 9:40 pm


C4 Atlanta does a great job of introducing lots of tools and resources for artists, and I thank your for your perspective. I’m so glad to know that you and other arts leaders continue to stress the importance of building a strong business foundation that leads to stronger arts careers and organizations overall.



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April 18, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Linda, thanks so much for the response, and also for the link to the class info. I'm excited to read and learn more. If you have any other thoughts on the matter, I'd love to continue the dialogue.



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April 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm

The business model canvas is a very useful tool. We (C4 Atlanta) have been teaching tenants of "lean" in our classes for a few years now. The business model canvas still requires some business acumen for those new to the concept--at least that is what we have found in teaching it. Customer development is very useful but it takes patience and better leveraged with an MVP or prototype. I am glad to see other artists and arts professionals this tool.

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April 16, 2015 at 8:31 pm


Thanks for posting this. In addition to the lean canvas itself, the "customer development" techniques espoused by entrepreneurship evangelists like Steve Blank can be really useful for the arts - just think "audience development" instead. I taught a class last fall that translated these methods for an arts context - you can read about it at
- LE

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