By Emma Castleberry
In 2016, Western Carolina University (WCU) joined colleges and universities across the US in a survey conducted by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). “One of the significant aspects of the report highlighted that, while Fine and Performing Arts Programs across the US offered solid training and education in the arts disciplines, most were not as focused on teaching the business and entrepreneurial skills necessary to live a life in the arts,” says George Brown, dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts at WCU. In response to this information, faculty from the College of Fine and Performing Arts and the College of Business came together to create the Arts and Entrepreneurship program, a new undergraduate track that prepares students to manage a career in the arts. “Under the leadership of Denise Drury Homewood [executive director of the WCU Bardo Arts Center], we developed a program that was both foundational in entrepreneurship but also offered specific intensives focused on business issues for artists, such as developing your website, networking and pricing your creative work,” Brown says.
The new program made its debut this fall with the title course “Arts & Entrepreneurship,” an intensive in web design and another intensive titled, “Bringing Creative Projects to Life,” which explored strategic planning. Dr. Scott Rader, associate professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at WCU, teaches a contemporary marketing research class as part of the program. Rader’s class explores promotion and distribution of one’s art, as well as ways for artists to leverage social media to their benefit. “I help students understand the fundamental role of marketing in art,” he says. Rader encourages his students to understand the connection between marketing and art “so that they realize they can’t operate in a vacuum,” he says. “If you simply build it, people won’t come to you, no matter how great your work is. You have to make them aware.”
Part of what makes the Arts and Entrepreneurship program cutting-edge is its interdisciplinary nature. “Academia has evolved in a way that is based on neat categories and disciplines that might have historical significance, but not much practical significance,” Rader says. “The ‘real world’ is more messy than the categories we’d like to organize life into. This kind of program at WCU is unique in that it helps bridge those gaps and ultimately help students deal with that more amorphous nature of the real world.”
Trevor Smith Burkholder, a first-year student in the School of Stage and Screen at WCU, is currently taking courses featured in the Arts and Entrepreneurship program. Burkholder says the program has not only improved his student experience and given him an advantage in the arts industry, but also provided him with ways to protect himself legally as an artist. “This program is so unbelievably important as society moves towards an age of completely new technology and ways of sharing media,” he says. “Ethics are sometimes placed on the back burner when considering what is posted to the internet and copyright laws are forever becoming muddier. We, as artists who strive to share our work and get our name out there, must understand what we legally can and cannot do.”
As with any new program, there is a steep learning curve. Faculty meet regularly to compare notes and improve the curriculum as needed. The program is also working to fight misconceptions about the relationship between art and business: namely, the idea that, by marketing one’s craft, an artist is “selling out.” Fortunately, the Arts and Entrepreneurship program has shed light on this misunderstanding for many students. “The romantic vision of the starving artist living on the passion of creating still exists, but the separation of the arts and business is a bit of a misconception,” Brown says. “It has been very exciting to see students discovering how these two skill sets can complement each other.”
For more information about WCU and the Arts and Entrepreneurship program, visit arts.wcu.edu/ae.