Artists are entrepreneurs : a four-year case study examining the academic expectations, entrepreneurial attitudes, and career aspirations of first-year performing arts majors




Blackshire, Richard Scott

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Deciding to pursue a career in professional theatre is an exciting venture for undergraduate students in higher education arts programs. Performing arts training is emotionally challenging—rigorous academics are not secondary to intense creative and artistic physical labor. A four-year, four-cohort case study situated in performance studies seeks the essence of first-year performing arts students’ entrepreneurial attitudes. Annual questionnaires query their academic expectations and career aspirations, and gauge their readiness and willingness for entrepreneurship engagement. Embedded case study analysis of qualitative and quantitative data collected in fall 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, reveal diverse student thinking. Results compel the need for an arts-business practice incorporating artists’ ideologies for flexible real-world application. Interdisciplinary literature—phenomenology, student engagement, and entrepreneurship, alongside extant data on professional artists from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project—activate exploring which skills and competencies students believe support creative careers. Students’ statements weave passionate energy among established theory and humanize the literature. Methodology design utilizes phenomenology to guide the survey-questionnaire development and deployment. Embedded case study analysis constructs a foundation for a consilience framework focused solely on students’ relationships to entrepreneurship. Analyses create new knowledge drawing a line between art-makers and their creative outputs. Discussions on findings—students’ base needs for artistry and networking, entrepreneurial ambivalence, and professional career intuitiveness—follow. Findings suggest how higher education arts training programs might support student artists develop enduring entrepreneurial identities based on needs, values, and beliefs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, tenets of collective social entrepreneurship and practices from the feminist theatre movement, inspire radical pedagogy. Pedagogical interventions incorporate powerful learning experiences (PLEs) to invigorate current coursework and shape new curricula that engage students to create and adopt entrepreneurial practices and behaviors. Findings hold significance for arts programs working to align students’ thinking with teaching entrepreneurship according to shifting trends in creative job markets. Outcomes empower artists to acknowledge entrepreneurial uniqueness as a support mechanism for art making. Immediate recommendations span theoretical deliberations and practical classroom ideas, from shifts in programmatic thought to artist-focused entrepreneurship seminars. Future research recommendations above all stress separating artists from the institutional foci of arts entrepreneurship


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