The certificate program hopes to counter the notion of ‘starving artists’ as it teaches current and future students to combine their talents with a strategic business model.
The J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts (TCVPA) at Texas Tech University will offer graduate and undergraduate arts entrepreneurship certificates this spring.
The certificate consists of three courses: foundation in arts entrepreneurship, arts entrepreneur marketing formula and a choice of elective. Texas Tech students can apply this certificate toward their minor and creative professionals also are encouraged to apply to the program.
“Learning entrepreneurial skills as an artist is critically important,” said Kim Walker, professor of music in Texas Tech's School of Music. “Many artists go to college but never learn how to make a living as an artist. This program is designed to help students and professionals not only produce art but sell it and feel confident.”
The program aims to transition artists away from relying on agents and managers to build their career. Rather, the certificate will put tools, strategies and business acumen into the hands of those ready to use their talent to change the world around them. The courses specifically focus on topics such as developing a brand message; creating videos; online courses and websites; attracting clients; building teams; and more.
“Last spring, I taught the foundation course as a test run, and students from a variety of backgrounds enrolled,” Walker said. “I had theatre and music students, of course, but I also worked with business students, designers and lawyers. We even had someone from environmental sciences who is starting a custom cowboy hat shop.”
Since Walker's arrival to Texas Tech in 2018, she has taken the initiative to get this program off the ground. Her passion for this project comes from her own life experiences.
“I began a career as a bassoon soloist at 17 years old,” Walker said. “Bassoonists were not as sought after as violinists or pianists. So, instead of waiting for the bassoon concerto that came once a decade, I went out and found festivals I could pitch myself to – I didn't sit around and wait for someone to call.”
Walker became the first woman to play principal bassoon with the London Symphony Orchestra, a role that demanded further tenacity as at that time, the symphony hall did not even have a women's restroom backstage. From that time, she went on to start five successful companies, such as Virtuoso CEO and others like it.
It is these experiences and the lessons she has learned, both good and bad, that drive her passion for teaching.
In 2020, Walker turned her focus to the arts entrepreneurship program. She was drafting syllabi for courses when COVID-19 hit.
“I remember thinking, ‘Well, students are really going to need this now,'” Walker said.
Due to COVID-19 and the unprecedented challenges it has created for artists, this program could not have come at a better time.
“When we went into lockdown, artists were faced with what seemed like an impossible task,” Walker said. “Suddenly, they needed production and media skills. They needed to understand how to create artistic experiences on camera, which is so different from performing live.”
The students in her spring semester class not only rose to this challenge, but they came forward with some of the most innovative ideas Walker had ever seen.
One such student was Jamison Driskill, a graduate student earning his Master of Fine Arts in arts administration at Texas Tech's School of Theatre & Dance. Driskill devised a business plan for establishing a nightlife, cabaret-inspired venue in downtown Lubbock.
“Something we discussed in the course was identifying community needs and current gaps,” Driskill said. “It's one thing to have a great idea, but if there are already a dozen other people out doing that, you need to think it through more.”
Driskill already holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) but took the foundations course in hopes of learning something new – and he did.
“This was a different experience than anything in an MBA program,” Driskill said. “The focus of the class was on artists, and it catered to our natural adeptness to entrepreneurship. If you think about it, artists make great entrepreneurs because we're already trained to disrupt the natural way of doing things. It's what we do every day.”
Another student in Walker's class, Rafael Powell, is a graduate student and saxophone player earning his Doctor of Musical Arts.
“I always felt that my life was split into these diametric and separate pieces,” Powell said. “Classical music was on one side and my jazz gigs were on the other. I wanted to combine these ideas.”
Powell created a business plan for a two-week retreat where musicians from all genres would come together and learn from one another. The goal would be to send each musician home with their first single, or a piece to jumpstart their career.
Arts entrepreneurs and advocates throughout the West Texas community anticipate this program will have a positive impact on the area, and beyond.
Gerald Dolter, founder of Lubbock's Moonlight Musicals and the director of Texas Tech's Opera Theatre, recognizes the potential for this certificate to create new opportunities for students. Dolter is no stranger to the world of arts entrepreneurship. He started Moonlight Musicals 15 years ago after a personal interest of his, and a genuine need in the community, collided.
“I wanted to start an opera theater that would serve the greater West Texas area,” Dolter said. “What I found, though, was that people really wanted musical theater. So, I looked into starting a theater company in Lubbock. At first, it was just a way for Texas Tech students to get some performance experience during the summer, but it grew very quickly from there.”
These are just a few examples of how arts entrepreneurism is taking shape through Texas Tech and the South Plains.
Another draw to the program has been the guest lecturers.
Last semester, Naomi Grabel executive director of development strategy and growth for the Metropolitan Opera, spoke to students about her career in arts administration, which includes roles with organizations such as Carnegie Hall, Disney Theatrical Group and the Yale School of Drama.
“If you're an artist, you're an entrepreneur,” Walker said. “How else do you think people pull off producing concerts for $10 a ticket? The challenge I see is that so many artists just want to give. This is great, but they won't be able to do what they're doing for long because they can't earn a living that way.”
In business school, students are taught how to sell a product and create an economic exchange that benefits all involved. Making this training accessible to student artists is paramount for Walker and TCVPA.
“This program trains students to not only get their businesses up and running, but to become accustomed to business terminology and be more confident when asked about their fees,” Walker said. “We don't want graduates looking like deer in the headlights when the topic of finances comes up. We want them to be prepared and know what to expect when they walk into meetings.”
To accomplish this, TCVPA has partnered with Texas Tech's Innovation Hub at Research Park to bring this certificate to life.
The Innovation Hub was a natural partner for the program as it exists to support entrepreneurs in the West Texas area who in turn give back to the community through mentorship and business impact.
Other collaborators for the program include Hideki Isoda, director of media production for the School of Music, and Kimberly Gramm, associate vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Innovation Hub.
Looking to the future, Walker envisions what her students will dream up – and what impact those dreams will make on the world.
“The entrepreneurs and students I've worked with really just want to help people,” Walker said. “It's so inspiring. They want to give back and help solve problems they see in the world – and they want to do it through art.”