Art-preneurship 101

Entrepreneurship is the core of creativity, says one of our experts. Does that offend your delicate artistic sensibilities? Take this introductory course on art-preneurship, then decide.

Singer-songwriter Billy Joel long ago wrote most of the songs that make up the score for the hit touring musical Movin’ Out. But that didn’t stop famed choreographer Twyla Tharp from looking at Joel’s creative product in a new light.

The show, which played more than 1,300 times on Broadway and has had extended tours around the country, is an all-new look at old product, and such success is the “impossible dream” of art-preneurs. But it’s entirely possible – just far from guaranteed.

If you think entrepreneur-minded artists, writers, musicians and other such folks are limited by their own talent to create, produce or perform, think again. The mark of an art-prepreneur is how he or she can tap the talents – and backing – of others to create a marketable product that brings in new money for their original creation.

A Little Art-preneurial History

Movin’ Out was hardly the first instance of creatively adapting existing works, says Jim Petosa, director of Boston University’s School of Theatre and artistic director of the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Md.

There’s a very long tradition of such theatrical adaptations. For example, Kismet, a 1911 play and 1955 Broadway musical adapted for more than a dozen films, was based on works by Russian composer Alexander Borodin. And the hit 1968 musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was drawn from tunes by the Belgian singer-songwriter in the title.

A creative work reborn as a new product succeeds when it “allows us to see something new in the existing material,” Petosa says. “You need the compelling idea first. If it comes with recognizable artistic names, it certainly doesn’t hurt the commercial possibilities.”

J. Sibley Law, president of Saxon Mills in Stratford, Conn., founded his creative conglomerate to come up with original video content for mobile phone viewing. The former business consultant, who’s also a playwright and producer on the side, stumbled onto the idea when asking others about uncharted markets. He’d already started a playwright center that relied on “a stable of actors, writers and production folks,” so he had the talent to back up his idea.

That was 2005. Since then, Saxon Mills has taken on 13 people to create a library of products including as a 90-second cooking show and a feature called News for Blondes. All of them are in a short format suited for broadband and mobile markets.

“It’s all about having something very brandable,” Law explains. “News for Blondes had a memorable ring. We put together a great logo, and the products that go along with that are many: You have the experience of the show. We’ll be overhauling the Web site so it becomes a destination. There’s a store where you can get garb. We have ringtones available – that’s another way to both market and monetize.”

The Core of Creativity: Entrepreneurship

The key, Law says, is to find “a new space” as Saxon Mills did with the mobile phone market. “While most people are not watching shows on their mobile phones yet, that seems to me to be where the industry is headed.

“Find a new space and figure out a nice niche in that new space. Part of it is being open to other things that you might not have thought of. The holy grail for many writers is getting a movie – whether someone makes a movie of your novel or you get to write a screenplay,” Law explains. “But it’s a fairly limited opportunity unless you’re fortunate enough to know an indie filmmaker and you’ve written something that could be successfully produced on a low budget.

“If your passion isn’t necessarily about getting a particular film made but about writing, if the passion is the art form and you can be open to different ways to let the art form manifest itself, that’s where opportunity comes in.

“It’s sort of a hunger. A hunger for the expression and really making that happen.”

Petosa agrees. The core of creativity, he insists, is entrepreneurship. “Art in America is all entrepreneurial – even in the non-profit sector.” And as though armies of artistes were about to write him off as a philistine, Petosa nails down his case:

“The acquisition of audience or the acquisition of funding requires artists to continually place themselves in a position where audience and funders alike must be excited by the idea being presented.”

Entrepreneurship – and art-preneurship – 101.

Lynne Meredith Schreiber is a StartupNation contributing writer.

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