As I teach my arts administration course this fall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, you’ll be able to follow the journey along with my students right here on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog. Prior to each class, I hope to write a post that will give insight and depth to the issues we are going to cover. However, before we begin this sojourn of understanding what makes a successful arts organization in the 21st Century, I wanted to first explore the changes that must happen within ourselves before we can begin to change the world around us.
Change begins in you.
That’s the first major realization that is necessary for you to find success in any entrepreneurial venture. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a new chamber ensemble, re-envision an existing orchestra, start a rock band, or even a non-music business– your project will reflect your personal views, both conscious and subconscious. You must truly believe in the change you are willing to implement.
Let’s be honest, it is much, much easier to comply with the status quo than to lead change. It takes far less energy, less critical thinking and less time. But I believe when one identifies both a need for improvement AND a solid plan that would help that improvement’s realization, then we are obligated to bring the issue to the surface and argue for the change. In so many ways, this notion of identifying issues, planning out how to fix them, and taking responsibility for their realization is at the heart of what we call progress.
You have to believe that your plan to bring about change will work. Right now, many artists, musicians, and teachers see “music or arts entrepreneurship” as a buzz word. They often think that if they can find a use for this buzz word then they’ve done their due diligence– one more box can be checked off of the resume or todo list. This isn’t what entrepreneurship is about. The drive to break to go out on a limb, to differ from mainstream opinion, to prove something for yourself has to come from within you. No amount of in-class strategizing or note taking can replace that.
Entrepreneurship is about taking charge of your life, your art, or your organization and going it alone because you know deep down that you can do it better. It’s a deep kind of knowing oneself, knowing that you are capable of making your mark. Like in music performance, it’s very similar to the kind of craftsmanship that goes into crafting a beautiful solo, it becomes distinctly your own creation. Your voice shines through.
As we explore what it takes to create new kinds of programs, organizations, and experiences– we will take some time to get to know ourselves as well. What do you value? What problems have you identified in the arts for which you now have ideas how to fix them? From what kind of artistic work do you derive the greatest satisfaction? How far are you willing to go to see your idea all the way from a fleeting thought in your mind to real people, taking action in real time, doing real work, in the real world.
To see an entrepreneurial project all the way through is a long process. There are very few shortcuts, and I promise that I’ll share with you the ones that I know. But as I write this post, I doubt that the challenge is too much for you. You would never have become a performing artist, or ever worked in the performing arts industry if you didn’t already understand that in our area of expertise, adversity is to be expected.
I’ll also wager that because you’ve made it this far, to my blog, that your are already toying about with the idea of going solo and breaking off from the herd to do things your way. While I’ve previously mentioned that the work involved in entrepreneurship is nothing to take lightly, I am also obligated to say that the freedom to do what you want is incomparable to anything else. For me, that’s where my true creativity lives.
I’ve found that the brightest creative impulses I’ve have had coincide with my personal freedom and my disregard for the confines of the establishment. Over the next few months we will explore how our beliefs manifest themselves in our personal and artistic missions, in the effectiveness of our organization and in our ability to make a positive impact– and you’ll have the freedom to do it your way.
So let’s begin. Listen to yourself. Listen to the silent alarms that go off around you, the ones you sense and feel. Believe, even for an instant, that nothing is set in stone, that the world is play-dough you could mold with your bare hands— for indeed, it can be. Let that thought wash over you for just a moment. Make no mistake. You can change the world with your vision, your art, and yes, even with your bare hands.
I was playing Scrabble with my wife last weekend while on our outing to Bear Mountain in upstate New York. As I stared at the game board, I realized that nearly all board games have a starting point. It’s usually a place where the first game piece is placed after a tile is anonymously drawn from a black bag, or a role of the dice determines which player will make their move first. In some games, like Candy Land or Jumanji, everyone starts at the same place. Though in those games, chance and luck may determine who will make it to the “finish” square first. Staring at the game board, it made me wonder, are game boards a metaphor for our lives, our careers or our relationships?
From the center tile of the scrabble board, the calculations of spaces, possible point scores, and words upon words spiral out. Is this not unlike the decisions we as musicians have to make each and every day? What is your “center tile”? For some it is when they play the first note of the day. For others, it is the first event that happens to them, from which they will react all day long. For me, it is the moment I open my eyes in the morning. In that moment, I can pre-empt whatever is going to happen to me that day, I can start laying the words I want across the game board.
But what about the part that luck plays in games? It’s not tile we draw that is as important as seeing all the options we have once we have drawn it from the bag. In all fairness, you can’t see which tile you are grabbing in the game of life (no pun intended). You don’t always have control there—but you do have control over what you do with it. For musicians and other creatives, this is especially important in the way we approach our careers and the creative work we do. Will we be proactive or reactive? Will you plan ahead, or be a calculation in someone else’s plan?
When we are dealt the next hand of the game in our lives and in our careers, our ability to excel or recover, advance or retreat is all about how far into the future we are willing to forecast. How much risk will you take when the outcome may be unknown? That’s a looming question for many. But I feel that’s where the reward is.
As we in the collective music community begin a new season, I encourage you to start planning and forecasting from the moment you lay down the very first tile of your game. Imagine the extent of what you could do if you extended yourself as far as possible and took the necesary risks. Remember after all, it’s just a game.