January 25, 2016


This week’s letter contains a number of topics that on the surface seem to be on the opposite ends of  a spectrum: for example, Economics and Emotion.  But each topic that I’ve chosen to write about is necessary to understand when you’re an arts manager. Other E topics include Empathy,  Empowerment, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Ethics and Evaluation.

I’ve chosen to share some words on Entrepreneurship because of I’ve received a positive response to what I’ve written from a young Australian arts manager. So if it resonated for them, it might resonate for you too.

“One of the early definitions of an entrepreneur was proposed by Schumpeter in the 1930s (quoted in Beugelsdijk  & Masleand 2011, p.166). The idea is that an entrepreneur  is a leader with autonomous drive who’s willing to break through ordinary constraints in order to achieve new outcomes. Schumpeter said “…there is the will to conquer: the impulse to fight, to prove oneself superior to others, to succeed for the sake, not of the fruits of success, but of success itself.”  I don’t identify with any of that language although I do like his final point which is that entrepreneurship is  “about the joy of creating, or getting things done, or simply exercising one’s energy and ingenuity.”

In the arts and cultural world, the title of ‘entrepreneur’ has been applied to the impresarios of the past who risked their own money (and that of others) to establish new enterprises. They are the people who start businesses rather than the people who manage them. Beugelsdijk & Masleand (2011, p. 167) summarise a range of research and come up with a list of behavioural qualities for entrepreneur’s including opportunistic, innovative, creative, imaginative, restless, high need for achievement, risk taking propensity, self-confident, with a preference for energetic and novel activity.  They are described as people who want to be free to achieve as well as being comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. If one has to have all those qualities, then I’m clearly not an entrepreneur. I simply don’t have the appetite for risk that I see in my commercial peers. Obviously, I’m not completely risk-averse because otherwise one wouldn’t be able to work comfortably in an arts organisation where every creative activity is risky with the capacity to damage the company financially. I prefer Hagoort’s (2005, p.214) image on an entrepreneur: someone who has “a lot of energy and a large dose of persistence and imagination which, together with a willingness to take reasonable, calculated risks, enables them to convert something which initially begins as a very simple and unclear idea, into something concrete.”  That sounds somewhat more like me.

I suspect that a true entrepreneur in Schumpeter’s sense would be both bored and irritated by having to work in the framework of non-profit organisations with boards, rules and regulations and stakeholders to whom one has to be accountable. Perhaps a better approach to entrepreneurship is for the company to be entrepreneurial rather than the leader. Varbanova (2013, 20-21) provides eight characteristics of such organisations:

  • Evidence of innovation not just in artistic creativity but in strategic innovations that bring value to audiences and clients
  • The establishment of teams to work on generation and implementation of innovative ideas
  • An experimental “laboratory’ climate
  • Ongoing financial support for innovative projects
  • Generating revenue as a result
  • A flexible organisational structure
  • Adaptability to change
  • Ability to connect and network.

In this type of organisation according to Varbanova (2013, p. 19) employees are given “ongoing freedom, encouragement and support, including financially to create and develop new ideas.” This sounds to me simply like a well-run arts organisation. Perhaps I’m just trying to excuse myself for not being an entrepreneur at heart but I think there is room for both the more considered servant leader and the more flamboyant entrepreneur in the arts and cultural industry.”


Beugelsdijk, S & Maseland, R 2011, Culture in Economics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hagoort, G 2005, Art Management: Entrepreneurial Style, (5th ed), Eburon, Deflt

Varbanova, L 2013, Strategic Management in the Arts, Routledge, New York