Thoughts on Entrepreneurship in the Arts

Entrepreneurship has become a keyword for (economic) success and is highly valued in today´s society. Today, we are expected to act entrepreneurially as individuals and are educated as early as primary school to become entrepreneurial citizens of today’s society. But, what is considered an entrepreneurial behavior? How is it defined? What possibilities and limitations are inherent in current definitions? How does that affect views on entrepreneurship within the field of arts?


An entrepreneurial language

How we perceive the world is determined by the current language used. Language, as the means by which we think, serves as the bridge between the contemplative mind and the world. Hannah Arendt, as well as many others, identifies the role of language in knowledge production while attempting to demonstrate how our use of language and its concepts affects our thinking (Arendt 1978). Today, the language used for describing the citizen or the individual in society is dominated by their place as an entrepreneur and an economic subject. This imbues one´s perception of oneself and others with expectations as to how one should act. But what does it mean to act entrepreneurially in different fields or industries today? How does the artist act as an entrepreneur?


The artistic profession

The realization of artistic work involves a number of funding models through which income is generated by mixing different forms of employment and financial support or grants. Long-term employment opportunities in which educated artists practice their profession are few. A combination of temporary project employment, teaching positions, commissions, scholarships, and temporary side jobs are often ways of making a living as an artist. Is it possible that the freelance lifestyle of the artist can be defined as entrepreneurial? Is the artist an entrepreneur when he creates his own reality by being creative and innovative when producing artistic work and making a living through limited resources? As current views on entrepreneurship is connected to thoughts on economic success, does this then render most artists un-entrepreneurial?

Entrepreneurship is a controversial subject within art education. The concept brings forth, as appears in interviews for the TaideART project, negative associations due to its perceived connection to capitalism and profit-seeking. Many artists today do not see themselves as entrepreneurs even though their actions and way of life can be viewed as entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship is and has been a natural part of the artistic profession, as there are not and have not been many employment opportunities in the field. As such, many artists have been forced into being innovative in finding ways of making a living. The problem is current views on entrepreneurship and its connection to an economic discourse. To be an entrepreneur today, many believe, is to run a business successfully. From this point of view, most artists cannot be considered entrepreneurs.


Entrepreneurship education

Entrepreneurship education within the arts is seldom adapted to the field. In many surveys and studies a lack of preparatory working-life experience is evident. One reason may be that art students have difficulty addressing employment issues during their studies. But, more likely, the problem could be that an overly narrow view of entrepreneurship is being presented in art education. Chris Steyaert and Daniel Hjorth et al. try to broaden views of and create new movements in entrepreneurship by approaching entrepreneurship not only as an economic phenomenon but as something that involves the whole of society, not merely the economy ( Steyaert and Hjorth 2003; 2004; 2006; 2009). While the dominant narrow view is based on identifying and exploiting opportunities for creating a change in the market, the broad view is focused on an ongoing creative process, one driven not by personal gain but by an idea that must be realized within, and with the help of, society. With the aim of strengthening the links between entrepreneurship and society, we invite others to take part, others that are excluded by the current language used in describing entrepreneurial behavior. With a broadening, we open the way for production of different kinds of knowledge and begin to recognize it as important. We create new narratives, outside of the dominant ones, by interpreting social, cultural, ecological, and artistic aspects and identifying them as entrepreneurial. According to Hjorth and Björn Bjerke, “entrepreneurship is about the everyday, daily life; the civic practices of living, rather than an extraordinary accomplishment” (Hjorth and Bjerke 2006, 100).


Public entrepreneurship

As part of the research done for the TaideART project, Novia UAS suggests using Hjorth´s and Bjerke´s concept of “public entrepreneurship” (Hjorth and Bjerke 2006) when describing artistic actions in society rather than using the concept “cultural entrepreneurship”, as it reduces the agency of the artist to a producer of market-based products. While the “social entrepreneur,” as a product of an enterprising society, approaches social problems as economic ones, solvable by business logic, the “public entrepreneur” does not try to make such corrections, rather attempting to get people in a community to share and feel participation.

Many self-organized models within the arts are entrepreneurial. The self-organized and the public entrepreneurial have much in common. They are both project-based, often small-scale, and have a connection to physical, virtual, discursive, and emotional places and spaces. Both take on projects that engage others in paying attention to marginalized thinking and phenomena, and making them more central. Hjorth, Bjerke, and Steyaert makes us aware of the language used in an entrepreneurial discourse, as they attempt to adapt the vocabulary in order to enable others that are excluded (for example, artists) to talk about their practice in an entrepreneurial context. 


The concept of freedom

The independence and autonomy the that the artist seeks has been “kidnapped,” as some artists see it, into something else by the entrepreneurial language. Many do not relate to a “freedom as potential” within the entrepreneurship discourse, wherein the individual is free to exploit the numerous opportunities and chances offered by the world. Christian Maravelias, separates a “freedom as autonomy” that entails a liberation from power, from “freedom as potential” that requires power, according to Maravelias, “... power to act and seize on opportunities” (Maravelias 2009, 16).


In order to maintain the freedom so central to the arts, we must broaden the contemporary view of entrepreneurship, to become something involving the whole of society and not merely the economy. A broadening enables artist to talk about their practice in an entrepreneurial context. At the same time, we open the way for the production of various types of knowledge and begin to recognize artistic aspects as important. The educational material developed by Novia UAS, that can be used in entrepreneurship studies in art education is based on the research conducted on artistic entrepreneurship in the TaideART project.

Arendt, H. 1978. The Life of the Mind, vol. 1, Thinking. New York: Harcourt.

Hjorth, D & Bjerke, B. 2006. Public Entrepreneurship: Moving from Social/Consumer to Public/Citizen. In D. Hjorth & C. Steyaert (eds.) Entrepreneurship as Social Change: A Third Movements in Entrepreneurship Book. Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Eglar, 79-102. DOI: 

Maravelias, C. 2009. Freedom, Opportunism and Entrepreneurialism in Post-Bureaucratic Organizations. In D. Hjorth & C. Steyaert (eds.) The Politics and Aesthetics of Entrepreneurship: A Fourth Movements in Entrepreneurship Book. Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Eglar, 13-30.

Steyaert, C & Hjorth, D (eds.) 2003. Movements in Entrepreneurship: New Movements in Entrepreneurship. 

Steyaert, C & Hjorth, D (eds.) 2004. Narrative and Discursive Approaches in Entrepreneurship: A Second Movements in Entrepreneurship Book. 

Steyaert, C & Hjorth, D (eds.) 2006. Entrepreneurship as Social Change: A Third Movements in Entrepreneurship Book. 

Steyaert, C & Hjorth, D (eds.) 2009. The Politics and Aesthetics of Entrepreneurship: A Fourth Movements in Entrepreneurship Book.