Value Creation by and Evaluation of US Arts Incubators (Abridged)

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By Linda Essig

Until recently – either within the business discipline of entrepreneurship studies or across the disciplines of arts and cultural policy or community development – there has been little research on arts incubators, their strategic goals, their forms and funding models, or their evaluation methods. A review of extant research suggests that arts incubators play a role in early-stage development of arts-based enterprises and arts organizations as well as capacity-building for individual artists (Essig 2014; Gerl 2000). Arts incubators may also serve a community development function (Grodach 2011; Phillips 2010). This study asks three questions: How do arts incubators of various types create value for their stakeholder communities? How do arts incubators evaluate their success at creating the value? What is the relationship between the evaluation methods and strategic priorities of arts incubators?

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Participants practicing their elevator pitch at Center for Cultural Innovation’s ART>NET>WORK workshop. June, 2017. Los Angeles, CA. (Photo: John Endow)

Through a qualitative cross-case analysis of four arts incubators of different types, the research opens the black box of incubator operations to find that arts incubators create value for client artists and arts organizations through both direct service provision and indirect echo effects, but that the provision of value to communities or systems is attenuated and largely undocumented. Despite issues surfaced through the study, arts incubators remain a potentially impactful tool for supporting cultural entrepreneurship. This article addresses potential policy outcomes of arts incubators as articulated in the literature, the ways in which arts incubators deliver services to their stakeholders, and the value that is created from that service delivery. Then, drawing on the cross-case analysis, it considers smart practices or best practices for value generation and evaluation in arts incubators.

Case Studies
The four case study subjects were chosen purposively to represent four different types of incubator (artist-serving, creative entrepreneur-serving, arts organization-serving, community-serving); geographic range (Pacific Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, California); and sectoral diversity (public, non-profit, private). Site visits were made to each of the four incubators, during which incubator leadership, staff, clients and supporters were interviewed and site observations conducted. Interview transcripts, published materials, observation notes and internal documents provided by the programs constitute the data for analysis.

The value proposition of Arlington County Arts Incubator in Arlington, VA is “to provide free space and services to arts organizations so that they can focus on organizational development and programming excellence.” Intersection of the Arts in San Francisco, CA has a broader range of services, including providing space for the development and production of artistic/creative products; space for the exhibition, performance or sale of artistic products; cooperative marketing; centralized business services; business classes or business training; arts business informational resources; and, most significantly, fiscal sponsorship. The Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) serves individual artists throughout the state of California from its offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  CCI’s mission is “to promote knowledge sharing, networking and financial independence for individual artists and creative entrepreneurs by providing business training, grants, and incubating innovative projects that create new program knowledge, tools and practices for artists in the field.”1 Mighty Tieton is a loose affiliation of business entities located in the small rural community of Tieton, Washington. Mighty Tieton LLC owns a renovated fruit warehouse that is home to several creative businesses and a gallery space, and is one of the few commercial (for-profit) incubator enterprises identified in the typology research (Essig 2014) and provides space and informal business-planning advice to creative businesses and other businesses in town.

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Tieton Mosaic. (Courtesy of Mighty Tieton.)

Cross-Case Analysis
Arts incubators provide services to artists, arts organizations and creative enterprises. Analysis of the four cases indicates that the value created by arts incubators lies not in the services delivered per se but, rather, in the positive effect of such services on the ability of stakeholders to achieve their objectives by lowering barriers, conferring legitimacy, cushioning risk and, in some cases, enhancing individual or organizational self-sufficiency. The incubators have some characteristics in common. In all cases, the incubator plays some part in lowering barriers to entrepreneurial action and helps its clients, directly or indirectly, to connect their means with their ends (see Essig 2015; Shane and Venkatataman 2000). Differences are observed in strategic priorities and organizational culture. These differences are evidenced in the ways in which the organizations evaluate their own success and that of their clients. There are also similarities – for example, for the most part evaluation takes place at the client level rather than at the program or organizational level.

Several themes and characteristics emerge from a look across all four cases: arts incubators are in a state of change; arts incubator affiliation provides a “seal of approval”; arts incubators provide a safety net against risk; arts incubators strive to support artist or client group self-sufficiency but are not always successful; success is defined and measured locally; evaluation is considered important but is implemented inconsistently.

Evaluating Arts Incubator Success
Business incubator evaluation tends to focus on the assessment of firms within incubators rather than on the incubators themselves (see Mian 2014). The same appears to be true of arts incubators. In general, evaluation processes occur at the client level, where the success of the incubator is measured by the success of its clients rather than at the level of the incubator programs or in relation to their strategic goals.

Recommendations and Conclusions
Arts incubators, like many small organizations, tend to look retrospectively at outputs rather than at the processes that convert inputs into tangible impacts, or means into ends. Despite these issues, arts incubators remain a potentially impactful tool of cultural policy if their processes and activities align with their strategic goals and if those processes and activities are assessed formatively and summatively. The primary recommendation is that arts incubators adopt a program of formative and summative assessment that can be used to foster organizational learning and lead to evidence-based decision-making.

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My primary recommendation is that arts incubators adopt a program of formative and summative assessment that can be used to foster organizational learning and lead to evidence-based decision-making. Table 3 shows the variables that can be evaluated at the process, output and value-added levels across the strategic priorities articulated by the incubator stakeholders.

Finally, the only way to really know if an incubator is creating lasting value is to track the value-added (or “impact”) variables over time. This requires commitment on the part of the organization to build evaluation processes into its operations, gather data on a regular basis, analyze those data, and synthesize the results.

Notes
cciarts.org/Angie_Kim.html (accessed 20 July 2015)

References
Essig, L. 2014. Arts incubators: A typology. Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 44(3), 169-80.

Essig, L. 2015. Means and ends: A theory framework for understanding entrepreneurship in the US arts and culture sector. Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 45(3), 227-46.

Gerl, E. 2000. Incubating the arts: Establishing a program to help artists and arts organizations become viable businesses. Anthens, OH: NBIA Publications.

Grodach, C. 2011. Art spaces in community and economic development: Connections to neighbourhoods, artists, and the cultural economy. Journal of Planning Education and Research 31(1), 74-85.

Mian, S. 2014. 15 business incubation and incubator mechanisms. Handbook of research on entrepreneurship: What we know and what we need to know, A. Foyelle, ed. (pp. 335-66). Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Phillips, R.J. 2010. Arts entrepreneurship and economic development: Can every city be “austintatious”? Towards a psychology of entrepreneurship: An action theory perspective. Foundations and Trends® in Entrepreneurship 6(4), 239-313.

Shane, S., and S. Venkataraman. 2000. The promise of entrepreneurship as a field of research. Academy of Management Review 25(1), 217-26.

See the full article in the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 20, Number 2, Winter 2018

Developing Museum Audiences: Interview with Morgan Marks, Associate Director of Outreach at the Cheyenne Frontier Days™ Old West Museum

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Morgan Marks (2014) is a graduate of the MMIAM program’s first cohort. As an undergraduate student, she completed a combined Bachelor of Science in Business Economics and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Morgan saw graduate studies in international arts management as a unique way to combine her business background with her passion for the arts. Laura Adlers recently caught up with her in Cheyenne, Wyoming to see where her career path has led since graduating from the MMIAM program.

 

 

Where are you currently working and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am the Associate Director of Outreach / Marketing Director at the Cheyenne Frontier Days™ Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I am responsible for all print and digital media for the museum, including web design, writing press releases, managing TV and radio interviews, creating advertising and promotional pieces for our events. As the Associate Director of Outreach, I oversee the development, arts education and volunteer programs and staff for the organization.

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The CFD Old West Museum Hall of Fame Gallery. (Courtesy: The CFD Old West Museum)

Which MMIAM courses were the most valuable to you for your career and why?

All of the marketing courses, the financial management courses, the fundraising course and Kathleen Gallagher’s courses in cultural economics and cultural policy all had a huge impact on my work at the museum. I tap into all of this knowledge on some level on a daily basis.

What did you gain personally and professionally from living and studying in four different countries with students from around the world?

Personally, the connections and friendships that I formed with people in my cohort were invaluable. It sounds cliché, but I am a sentimental person and the people I met and worked with during my study year really are like family to me now. We shared so many experiences, especially as international students with our own unique cultural backgrounds. Professionally, these experiences helped me to gain a new perspective in my career.  It is so easy to get stuck in the idea that “this is how it has always been done”, and so much of what I experienced with my cohort and in my studies has given me the tools to try new things and move in new directions.

Which of the four MMIAM campuses was the most memorable for you and why?

Definitely our trip to Bogotá. That was where everything fell into place for me mentally,

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Street memorial for Gabriel García Márquez. (Courtesy: Morgan Marks)

where I understood the importance of my studies and how the cultural sector impacts people’s lives on a daily basis. The national library system really had an impact on me. The fact that it is built to be accessible to everyone and that everyone was welcome and encouraged to be there. We were also there days after the death of Gabriel García Márquez and witnessed the national mourning for Colombia’s most famous writer. People placed yellow butterflies everywhere in his memory, there was a makeshift memorial created on the street in his honour and we observed a moment of silence before a theatre performance at the Ibero-American Theatre Festival. It was very powerful to see a cultural figure respected and revered in this way, and to understand that he was such a big part of Colombia’s national identity. We don’t see this often in the United States.

What is one of the greatest challenges facing arts managers in your community today?

One challenge that the state of Wyoming and by extension the Cheyenne community is facing is this sense by Wyoming residents and tourists that our state has nothing to offer from a cultural perspective. In fact, Wyoming has six accredited museums, which is a lot for a state of our population size. Wyoming has five affiliate museums of the Smithsonian Institution, including the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Natural History Museum. Wyoming is also home to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has internationally recognized artists.

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Bronze artist Chip Jones creating his “quick draw” sculpture during the 2018 Western Spirit Art Show and Sale. (Courtesy: The CFD Old West Museum)

So our challenge as arts managers is that we not only have to put great effort into attracting international tourists and those from out of state to Wyoming, but we also have a challenge in convincing our own constituents that we have culturally-rich offerings.  Interestingly, our number one foreign tourists are Germans, who love all things Western, especially the rodeo! At Cheyenne Frontier Days, we have diehard local fans who visit us on a regular basis, but we have many who think that since they were here when they were kids, they have seen everything we have to offer, not realizing that exhibits are always changing and we have interesting events happening here all the time.

Another challenge we face at the museum which is common for the whole state is finding a balance between accessibility and exclusivity and engaging the community at different levels. We have an exhibit right now, for instance, for which we charge $45 a ticket for the opening reception, which is geared more towards the general public, but at the beginning of the summer, just before the Frontier Days events, we have a big fundraising event at the museum which is $160 per person, targetted towards more exclusive constituents. All this is to say there is a great need for outreach and new approaches to audience development!

What are the current trends in the cultural sector in your community and what new opportunities are emerging for arts managers as a result?

We have a champion volunteer in Cheyenne, Bill Dubois, who is also Cheyenne’s official Historian Laureate, who is widely quoted as saying: “Volunteering is a Cheyenne thing to do!” and so we are in the enviable position of having a huge culture of volunteerism in our community and, at our museum anyway, far more volunteers than we can handle! This is also the case with our corporate sponsors, who encourage their employees to volunteer at events which they are sponsoring  It is a good problem to have as an arts manager, and it provides an opportunity for us as an organization to diversify the roles our volunteers may play and ensure we harness that enthusiasm and engage our volunteers in areas which play to their strengths and which are beneficial to our organization.

Adaptability, Understanding the International Arts Market Key to Success for International Arts Managers: In Conversation with MMIAM Professor Kathleen Gallagher

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Kathleen Gallagher is Assistant Professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts. Her interest in cultural policy, the arts and nonprofit management derive from an education which includes a B.A. in Art and Architectural Histories, an M.B.A. with emphases on marketing and arts management, an M.A. in Modern Art Connoisseurship and the History of the Art Market, and a Ph.D. in Public Affairs.  She is also a certified appraiser of fine arts.  Kathleen has been teaching in the MMIAM program since its inception. Laura Adlers was pleased to have an opportunity to speak with her recently to find out what she is teaching and working on now.

Which MMIAM courses do you teach at Southern Methodist University?

I teach two courses: Comparative International Cultural Policy and Cultural Economics and the International Art Market. In the Cultural Policy course we analyze cultural policy case studies from around the world and marry them with theory to help students understand how to interact with the public sector from a strategic advocacy standpoint. They develop the skills and tools necessary for civic engagement (writing positioning statements, policy briefs, talking points) and as a final project, they write an advocacy plan.

In the Cultural Economics course we analyze international case studies from all arts sectors, including the performing arts, museums, art galleries, publishing, film and television, and examine how key economic concepts affect and influence each sector.

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Professor Kathleen Gallagher talks with students of the International Comparative Cultural Policy class during a visit to the State Fair of Texas as part of a research project. (Photo courtesy: Kim Leeson)

 

You will be on a research sabbatical in the 2018 fall semester.  What will be the focus of your research?

My research centres around sub-national cultural policies that support sustainability of arts organizations, since this is an issue that the arts sector struggles with across the board.  I am looking at not only government funding policies, but also philanthropic and private sector funding. I am also looking at things like creative placemaking, capacity-building models and issues facing arts organizations with geographically dispersed populations.

What innovative ideas have you observed in the cultural sector in the United States which are leading the new wave in cultural management?

There are two that I can think of which are not really new, but we are looking at in new ways recently. The first is creative placemaking, which evolved from ideas about placemaking Jane Jacobs wrote about in the ‘60s. There has been a resurgence of this concept since around 2000, a renewed realization about the value that the cultural sector brings to authenticity of place, and that this can be scaled and taken on as a project for a community, a neighbourhood, a city, a region, even at a state level. Policymakers and communities are looking at how the arts fit in and help to sustain the population. We talk about cultural identity and how cultural economics can provide opportunities, for example, to smaller or dispersed communities and we are increasingly recognizing the heterogeneity of our landscape.

The second innovative idea is that of artist as entrepreneur. This is really not a new concept.  Artists have always been entrepreneurs. They have always had to build up their patrons and support outside of government support, but there are more programmes being created by local and state arts funding agencies to help facilitate training artists in basic business skills, helping them build up their networks through social marketing and other tools which help connect small businesses with other artists and businesses and encourage cross-promotion. There are also more and more cultural trails and cultural districts emerging which foster and provide business support to artists. This kind of support benefits the artist and helps their ability to continue creating art, which by extension trickles down to and further benefits the community in which they live and work.

Photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Hillsman S. Jackson

 

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

I think it all centers around being able to adapt easily and skillfully to diversity in today’s world. It is about working with colleagues, employers, donors, and business partners in diverse environments, going out into the world and having the ability to consider the context and adapt to any given situation. By going through this program, students observe and adapt to different faculty at different institutions in different countries, and work with a diverse student body and different cultural approaches to their studies and everyday life.

This all requires understanding cultural differences and working style, observing and processing this information, honing communication skills and finding ways of working together in the cohort. So not only does everyone in the cohort grapple with these concepts and ideas, but they also go through this in four different countries. I think this is such an amazing opportunity for the students and an important aspect of the program which should be highlighted to potential employers. In addition to the specialized course material, these life skills would be important and desireable to any employer who would have the wisdom to hire a MMIAM graduate.