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arts entrepreneurship

April 28, 2016

Putting the Business in Show Business

New Arts Entrepreneurship Program helps prepare artists for successful careers

Briana Harris, who earned her master’s in music from UNC in 2014, plays saxophone for The Burroughs, a soul band that leans on Motown for a sound that’s made it one of the hottest bands in Greeley. Saxophone, though, is just one of her duties, and you could argue it’s not the most important.

She books private party performances as well, and when The Burroughs recorded a live album at The Moxi in downtown Greeley, she wrote a news release and helped find sponsorships that paid for the recording costs by trading a one-hour performance at the business that ponied up. Entrepreneurial efforts like these keep The Burroughs in business.

Harris is a model example of why UNC’s College of Performing and Visual Arts is emphasizing the entrepreneurial side of making it as an artist more than ever. The college offers a new entrepreneurial certificate as a part of a degree. Getting that certificate takes 12 credit hours, and half the instruction comes from UNC’s Monfort College of Business in a new, experimental partnership. This cross-disciplinary approach is one of the Innovation@UNC (i@UNC) programs developed this year.

For artists entering the 21st century market, learning the art of selling themselves may be just as crucial as their ability and talent, says Leo Welch, dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts. These days, artists need marketing skills, business plans and a knowledge of their product’s value. If they don’t, they may not get noticed at all, or they may make crucial mistakes, such as failing to charge enough for their work.

“If you don’t have those skills,” Welch says, “you simply won’t make it in the world today.” And that’s why the Arts Entrepreneurship Program adds dimension to an arts degree.

This year, to emphasize the need for entrepreneurial skills, the college put on a UNC Showcase of the Arts at Lone Tree Arts Center, where five select students showed off their marketing skills as well as their ability. Students competed for the final spots in the showcase by preparing websites, portfolios and press kits as well as perfecting the pieces they hoped to perform.

Kelsey Fritz, the student chosen to represent the School of Music, described the challenges of preparing two Mozart arias and developing a strategy to present them to the audience. “It helps me prepare even more because if I can’t explain to the audience what I’m singing about, how can I portray it through the song? It helps me really understand what kind of story I’m trying to tell.”

Presenting at the showcase was crucial in photographer Cody DeVries’ professional development. DeVries developed a presentation that gave audiences insight into his creative process for his photography collection, “Highway 85.”

“It’s an honor to be presenting for UNC,” DeVries says, “but also, the stuff I’ve learned just by doing this has been great as well.”

–By Dan England

This is the latest in a series covering projects funded through Innovation@UNC, a campus initiative that began two years ago to create new programs, reach new students, test new teaching methods and improve student success.

For previous stories in the series: