The Art Of Business

Purchase College, SUNY, launched a new business-centric master’s program for the arts.

Ever since the great recession zapped much of the arts’ funding and patronage, and the Internet dramatically altered the ways in which artists can sustain themselves (Etsy, for instance), the separation of arts and business has evaporated entirely. 

Artists today are finding that to be artists, they must also be entrepreneurs. To give an idea of the balancing act, Purchase College, SUNY, Professor of Arts Management and Entrepreneurship James Undercofler points to young musicians: “They might join a regional orchestra, which might—might—cover a fifth of their income,“ he says. So they’ll need to branch out entrepreneurially on the side with, say, a concert series, innovative musical programs for children, and a side business selling mouthpieces. It’s a matter of having your hand in a few different jars, and it’s a little like treading water.

As one of the top arts colleges in the state (it ranks 45th on U.S. News & World Report’s list of fine arts colleges), Purchase College, SUNY, is acutely aware of this new reality, and so commissioned Undercofler to design a master’s program around it. The result is the Entrepreneurship in the Arts MA, which will host its first students this fall. The centerpieces of the year-and-a-half long, 33-credit program are three entrepreneurial core courses, the last of which is intended as an incubator, where the student will forge his or her identity as a working artist/entrepreneur and develop some sort of business concept that monetizes their artistic expertise. Other required classes include Leadership and Management Techniques, Finance for the Arts, and Digital Marketing and the Arts. The program is geared toward recent college graduates with fine/performing arts or music degrees. 

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While the immediate goal, he says, is to have students “learn the business skills necessary to promote themselves and build careers with multiple sources of income,” the bigger picture goal is a breakthrough to stop treading water

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