Boston University Professor Hugh O’Donnell once said, “Art will begin appearing in ways people never would have noticed.” The prime example? Entrepreneurship. Or, as those at the Rhode Island School of Design call it, “artrepreneurship.”
Artists have a key role to play in the life of any startup. Even the most tech-heavy need a designer to come in and make their products accessible. Just look at Steve Jobs, who stood at the very intersection of arts and technology—an intersection Walter Isaacson acknowledged in his biography, writing, “In all of his products, technology would be married to great design, elegance, human touches and even romance.”
O’Donnell had previously pointed to the New York Times’ “Magic Mirror,” a prototype that uses Microsoft Kinect to detect and follow movements, while deploying voice recognition technology to execute your demands. Sure, it was an engineer who created the device, but it was a designer who boiled down the information, interpreted it and made the data tangible. Without a designer, how could those looking in the mirror browse through the Times’ full slate of articles all while combing their hair in the morning?
Students have started looking at entrepreneurship as a viable option at RISD—a place where the goal is to open outsiders’ eyes to the idea artists and designers “don’t just make things pretty,” but “make things happen.”
Here in the city, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design is striving to spread that sentiment, as well. They’ve opened the first college-affiliated retail boutique, MassArt Made, giving MassArt students, faculty and alumni the chance to showcase their latest pieces. Although not every student is selected to be in the shop, they are first tasked with selling themselves through their portfolio and then settling on a price for their merchandise, both of which take an entrepreneurial mindset.
Outside of the city’s schools, you have the team behind multi-sensory production company YES.OUI.SI., who has not only built their own business, but is acting as a creative consulting agency, working with emerging artists and musicians in the city. At YES.OUI.SI., they develop brands through art, helping meld creativity with the smarts to launch, say, a “Sneaker Museum,” off the ground.
The Future Boston Alliance has also helped spread the artrepreneurially spirit here in the city, recently launching their own accelerator program with 25 companies in August. Program participants range from clothing lines to multimedia companies and the inaugural class will be working, in total, for six months every Saturday. Participants are matched with mentors, including Avid Technology founder Bill Warner and Constant Contact founder Alec Stern, and at the end, one winner will be rewarded with free office space and at least $5,000 in cash.
For other artists looking for space, however, there’s Somerville’s Artisan’s Asylum, which provides creatives with access to a fully equipped and professionally maintained manufacturing facility, which includes capabilities for robotics, woodworking, welding and bicycle building, among other skills, that are typically associated less with an artist and more with an engineer.
As the term “artpreneurship” suggests, however, this doesn’t need to be an either/or—artist or entrepreneur. Today, artists are entrepreneurs who can bring a creative eye to any business.
O’Donnell has spoken with students about growing up in England during The Beatles era. To him, what The Beatles did was something quite simple: they put together four people with different skill sets who could play together. Their talents collided, and the band members collaborated in a way that was fresh, new and innovative. Much like a startup.
Photo Courtesy of QRCArtist