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Art Schools Talk Business

By ADAM RUBENFIRE
Updated Aug. 7, 2014 4:51 p.m. ET


As crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter become more accessible than moneyed patrons, fine-arts schools want to spark students' entrepreneurial savvy.

The Juilliard School, the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music have embraced programs or courses aimed at developing students' business acumen alongside their artistic skill. Entrepreneurship is also a hot topic in courses at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, while the certificate program in design entrepreneurship at Pratt Institute of New York has been in such high demand that the school is expanding the program to accommodate more students.

Focusing on craft alone won't prepare students for life as a working artist, says Joseph W. Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, which holds workshops that encourage an entrepreneurial mind-set; in one session, students pitched business ideas to Tony Award-winning producer Bruce Robert Harris.

Sites like YouTube and SoundCloud, which allow users to post music and videos, have changed the way musicians get noticed and have intensified competition for jobs and recording contracts, students and administrators say. Record labels are more likely to sign an artist who already has a ready-made following online.

The Berklee College of Music has begun holding YouTube "hack days," bringing students together with artists popular on YouTube such as Berklee alumnus AJ Rafael, along with Andres Palmiter, an audience-development strategist at the video platform. During the most recent hack day in March, students made their own performance videos, and learned about the factors that go into a video's viral success.

Students "have to approach and think about what they're doing in the same way an entrepreneur does and the same way that a startup does," says Panos Panay, the managing director of Berklee College of Music's new Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, or BerkleeICE.

BerkleeICE is also adding two elective courses this fall: one where students work with startups on such projects as designing apps or improving instruments, and another where students spend a semester forming their own music-focused startups. Mr. Panay, a Berklee alum who sold his own startup, Sonicbids—a site for performers and promoters to post about jobs—for about $15 million, will teach both classes.

Colin Thurmond, a doctoral student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, has received three entrepreneurship grants valued at about $4,000 in total from his school, two of which helped fund a performance-design company he co-founded, and another for his online guitar boot camp.

The school, which has funded over 60 projects since 2010, says it wants students to not just learn about startups, but to create them as well. Mr. Thurmond said the grants and ventures have helped him pay for school while continuing to perform.

"It becomes less about one single stream of income," he says. "I want to be able to make my career doing things that I love."

As part of a multimillion-dollar initiative to prepare students for a wider variety of careers in the ever-changing music industry, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is building a music technology facility and expects to add a battery of professional development courses in which students will learn how to write a press release, read financial statements and use crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter.

Assistant Dean MaryClare Brzytwa says the goal is to make graduates viable candidates for jobs as record engineers, independent composers and music supervisors for film and television.

The Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles offers a course with nearby Loyola Marymount University on the development, funding and marketing of products such as the iPhone.

Working designers today need a broader understanding of the businesses they work in, playing a role at marketing and sales meetings, says Steve McAdam, academic chair of product design at Otis and a former toy designer at Mattel Inc.

 

Source: The Wall Street Journal