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New tools to help musicians, arts businesses prepare for and navigate crises

Image of Dr. Gary Beckman teaching a course in arts entrepreneurship.

When stay-at-home orders began to be implemented across the United States in response to the coronavirus, Department of Music teaching professor Gary Beckman realized that arts-based businesses would face unprecedented and unique challenges. For many musicians, theater companies and arts studios, in-person events, classes or exhibits are the core of their business model. Physical distancing measures are resulting in cancelled events, facility closures and lost income for both independent artists and arts businesses alike.

Crisis preparation is not discussed in arts training and rarely in entrepreneurship training. Even if it was, the novel crises we’re presently enduring would test the limits of any preparation strategy,” said Beckman, who directs entrepreneurial studies in the arts for the music department. “This leaves almost all independent artists, small arts businesses and organizations, emerging arts entrepreneurs and part-time artists struggling to know what to do. They not only have ventures to operate, they find themselves wondering how to continue impacting, retaining and expanding their audiences when venues are shuttered, local arts gatherings are banned and festivals are being postponed.”

Beckman, a pioneer in the field of arts entrepreneurship and co-founder of the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education, set to work immediately to develop tools that artists could use to plan their way through this crisis, but he also wanted to ensure the tools would be useful in the face of more traditional crises faced by business owners. For many in the arts community, a typical crisis is either an economic recession or the loss of a major funder or grant. “Many arts entrepreneurs endure constant and low-level financial crises on a daily basis,” said Beckman. “We just don’t identify this anxiety as a crisis.” 

To ensure that his tools would meet both the current and future needs of arts entrepreneurs, he leveraged a time-tested tool known as the Business Model Canvas. The canvas is essentially a template to help emerging entrepreneurs identify their value proposition, market, business strategy and other factors in order to build a successful business model. Beckman created two new canvases—a crisis management strategy canvas and a crisis management plan canvas—tailored to arts-based ventures. 

Students currently enrolled in one course of the arts entrepreneurship minor, which Beckman directs, have been testing these new tools. “Students were divided into groups and given typical for-profit and nonprofit arts business scenarios,” he said. “Their task was to [use the tools to] create a crisis management strategy and plan for four separate scenarios. In part, their job was to test the tools’ efficacy, robustness in different contexts and ability to generate innovation.”

This effort aligns with Beckman’s intention that the arts entrepreneurship minor should contribute to NC State’s land grant mission by funneling the curriculum and student creativity into action to benefit North Carolinians and the state’s economy. Student testing demonstrated that Beckman’s crisis planning tools were ready to be shared with North Carolina artists. “It’s been a great success. Each student team has not only shown increasing comfort and engagement with the tools each week, they were thrilled to know their efforts will be shared across the country.”

Beckman will present the tools in a free webinar on Tuesday, May 12 at 3:00 p.m. All independent artists and musicians, arts businesses or nonprofits, and emerging arts entrepreneurs are encouraged to register and learn how to implement his innovative tools to assess present challenges, craft strategies and outline a plan to thrive in uncertain times.

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