I was writing a funding application the other day for my PHD and in my opening sentence I referred to creative entrepreneurs. Andrew challenged me:
What exactly do you mean by that? How would you define that?
I struggled. Which is funny because I have an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, I write a blog about creative entrepreneurship and I’ve just started a PhD in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship. If I can’t define it…well, there might be a problem. So I’m setting out to try and come up with MY definition of this term.
I notice that the term creative entrepreneur is being tossed around a lot these days, particularly online, and particularly in materials coming from the US. (Though I’ve encountered the term a fair amount here in the UK,too). Whatever it’s source, it’s becoming a ‘buzzword’ – all the more reason to pin down its meaning.
Why not start with what Wikipedia has to say:
Creative entrepreneurship is the practice of setting up a business – or setting yourself up as self-employed – in one of the creative industries. The focus of the creative entrepreneur differs from that of the typical business entrepreneur or, indeed, the social entrepreneur in that s/he is concerned first and foremost with the creation and exploitation of creative or intellectual capital. Essentially, creative entrepreneurs are investors in talent – their own or other people’s.
I think this is a start, though I have met a lot of people who have set themselves up as self-employed in the creative industries and yet I wouldn’t call them creative entrepreneurs, largely because they don’t have the required mindset.
The mindset of an painter is to paint. The mindset of an actor is to act. The mindset of a musician is to make music.
The mindset of a creative entrepreneur is to make or create something for their audience. And to trade it for financial gain.
The second part of the Wiki definition gets closer to the heart. “The creation and exploitation of creative or intellectual capital.” That’s what it’s about. It’s about creating something, and then exploiting your intellectual or creative capital. That means not allowing your short stories to gather dust on your hard-drive. It means not letting the paintings pile up in corners of your studio. It means not acting for free in a room above a pub. It means not playing your music at friends’ christening parties for free.
You have creative capital. If you want to be a creative entrepreneur (or I would even say if you want to do this as a professional) you need to put as much time into how you exploit your creative capital as you do in creating it. That’s going to lead to more success as an artist and to being able to quit your day job. And that’s how you distinguish yourself as a creative entrepreneur instead of just an artist, writer, actor, dancer, crafter, poet etc.
My PhD supervisor reminded me the other day of the distinctions that Karl Marx made between labourers and those who own the means of production. In Marxist theory, the labourers are used up and thrown away while those who own the means of production get rich.
We can see this in countless creative careers where the creative barely makes a cent and their agent/manager/record label/gallery gets rich. Various trade unions and collective groups have been instrumental over the years to negotiate better contracts for artists, so perhaps there isn’t as much exploitation as there has been in the past, but you only have to follow the money in any creative career to see that often it’s not the person being creative who is getting rich – it’s the person who own the means of production and is bridging the gap between the creative labourer and their market.
Your agent, who might represent between 25-60 actors, and take 10-20% of everything they earn, is making a whole lot more money than you are. If you are a painter, chances are pretty good your gallerist, who might represent 10 artists and take 50% of the sales, probably drives a much better car than you do. Most publishers live in much nicer houses than their writers. In both films and theatre, the producer is being paid a lot more than the actors. Why? They own the means of production.
You may not aspire to be a producer, or an agent, or a publisher, but being a creative entrepreneur is about getting CLOSER to the means of production. It starts with taking an interest in how your work gets to market. It involves reading the fine print, asking the difficult questions, demanding to be involved in the process.
You might ultimately create your own ‘means of production’ by self-publishing or setting up your own label or producing your own work. But the first step is to start to take an interest in the process. Most stories of artists who’ve been taken advantage of weren’t interested in the process of getting to market and were happy to put their trust into others to do it for them. Their heads were buried in the studio and they weren’t looking over the books often enough.
Start to question the process. That will lead you on the journey to becoming a creative entrepreneur.
In our next post, we’ll look at 3 ways to get you started moving towards being a creative entrepreneur.
Please use the comments below to tell me how you are getting closer to the means of production.