Learning from business incubators

If art is business, then what might our arts incubator learn from business incubators? Here is what my research has yielded thus far:

1. In the business incubator realm, the residency is often offered with the stipulation that if you don’t succeed, you are out. In my research I’ve found that many arts incubators, especially some that failed, tend to shy away from stating specific expectations of residents at the finish of a residency. Arts incubators tend more toward providing resources for enabling or strengthening process without the expectation of a deliverable by a deadline.

2. Business incubators, philosophically and practically, perceive themselves to be incubating the entire enterprise. At the end of the three years, which is the average amount of time spent in a business incubator, according to the National Business Incubators Association, it is expected that the startup can and will leave the incubator with a viable business plan, meaningful mentoring, and a market ready product that has the likelihood of surviving and success.

3. Successful technology incubators like NACET often provide access to high-end technology, as well as marketing support, administrative support, and hands-on business planning. Skills training and support facilities and services are integral to the incubation period and process to meet the expectation that residents will graduate from incubation with a full toolkit to best thrive in the marketplace.

4. Business incubators not only develop skills but also serve as brokers, introducing entrepreneurs to venture capitalists or angel investors.

5. Business incubators often require a business plan as part of their application for entry. An expectation exists that the entrepreneur has given thought to the viability of the project/product and that the entrepreneur has investigated its potential feasibility in the marketplace.

6. Business incubators, more often than arts incubators, tend to have measurable outcomes that specifically and quantifiably define success.

7. The term business incubator seems to be less open to multiple interpretations than the term arts incubator. Research shows that the most typical models for arts incubators are either those that offer work spaces or residencies for artists to develop a project or to create their art or those that offer space, support services, and business training to its residents. This second definition aligns more fully with the idea of incubation, which suggests a range of support and services aimed at making a venture (a business or an artist and his/her creative output) viable and launching it into the world with a greater chance at success.

8. Arts incubators may be reluctant to hold the groups or individuals they are incubating accountable for measurable success because some long-held limiting ideas the arts carry about artistic purity and the corruptive possibilities of the marketplace. Making art, the thinking goes, is pure. Making art with an idea of selling the art pollutes the process.

At the heart of many arts incubators is the notion that artists are essential to the spirit of a community and that because they are vital, artists are in need of developing skills to help them introduce their art to a larger world and finding ways to survive as artists.

As with NACET, economic development is the prevailing idea behind developing our arts incubator. Art is not only vital to the health of our community, it is a premiere tourist attraction and a proven driver of our city’s economic engine. Our vision of an arts incubator has two principal objectives: the development of individual artists toward more robust marketplace viability through business and skills training, and the economic development of our city by building a collaborative and dynamic space where art can happen and where visitors are welcome. Our incubator has the possibility to increase Flagstaff’s vitality, cultural depth, economic health and tourism.

And it is a place where art will happen.




One comment

  1. Barbara J. Carlile

    Dear Laura,

    Your research has yielded some very interesting data. I hope that Flagstaff will continue to develop the idea of an Arts Incubator until it becomes a reality . I think it’s a fantastic concept that would add a new dimension to the community and be an attraction for tourists.

    Keep up the good work!


    bjcarlile@npgcable.com cell: (602)741-7923 home: (928)525-2940

    “Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” Sarah Bernhardt

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