Claire Chase ’01 and Others Eye the Future of Entrepreneurship and the Arts

Guest panelists appear as part of Oberlin's Strategic Plan Speaker Series.

April 2, 2015

Josie Davis ’14

Claire Chase, Ruby Lerner, and Wayne Brown.
Photo credit: Josie Davis '14

The Strategic Plan Speaker Series continued this week with a conversation about the arts, entrepreneurship, and higher education. Panelists included 2012 McArthur Fellow and founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble, Claire Chase ’01; CEO of Michigan Opera Theater Wayne Brown; and president and executive director of Creative Capital Ruby Lerner. They spoke about the future of the arts and creativity, and their place  in higher education and in local communities.

Brown began by describing why he left his position as an arts administrator with the National Endowment for the Arts to move to his native Detroit. “I wanted a hands-on role in reimagining the arts sector in Detroit,” he said.

Brown spoke about his vision for arts in the 21st century and emphasized the importance of nurturing creativity and student development, honoring diversity, and recognizing the potential for institutions of higher education to transcend the campus. Brown believes that local communities should be laboratories for higher education.

“It is important for institutions [not just individuals] to think outside the box,” he said.

Brown’s work with Michigan Opera Theater has done just that. This season’s production of Frida attracted 6,000 audience members—60 percent of whom had not previously been to an opera.

Brown went on to discuss the need for arts organizations to emphasize more than just artistry. The landscape of classical music has changed, and it is important for organizations to engage with surrounding communities in a meaningful way to create value, relevance, and authenticity.

Ruby Lerner followed Brown with an engaging lecture about creating a space for emerging artists that paves the way for success. She emphasized the importance of honoring artists creating new work.

“We need to create an environment that encourages success as the artists choose to define it: Artists need to be at the center of critical societal conversation—not decorations at the fringe,” she said.

Creative Capital takes a multifaceted approach to supporting emerging artists by providing monetary support, robust mentorship, interchange, and a platform for community engagement. Lerner believes art fields cannot absorb the vast number of trained artists that enter the workforce each year. Because of this, she believes that institutions of higher education should offer a holistic curriculum that teaches life skills and professional skills. Courses should be taught in career development, financial literacy, community engagement, building an internet presence, and marketing. Through this training, students are able to react to situations with flexibility, alertness, and curiosity.

Claire Chase began her portion of the lecture by boldly claiming that the “entrepreneurship has sailed.” She challenged the current use of the word entrepreneurship, arguing that the meaning is removed from the actual artistic process. Chase believes institutions of higher education should create healthy ecosystems of learning, in which everyone is compelled to create and where people can become themselves. She emphasized the potential of a project-based curriculum that allows students to take risks, experiment, and show initiative.


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