. . . field reports from a creative catalyst in the Pacific NW

a working definition of ‘cultural entrepreneur’

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 cultural entrepreneurs website (est. 2001)

Sometime around 1998, I read about a cultural entrepreneur who was doing some inspiring cultural development work in Europe. The term “cultural entrepreneur” resonated with me so much that I bought the domain.

It wasn’t until 2000, when strategic designer, Celeste Tell,  brought me in as a consultant to Callison Architects to help create a cross disciplinary design charrette. The Office of the Future was a consortium of partners, including AT&T Wireless, Barclay Dean/Metro/Steelcase, Callison Architecture, Axis, Seafirst. who were focused on improving workplace performance. Our charge was to catalyze the design of next iteration of the Future@Work exhibit through this interdisciplinary design forum. We brought together thought leaders from such diverse disciplines as urban planning, cultural anthropology, behavioral science, futurist theory, information technology, interior design, accessibility and universal design, media communications to explore, share knowledge and co-create a vision for the future.


It was this effort that inspired Celeste and myself to join forces in 2001.  Our mission was to do just that kind of catalytic work that fused methods from business analysis, the social sciences, and multi-disciplinary design disciplines in the service of public good. Cultural Entrepreneurs seemed the perfect moniker. Over time, we learned that driving sustainable value in the cultural economy requires a strategic approach to connecting diverse stakeholders, cultural assets, and resources around new narratives for the future. We helped our clients explore the possibilities, establish goals, clarify opportunities, and crystallize a strategy for successful innovation in a wide range of industries and arenas.

Since our founding, the term “cultural entrepreneur” has taken on a greater meaning and significance in our global economy. The following definition first appeared in Cultures and Globalization: The Cultural Economy, Helmut K. Anheier (Editor) and Yudhishthir Raj Isar (Editor), published by Sage Publications in 2008.

“Cultural Entrepreneurs are cultural change agents and resourceful visionaries who organize cultural, financial, social and human capital, to generate revenue from a cultural activity.  Their innovative solutions result in economically sustainable cultural enterprises that enhance livelihoods and create cultural value and wealth for both creative producers and consumers of cultural services and products.”

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In 2008, the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship was founded by Tom Aegeson and Alice Loy in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Aegeson worked with leaders at UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to evolve the definition of cultural entrepreneur as ‘driver of global change, creating economic value and promoting cultural preservation and innovation’. Today, the mission at GCCE is 3-fold:

1. to support cultural entrepreneurs working to create and scale their enterprises
2. to advocate for the importance of cultural entrepreneurship and the value of a culture economy
3. to connect a global network of cultural entrepreneurs.

Screen shot 2014-10-10 at 3.06.11 PMAnd in February of 2012, following the publication of this Stanford Social Innovation Review piece, “Social or Cultural Entrepreneurship: An Argument for a New Distinction”, a group of innovators and thought leaders gathered in New York at Fenton’s to explore this emerging concept of “cultural entrepreneurship”. This piece, Fenton’s Chief Change Officer Lisa Witter and author/blogger Courtney E. Martin propose the distinction between social and cultural entrepreneurship, contending that social entrepreneurship refers to innovations designed to change systems and markets, while cultural entrepreneurship involves transforming hearts and minds. Witter and Martin decided to host the Fenton event to better understand how the concept of cultural entrepreneurship resonates with various stakeholders across multiple sectors. “Although opinions varied, one thing became very clear—cultural entrepreneurship is a topic that gets people talking and minds stirring.” The conversation continued on the The Social Edge program and blog hosted by Skoll, the premiere international platform for social entrepreneurship.

Most recently, a degree in cultural entrepreneurship! Goldsmiths, University of London is now offering an MA/MPhil/PhD in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship. The new program is aimed at students interested in “developing a business arising from an existing creative practice or to understand how to create the infrastructure and environment for new creative businesses in the fields of ComputingDesignFashionMedia and CommunicationsMusic or Theatre and Performance to flourish in a variety of contexts (eg city, rural, regional, national)”.

The work of cultural entrepreneurs around the world will continue to evolve. I welcome your thoughts to further shape the definition of our practice….

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