LEAP Institute for the Arts welcomes Visiting Scholar Dr. Gesa Birnkraut from Germany who will be in residence at CSU until January 4, 2016. Gesa came to the U.S. to study arts entrepreneurship.
Dr. Birnkraut is a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Osnabrück where she teaches in a Master’s program for Non-Profit Management. She is also the principal director of her own consulting firm which works with artists and arts organizations in Germany and internationally. She is also board chairperson of an arts management training institute. During her stay at Colorado State University Dr. Birnkraut will conduct her own research, but has also invited LEAP graduate students to work with her. She will also teach three workshop modules for LEAP 600, Arts Policy and Advocacy.
In a conversation with LEAP graduate student Marissa LoNigro, Dr. Birnkraut talked about her research and her visit.
ML: What is the scope of the research you’re doing here?
GB: My research is about cultural and social entrepreneurship. It’s about what kind of impulse you have when you’re young, or what kind of impulse that leads you to become an entrepreneur. I started in Germany with a couple of entrepreneurs to see what they did in their youth to get started as entrepreneurs. We asked if volunteering somehow influenced them or did family influence them to become entrepreneurs. In the U.S. I want to research to see how it is done here. I want to learn a little bit about the status quo of entrepreneurship programs, as well as arts incubators, and how they work here. My research objective would be to have a comparison of different ways to teach arts entrepreneurship and to give professors a toolbox that want to do a module on entrepreneurship with their students. I want to work with students who are working in the cultural field, such as dancers or actors or arts managers, and I would actually like also to create a toolbox for people who aren’t at all associated with the arts like lawyers or business administrators to get them to be more aware of the importance of social and cultural entrepreneurs. The aim in this part would be to appreciate that cultural and social entrepreneurs are doing something that is good for the community and therefore helps, on a larger scale, in the world of business.
ML: Do you think that there’s a difference in formative events for cultural entrepreneurship as opposed to entrepreneurship for people not in the arts?
GB: I think it’s two different steps. I think the first step is to heighten the awareness, and that’s probably the same. If someone has the motive to become a cultural entrepreneur then the second step is to have a special education that they should receive on how to actually build that business.
ML: As an aside, I really loved the first workshop module you brought to our class called The Making of Cultural Social Entrepreneurs, where we looked at self-sustaining local businesses that used revenue from a product to fund the arts. That was something that was new to me. Usually when I think of revenue for arts organizations I think of grants and donations.
GB: Those are important, of course. But self-earned revenue from a commercial product or service is a possibility to earn money that you then can spend for a cultural or social cause, and it also is a way to get to a target group that’s not usually interested in the cultural or social areas, so I think that’s really important.
ML: Do you feel it’s an easy transition from an arts management program, like I’m in now, to one of arts entrepreneurs?
GB: I’m looking forward to talking about entrepreneurship in Phoenix because I don’t believe you can teach someone to become an entrepreneur, not in the formal way. If someone is already clear that they want to become an entrepreneur then you can have formal settings where he’s learning how to do a business plan, or how to do marketing, or financing or something like that. But I don’t think you can teach someone to be an entrepreneur. I think that’s something that really develops informally. I want to check that out as part of my research and see if that makes sense or not. I’m not saying that they are so different or that you can’t go into entrepreneurship from arts management. In a sense you probably get a broader overview in an arts management degree than arts entrepreneurship.
ML: I know you’ve visited Phoenix, Arizona. What schools did you visit? Are you going anywhere else?
GB: I visited Arizona State University. They have an arts entrepreneurship program and they also have an arts incubator. I did a lecture on cultural policy in Germany. I also did a public talk on entrepreneurship, and on the weekend I observed an arts incubator workshop.
ML: I have to admit that I’m not sure what an arts incubator is, or how that forms in a place.
GB: In Germany when you already have these business ideas you go into the incubator and they help you to formulate your ideas and business plan.
ML: Dr. DeVereaux, the Director of the LEAP Institute for the Arts, mentioned that she and you have worked together before. How did that come about? How did you start working together and what did you do?
GB: I don’t even remember when or how it started, but we have known each other at least 10 years. I think we met at one of the international conferences we went to. It might have been an AIMAC (International Association of Art and Cultural Management) or ENCATC (European Network of Cultural Administration Training Centers) conference. We stayed in contact and Dr. DeVereaux wrote an article for one of the yearbooks that I did on arts management. Then I visited her when she was at Shenandoah University and did a lecture and two workshops there. We also invited Dr. Devereaux to the program that I lead in Estonia. So there are several levels on which we cooperated over the years.
ML: You’re teaching two more modules for LEAP 600. Can you tell us what those will be about?
GB: We’ll work with two things that are also in my field of research—evaluation in the arts and volunteer management. Volunteer management was the topic of my PhD so I’ve been doing this sort of research around 15 years. I do consulting with nonprofit organizations about their volunteers, how they face challenges with their volunteers and the strategic planning for these programs. Years ago I developed a cycle of volunteer management with an American colleague, and that’s what I’m going to show. I want to show the meeting point with human resource management, how it’s similar to volunteer management and how it‘s different.
The other workshop, on evaluation, is about the impact value chain, which talks about what we invest into a project and what we get out of it. It’s about outputs, outcomes, and impact, and that’s something that we in the arts and culture need to account for. There’s a huge discussion in Europe that arts and culture can’t be measured. I agree with that somewhat but I think we have good opportunities to get qualitative research on the impact of our programs too. My point is that institutions have to know all of the possibilities so you know why you do the things you do. And I believe that evaluation is also a strong learning instrument for an organization.
ML: How did you get into volunteer management, and how does it relate to the arts?
GB: While I was getting my Master’s in Arts Management I did an internship in Philadelphia, and I came across all of these volunteer programs in cultural institutions in the U.S. They’re in all the symphonies, all the theaters, all the operas, and of course especially in the museums. That’s something that, at that point in time, we didn’t really have in Germany. We had volunteers in grassroot organizations but not in our large public institutions. I decided to interview and compare institutions in the U.S. to institutions in Germany to see how they worked with volunteers, and use that to come up with a system of how you should work with volunteers.
ML: How do you go about measuring impact?
GB: For me I feel that evaluation is a learning cycle with internal and external evaluations. A good evaluation will help the team as well as the programs in an organization. It has to do with being a learning organization and improving ourselves. Impact is very narrowly linked with objectives and what kind of change you want to achieve with your programs. If we say we want to change the awareness of contemporary music in the people coming to us, there’s a way to measure that.
ML: Finally, I know that you will be working directly with some of our graduate students during your research. What will you be doing?
GB: It’s a nice intersection with the LEAP program here. I’m meeting with two graduate students already, and a third student suggested that her husband and his nonprofit would make an excellent case study. In regards to the research, I’d like to find what interests these students and then find a way to combine that and work for this research.
Learn more about LEAP’s Master’s in Arts Leadership and Administration.