Course Spotlight: Cultural Entrepreneurship

This post is the first in a series highlighting the ways students utilize Boston University’s many resources to cater the Gastronomy program to their own interests and needs.

by Carlos Olaechea

I’m sure many if not all Gastronomy students have run into a situation in which you are discussing your degree program with family, friends, or relatives and someone brings up this question: “What are you going to do with that degree?”  Sure, there are many opportunities to find careers with employers in both the public and private sectors, but a good number of us also have ideas to start our own businesses or projects.  Throughout our time as students, we receive a solid foundation in the theoretical aspects of food studies, and some of us supplement the core curriculum with courses in food writing, business, marketing, and culinary arts.  Nevertheless, sometimes we need some extra insight into how to take our post-graduation plans from a concept to a viable venture.  It was this need that led me to enroll in the Cultural Entrepreneurship class in the Arts Administration Department.

In conjunction with my MLA in Gastronomy, I am also working towards earning a graduate certificate in tourism management through the Administrative Science department, and I hope to work in culinary tourism development.  Over the fall 2015 semester, I began to get ideas about starting my own food tourism business, as well as an organization centered on preserving and promoting local foodways in my hometown of Miami, Florida.  While the idea seemed great, I was pretty clueless as to how to get it off the ground.  Fortunately, friends in Metropolitan College’s Arts Administration program (it always pays to know people in different departments at BU) enthusiastically described the Cultural Entrpreneurship class to me, and after corresponding with the professor and examining the syllabus, I was convinced that this course would provide me with valuable tools necessary for starting my own venture.

Why cultural entrepreneurship and not just a regular business class?  The answer lies in what it is that you are trying to do.  As we learned on the first day of class, cultural entrepreneurship is the intersection between culture and commerce, and this newly identified concept leverages cultural products and services with business, technology, and social and cultural impact.  Being that what I am looking to develop is cultural in nature and that my goal is to create some sort of cultural and social impact through food, I felt that this course would better address the specificity of my idea rather than a class dealing with conventional business practices.  While culture in the context of this course relates more specifically to the arts (the course is, after all, part of the arts administration curriculum), the ideas of what constitute culture – and by extension cultural entrepreneurship – are constantly expanding and changing.  This notion is reflected in the classroom environment where my ideas on culinary tourism are welcomed and discussed with the same enthusiasm as other students’ plans for museums, arts accessibility programs, and artist advocacy organizations.

The instructor, Wendy Swart Grossman, is a nonprofit and foundation consultant.  She has had practical experience working with museums in the United States and England, as well as being the campaign manager to the Fund for Democratic Elections in South Africa, a national volunteer coordinator for the U.S. presidential campaigns, and working with the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance during the Clinton Administration.  In short, she is well versed in the public and private sectors, as well as political, social impact, and arts organizations.

The course is designed to help students develop an idea they have for a cultural venture while understanding the various factors that can help them to put into effect.  Students begin the course by examining their passions and concerns, as well as any problems or issues they feel need to be addressed in society, and fine-tuning those to discover a cultural need they can effectively satisfy.  Throughout the semester, we learn about the existence of the creative economy, as well as the cultural shifts in our society that have made it conducive for creative ventures to prosper.  We learn about the possibility of being an intrapreneur effecting creative change within an organization or business where we already work.  Additionally, we learn about funding, choosing the correct business model, the pros and cons of non-profit and for-profit ventures as well as hybrid models, and the role of the government in starting and sustaining cultural ventures.  We also gain insight into different leadership structures and how to build effective partnerships, as well as how to create a compelling story and design for our ventures so that we can effectively brand and market them.  These lessons are enriched with guest speaker appearances and field trips to see cultural entrepreneurship in action here in Boston.

As we learn more and more about cultural entrepreneurship, assignments are geared towards helping students refine their ideas and come up with a plan of action.  Professor Swart Grossman provides her professional experience and insights along the journey with critiques and practical advice to help your venture succeed.  The class culminates with students pitching their ideas to the class, which acts as an imaginary group of potential investors, partners, volunteers, and government agencies.

Many students who have taken this course in the past claim that it has greatly assisted them in developing their ideas for arts organizations, and many continue to receive guidance and support from Professor Swart Grossman while they get their projects off the ground.  Being that food is a major part of culture and our society is starting to rethink the way in which we approach food, I feel that Gastronomy students can also benefit from the insights gained in this course.  It can help us take the theoretical knowledge we gain from our program and apply it to the real world.  It may offer just the necessary tools for a student to bring about the next big change in the food world.

Cultural Entrepreneurship (AR 789) is offered through Boston University Metropolitan College’s Arts Administration Department.  The course is open to all BU MET students.  For more information on the course, you can contact Wendy Swart Grossman at wswart@usa.net

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