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The Art of Entrepreneurship and Education
by Laura Day Giarolo, Manager of Education & Community Engagement, OPERA America
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Original Content4/4/2011

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Next month, leaders from across the opera industry will gather for the annual opera conference in Boston — Opera Entrepreneurship: Building on Tradition — which will feature many opportunities to reexamine the way in which we approach our work.

The word entrepreneur is nothing to shy away from: though it's often included alongside business jargon like ROI and time-value of money, it can just as easily be aligned with arts education buzzwords like creativity and innovation. Successful entrepreneurs are able to identify a wish, want or desire held by a certain population and find a unique and creative way to make that wish come true.

One way to begin the process of embracing your inner entrepreneur is by thinking about who you serve. Even in the niche field of opera education, there are still many ways to consider the populations we serve. Looking across traditional audience demographics like age, gender, socio-economic status, education level is one way; another would be to look at natural community clusters like church groups, teachers and youth service organizations is another. The pre-conference seminar on Engaging a Diverse Community looks at ways to more actively involve non-traditional audiences with the work of our organizations, and a conference session on Innovative Programs highlights three different companies that have found success in doing exactly that.

A session on Teaching and Learning through the Arts sheds light on another entrepreneurial approach: providing tools and resources to improve existing processes. Teachers and students are under pressure in this era of high-stakes testing, and budget cuts have eliminated positions of arts and music teachers at schools across the country. What if we were to approach this as a "yes and" situation, in which we are able to improve teaching and learning of the core classroom curriculum and provide support for arts-based instruction at the same time?

Individual entrepreneurs don't always have all the answers, and may create joint ventures with new or existing partners in order to better meet the needs of the people they serve. In opera education, we've seen an increase in the number of partnerships with schools and universities that do this by utilizing the unique skills and strengths of each partnering organization. We'll spotlight several Boston-based examples and provide information and tips on how to implement similar ventures in your area during our session on Starting and Maintaining Relationships.

The entrepreneurial leadership incubator Entrepreneurs' Organization makes sure their members have the opportunity to share in a peer group, to mentor and to be mentored. We agree, and will have two closed-door Education Roundtables for peer-to-peer sharing of strategies and success stories.

There's still time to register for this conference, and to participate in further entrepreneurial thinking on the conference community website. For more information on conference offerings or to suggest topics of conversation for the Education Roundtables, please contact
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