History is full of artists supported by wealthy patrons in a mutually beneficial relationship. The patrons made it possible for the artists to work and flourish, and in return enjoyed original masterpieces.
Today, this style of patronage has been replaced: the undiscovered screenwriter slings coffee to pay his rent; the sublime freelance photographer puts gas in her car by waiting tables. Their artistic endeavors are largely seen as easily replicated.
What Mozart and the waitress share is their membership in the so-called “creative class”— that group of individuals who add value to society through their artistic endeavors.
For all that Michelangelo and Mozart were praised for their unique artistic abilities, today’s creators are often undervalued by a society of iPhone photographers and fashion bloggers. According to John Simson, faculty program director of Kogod’s BS in Business and Entertainment (BAE), modern society tends to view most creative work as something anyone can do.
Changing this point of view, one business student at a time, is a personal goal of Simson’s through the BAE curriculum.
“We’re trying to show these students how society treats the creative class, how they are—or aren’t—valued for their work,” he said. “We’re opening their eyes to the views and realities of the creators.” Aiding Simson in this challenge is Linda Bloss-Baum, BA/SOC ’91, an adjunct professor and former Time Warner executive who undertook the challenge of creating a new course.
Protecting the Creative Class in the Face of Technological Innovation was taught for the first time last fall. At the heart of Bloss-Baum’s course is the desire to put a human face on the creative economy, to strip away its anonymity and focus on the necessary partnership between creators,
consumers, and gatekeepers.
“The creative class is really the foundation of the entertainment industry,” Bloss-Baum said. “Without the drummers and the photographers and the screenwriters…there wouldn’t be any product to distribute.”
Bloss-Baum brings working artists into the classroom to share their stories and experiences with the students.
“The speakers have really shown that they are actual people doing actual work, not just a bunch of anonymous people sitting at Starbucks, hiding behind a laptop,” she said.
At the course’s core are the findings of Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist and author of The Rise of the Creative Class, the main required text. Florida proposes that for cities to grow and maintain a healthy economy, they should encourage the arts at the municipal level.
Florida’s theory calls for cities to attract the newest members of the creative class—the well- educated, technologically savvy young workers—by creating a friendly environment in which to kick-start urban renewal.
Bloss-Baum brought the executive director for arts and culture from Nashville, Tennessee, into the classroom to share how the legendarily musical city is using Florida’s approach to spur urban development.
“We learned how [Nashville] is building a collaborative spirit that is in turn feeding the city’s creative culture,” Bloss-Baum said. “It is laying the foundation for its creative economy and thus its overall economy.”
Bloss-Baum also opened students’ eyes to what technological advances mean for the general working class. When musicians are able to create movie scores on their personal laptops and distribute their products directly to studios, they are, at heart, entrepreneurs.
“The traditional 9-to-5 workday in an office is becoming less common than ever,” Bloss-Baum said. “Shared workspace and grassroots partnerships are really the future of the entertainment business.”
The course also examined the impact technological advances have had on how entertainment fans consume digital goods and the rise of online piracy. For student Aditi Harsh, BSBA ’14, meeting the creators made her reconsider her online actions.
“It’s so easy to click a link on a website and download a song or stream a movie and not feel like you’re doing anything harmful,” she said. “But this class really opened my eyes to how these illegal actions—because that’s what they are—affect not only the creators, but the entire business model
for the whole industry.”
Every student who leaves the classroom with a new perspective on the future in business is a success for Bloss-Baum.
“We’re working to break down deeply rooted cultural stereotypes,” she said. “If these young people can leave this experience with a different idea of what quantifies ‘work’ in this day and age, then I’ve done my job.”
Bloss-Baum’s students rose to the challenge with their final papers, for which they simulated the work of a city manager working on an urban renewal plan to attract the creative class.
“I was blown away by the plans [the students] submitted,” said Bloss-Baum. “It was obvious they had connected the dots between the realities of the lives of the creative speakers and the quantitative results demanded by a city council.”
Quoting the speakers and the texts, the 25 students in the class wrote of building an urban culture where fear didn’t get in the way of promoting creativity.
Seeing viable career paths in the entertainment industry, on both the creative and business sides of the house, gave Mandy Shimizu, BAE ’16, confirmation that she’s headed in the right direction.
“The class and the speakers we met really showed that it is possible[...]to succeed in the entertainment industry,” she said. “Now I have examples for those who tell me ‘Yeah, you want to work in entertainment, but what’s your backup plan?’”
For Simson, Bloss-Baum’s course sets the foundation for the next generation of the entertainment business.
“We need the storytellers, and yet we don’t really assign value to them, or we see them as unimportant,” he said. “My hope is that we’ll prepare this next generation to collaborate with the creative class in a way that benefits them and our society.”