Cultural Entrepreneurship

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Ruba Saleh
ICHEC Brussels Management School, Brussels, Belgium,

Christian Ost
Raymond Lemaire International Conservation Centre, KU Leuven University, Leuven, Belgium,

Short definition

To date, there is no agreed-upon definition of Cultural Entrepreneurship. We define it as a set of activities aimed at harnessing a cultural business opportunity. The novelty stands in being innovative in transforming cultural values into economic values. The process of creating new cultural expressions could be also interpreted as the business of capturing intangible values (performing arts, artistic creation, traditions and knowledge, etc…) into tangible outcomes in the form of cultural capital. The process of creating new adaptive reuse of heritage buildings is about the business of transforming abandoned, underused, or not in use cultural heritage into common goods which reflect the needs and aspirations of the contemporary local community with respect to the environment and social practices and interactions. By transforming the cultural asset, the cultural entrepreneur harnesses the existing cultural (tangible and intangible) and economic values and transforms them into enhanced cultural, economic, social, and environmental impacts, outcomes, and benefits.

For both processes, the cultural entrepreneur makes use of new skills and technologies to transform assets into innovative cultural services, goods, uses, and organizational forms that generate financial revenues, positive societal impacts, and new creative and cultural markets.

Key discussions around the term

Cultural Entrepreneurship is studied by management, business, cultural studies, cultural economy, sociology, and anthropology scholars. Regardless of the discipline, entrepreneurship theory is the common denominator for the provided definitions. For instance, characteristics of general entrepreneurship theory such as exploration, assessment, and harnessing of an entrepreneurial opportunity; innovation both perceived as novel ideas, ways of doing, and the ability to bring innovation into the market; and the creation of an organization. Under the same theoretical framework, scholars do also investigate the virtues of the cultural entrepreneur and the motivation behind launching his/her entrepreneurial journey. In a true Schumpeterian perspective, this includes the capacity to manage resources, the organizational power, the talent of persuasion, the strength of their collaborative ways of working; the visionary vision, risk-taking and adventures traits, knowledge and sensitiveness to the artistic process, the capability of interpreting, transforming and transmitting new goods and products without undermining their cultural and creative intrinsic value. However, a journey of a cultural entrepreneur can be very arduous. Limitations related to prolonged precariousness, access to initial capital and market, receiving a lower market income, developing and implementing a strongly sustainable business model, and enduring unknown risks, are some of the many challenges a cultural entrepreneur constantly struggles with.

The management discipline has been focused on projects, risk, resources, and management of cultural aspects. The business discipline looks more into the tools (innovative business models) that lead to value creation and delivery (enterprising). Cultural studies emphasize cultural and creative values while scholars in cultural economics focus on the embodied and yielded cultural and economic values. Finally, sociology exploits the Bourdieu framework of the forms of capital in order to understand how cultural entrepreneurship is characterized by a collaborative economy that mobilizes the social, cultural, and symbolic capital (Scott 2012). Different titles are attributed to a person launching a new activity, product, service, or organization within the cultural and creative sector. While the term cultural entrepreneur is frequently found in literature nowadays, one can also find cultural capitalist, culturepreneur, arts entrepreneur, and creative entrepreneur. A common denominator is the fact that individuals –sometimes as isolated and rejected innovators – provide a bridge between micro-ideas to macro relevance and impacts. In this meaning, cultural entrepreneurs contribute to the transition of the economy and society as a whole (Schumpeter, 1968).

Nevertheless, not all scholars agree on depicting cultural entrepreneurship as a voluntary choice but on the contrary, some refer to it as the activities carried out by self-employed freelancers and cultural and creative workers, who are forced by the precarious labor market conditions in the cultural sector to act as entrepreneurs (Ellmeier 2003).

Cultural entrepreneurship is an emerging field of study (Hausmann and Heinze 2016; Dobreva and Ivanov 2020). Recently, just like other impact entrepreneurs, cultural entrepreneurs are deploying sustainable business models which are attracting the attention of the public and private sectors alike. These innovative tools are also stimulating public policy drafting and discussions around the role of cultural entrepreneurship in not only growth and job creation but also in humanizing our lived environment. However, not everyone is an entrepreneur and not all cultural entrepreneurs are equipped with the right toolkit. For this reason, cultural entrepreneurship education is highlighted by different disciplines as key to accompany and empower the cultural entrepreneur in their entrepreneurial journey. Nevertheless, scholars put emphasis also on the environment as an enabler/disabler of cultural and creative activities.

Reference list

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1997. “The forms of capital”. In: Education: Culture, Economy, and Society, edited by Halsey, Albert Henry, Lauder, Hugh. Brown, Phillip. Wells, Amy Stuart, 46–58. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caves, Richard Earl. 2000. Creative Industries: Contacts between Arts and Commerce. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

DiMaggio, Paul. 1982. “Cultural entrepreneurship in nineteenth-century Boston”. Media, Culture and Society, 4: 33–50.

Dobreva, Nevena and Stanislav, Ivanov. 2020. “Cultural entrepreneurship: a review of the literature”. Tourism & Management Studies, n.2 (16): 23-34.

Ellmeier, Andrea. 2003. “Cultural entrepreneurialism: on the changing relationship between the arts, culture and employment”. International Journal of Cultural Policy. N.1 (9): 3-16.

Hausmann, Andrea, and Anne Heinze. 2016 “Entrepreneurship in the Cultural and Creative Industries: Insights from an Emergent Field.” Artivate 5, no. 2 (2016): 7-22. doi:10.34053/artivate.5.2.0007.

Klamer, Arjo. 2011. “Cultural entrepreneurship”. The Review of Austrian Economics. 24: 141–156. DOI 10.1007/s11138-011-0144-6

Schumpeter, Joseph, 1968. The Theory of Economic Development. 8th printing, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Scott, Michael. 2012. “Cultural entrepreneurs, cultural entrepreneurship: Music producers mobilising and converting Bourdieu´s alternative capitals”. Poetics, n.3 (40): 237-255.

Throsby, David. 2001. Economics and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.