Graduate Division: Grad Journal
A lesson in creative entrepreneurship: Venture Studio
Selling one’s wares can be a daunting endeavor. Objects or experiences that emanate from an artistic practice often feel at odds with the commercial marketplace, and entrepreneurial know-how is not always part of the new artist or designer’s skill set. In order to better prepare students post-graduation, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) aims to provide a rounded understanding of professional lifethrough a number of classes. The Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects (AIADO) department’s Venture Studio, taking place next fall, is one such class.
Led by Associate Professor Pablo Garcia and lecturer Sharon Burdett, students propose and develop artwork, products, services or experiences using the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. “We help you craft your pitch and your message, assist you with business and marketing ideas, and mentor you through the process of earning money for your practice,” explained Garcia. In 2013, Garcia and new media artist Golan Levin raised $424,959 for their project NeoLucida, a contemporary iteration of the Camera Lucida, a 19th century drawing tool. Garcia and Levin partnered with Big Idea Design to manufacture the product, and the NeoLucida was available for purchase during a limited time in 2014.
The Shapiro Center initiated Venture Studio in 2014, in partnership with the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE) at The University of Chicago, a hub for technology and entrepreneurial development. Other institutions have also begun to develop crowdfunding-based classes, but Venture Studio is “one of a kind,” said Associate Professor Douglas Pancoast, director of the Shapiro Center. The class is open to students from both undergraduate and graduate levels working in any discipline or department at SAIC—which makes it particularly unique.
Venture Studio is one of several pilot classes developed by the Shapiro Center, and partnering with other entities opens up new resources for students. Pilot classes are a way to try out new approaches that will hopefully benefit departments and students: “Venture studio is a way for us to experiment with crowdfunding and a structure to allow your art making to be sustainable,” said Pancoast.
The interdisciplinary nature of Venture Studio is an important emphasis for Garcia. This open-ended approach results in a range of projects that are both conventionally commercial and playfully conceptual. Recent projects developed in the class include wall decor made by laser cut patterns on canvas, and a bake sale on the Deep Web as a digital performance. “Our goal with the course is not to teach disciplinary techniques,” elaborated Garcia, “but rather to guide students along in their self-directed ideas about what their practice might be.”
Last fall the instructors started the class with “micro-projects,” which allowed the students to experience the Kickstarter campaign process on a smaller scale. Another source of support for the class, and other entrepreneurially-minded students at SAIC, is the MakeWork Council, an initiative of the Office of Institutional Advancement. Only in its first year, the Council is comprised up of SAIC alumni and creative entrepreneurs, and serves to fundraise for the students’ entrepreneurial projects. The MakeWork Council is an important resource not only financially, but professionally as well, providing mentorship and opportunities for long-term professional relationships.
A project in its early phases, Venture Studio hopes to assist students in developing their projects from ideas into prototypes, and hopefully, successful crowdfunded campaigns.