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Media, Arts & Entertainment Pathway Merges Creativity and Business

Part of the Entrepreneurial Pathways Across the Campus Series
David Garfinkle leads a class on arts entrepreneurship and social policy. Photo by Pilar Timpane/Duke I&E
David Garfinkle leads a class on arts entrepreneurship and social policy. Photo by Pilar Timpane/Duke I&E

Theater & Film Arts Entrepreneurship & Social Policy (I&E 290)

In David Garfinkle’s class, students have the chance to learn from a pro.

The course, titled Theater & Film Arts Entrepreneurship & Social Policy, provides an overview of business, legal, creative and social issues in the theater and film industries. As an entertainment-lawyer-turned-Broadway-producer, Garfinkle (T’83) is familiar with these issues.

The class is one of many that count toward the I&E Certificate within the media, arts, and entertainment pathway. But Garfinkle believes that the tenets taught in the course are applicable to any industry, even those outside of the arts.

“Every artistic venture is entrepreneurial and innovative by nature,” he said. “It’s a brand new startup every time. But the skillsets and underlying principles we are learning in this class are applicable to any kind of venture, even if what you do is not entertainment.”

Garfinkle, who co-founded a production company called Hello Entertainment to develop theatrical works from popular culture and whose works include Ghost the Musical, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, divides the semester into sections. The course begins with legal, business, and policy issues, and then moves into storytelling and the arts. The class then focuses on marketing and advertising before moving on to the economic impact of the arts.

Garfinkle often uses case studies to make his points. During the lesson on economic impact, the class will study the construction of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He also uses examples from his own experience and from current Broadway shows.

In one class session, the students discussed the differences between a limited liability corporation and a nonprofit, as well as the pros and cons of establishing each type of business.

By the end of the semester, they developed business plans for shows, focusing on legal and business aspects as well as marketing strategies.

“I’m trying to give the class a framework to show them how all these pieces come together when you’re creating a piece,” Garfinkle said. “These students are the future leaders of these industries, or they can use these skills in a career in whatever industry they pursue.”

As a producer, Garfinkle said, one of the toughest things is to get everyone in the same room and communicating effectively.

Duke I&E Certificate logo He’s previously taught workshops and sessions for Theater Resources Unlimited on topics such as pitching and how to get writers and directors to communicate, but this is the first time he’s taught at his alma mater. He flies down from New York to teach the course.

“I’m continually impressed with the intelligence of the students, and I see them taking initiative every day,” he said.

Adam Beskind, a sophomore pursuing a public policy and music double major and the I&E Certificate, is one of the students who recently took Garfinkle’s class.

He said he chose to take the course because it aligned nicely with his interests – he’s involved in the student musical theater group Hoof ‘n’ Horn, as well as other performances around campus.

“I thought the course would give me the business perspective of performing arts and would teach me about the logistics of what goes into making an artistic venture happen,” Beskind said. “Professor Garfinkle can speak firsthand about his experiences in the field, and a lot of our readings are documents from actual shows he’s worked on, which is really cool.”

Beskind said the I&E Certificate interested him because he’s always had an entrepreneurial bent and wanted to learn how to channel his interests in an entrepreneurial way. He’s especially interested in using the performing arts for social change, and he also recently took Matt Nash’s social innovation class, which is also part of the I&E Certificate.

The skills students pick up in David Garfinkle's class will serve them in a variety of careers. Photo by Pilar Timpane


Arts Entrepreneurship (I&E 295S)

Arts Entrepreneurship, co-taught by music professor John Supko and Doug Green, who teaches undergraduate entrepreneurship, enables students from different backgrounds to collaborate on projects.

“We require a permission number for this course because we’re really looking for the right kind of student,” Supko said. “Students must have a sincere interest in the arts or in working with artists. The class is very interdisciplinary and collaborative – for example, if a dancer has an idea for an app, he or she can lead a team and be paired with others who are proficient in computer science and graphic design. Their different skillsets and competencies can complement one another.”

The course was originally started by Supko and Fuqua School of Business professor Jon Fjeld, but Green took over for Fjeld several years ago. Just as students with different skillsets can complement one another, the professors have found their different backgrounds lend perspectives that make the course more interesting – Supko is a composer, while Green’s background is in startups and venture capital.

Students come to the first day of class ready with their ideas, and after discussing all the ideas, the class narrows the pool to a handful that they deem worth pursuing. Then students engage in “idea speed-dating” and form teams around the ideas.

Supko and Green wants the entrepreneurial venture to use the arts to address a problem faced either by artists or by the general population.

In the past, students have worked on projects such as a database to collect professional opportunities for dancers, including unconventional opportunities like companies hiring dancers for events. Another project was a mobile website with a social engagement component where users could interact with fellow visitors while viewing an art exhibit. This project was meant to reduce people’s anxiety when attending art museums and to help them have a more favorable experience at art museums in which they felt like they were interacting with the art.

Throughout the semester, students learn the steps of the entrepreneurial process – they must do market research to figure out if their proposed solutions will actually help the people experiencing the problem, and pivot if they figure out their idea isn’t resonating with potential users. Then they must iterate until they create a minimum viable product. The course culminates in a Shark Tank-style pitch of their projects.

“It’s important to change the narrative about arts majors,” Supko said. “There’s a misconception that arts majors aren’t hirable, but companies want to interview people with the traits of accomplished artists – such as discipline, long-range thinking and high-level problem-solving skills.”

The class not only helps dispel this misconception, he said, but helps arts students see other kinds of professional opportunities where they’d thrive.

“We want artists to engage in professional opportunities and startups while still being artists,” he said. “This class helps them find they can operate as artists in new contexts.”

The class is also beneficial for non-arts majors, Green added.

“When students who view the world differently come together, it helps them realize there are more sides to any idea and helps them realize they need each other,” he said.