What can the field of entrepreneurship learn from studying cultural entrepreneurship?


This is one of the questions being asked in a special issue of entitled Cultural Entrepreneurship for the International Journal of Entrepreneurship Venturing.

I am preparing an article for this special issue in which I shall focus on the following themes:

o    How does research on artistic identities and creative work practices inform our knowledge on cultural entrepreneurship?

o    How are cultural entrepreneurs enabled (or hindered) by their professional self-concept and routine work practices?

I aim to explore these themes by revealing insights into the lived experience of cultural entrepreneurship; the worker’s identities and personal agency within a specific context.

In my research I draw on day-to-day activities to reveal a pragmatic approach to managing the challenges of cultural work. I use myths associated with the bohemian artist and the entrepreneur to discuss ideas of performing the entrepreneur, or to counteract popular stereotypes. I focus on how cultural entrepreneurs test professional identities within the boundaries of the bohemian and of the entrepreneur in order to develop their own sense of ‘becoming’ a cultural entrepreneur. I find stereotypes act as anchors for specific attributes which the cultural entrepreneur can manipulate; almost a menu from which one can choose a set of behaviours.

The cultural entrepreneurs I interview negotiate and generate identities through social interactions as well as through their circumstances, and none of these positions are fixed. The milieu in which identities are adopted, rejected and re-formed is part of a dynamic social context. I adopt a case study approach in which Birmingham’s cultural milieu is discussed as part of the framework in which cultural workers construct new identities and alternative structures.

In exploring the notion of performing an identity, I draw on James Donald’s concept of ‘acting out’ an identity, which he describes by drawing on O. Henry’s Man About Town. 

Being a citizen, being a Man About Town, being a person – these are not identities, they are performances. (Donald, 1996, p.185).

Donald argues that ‘performance’ allows individuals to ‘masquerade’ in public spaces, but also to subvert normative behaviours through the possibilities of cross dressing, for instance (1996). I consider mythologising and the idea of performing a particular character, such as an entrepreneur or a bohemian artist, as the ideal space for revealing a genuinely complex narrative rather than a true or fixed identity. As Jones and Spicer discuss in their book ‘Unmasking the Entrepreneur’, there is a tendency, both in entrepreneurship studies and popular discourse to see the entrepreneur as having a fixed identity.

This article aims to contribute to ‘rethinking cultural entrepreneurship’ (Oakley, 2014) and redefining the subject. Echoing emerging debates in entrepreneurship studies, I question the dominant entrepreneurial personality and behaviours to explore a wider conception of entrepreneurship, for instance addressing social issues or gendered perspectives. This opens up opportunities to explore entrepreneurial activities from broader experiences, and to review entrepreneurial identities and characteristics. Stereotypes of the entrepreneur are problematised. The hero entrepreneur is re-imagined beyond the caricature usually associated with western neo-liberal policies. While stereotypes endure and are pervasive in the discourse of cultural work, this creates a space for oppositional models and alternative structures to emerge. I highlight the quiet, social and female entrepreneur as expressing different narratives.

  1. Unmasking the Entrepreneur has been a lime light scene for a while. I have seen more people in our country running startups.

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