Arts and Entertainment

Business approach turning 'starving artists' into arts successes

Arts entrepreneurship classes give student confidence to pursue her dreams

Thanks to the College of Arts and Architecture's arts entrepreneurship minor, Olivia Jones is preparing herself as both a singer/songwriter and an entrepreneur.  Credit: Julie OConnor Ufema, Bittersweet StudiosAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Aimless. That’s how Olivia Jones felt when she started at Penn State in fall 2012. Fast-forward four years, and she’s interning at a recording studio in Nashville while singing and writing with local musicians, in hopes of making her singer/songwriter dreams come true.

Jones, who will graduate in December 2016, is focusing on music technology and arts entrepreneurship as part of her degree program in integrative arts, a major that allows students to combine courses from different areas to meet their interests and career goals. She was among the first students to take classes in the College of Arts and Architecture’s new arts entrepreneurship minor, part of the University-wide minor in entrepreneurship and innovation.

“I learned about the arts entrepreneurship minor when I attended a presentation during Global Entrepreneurship Week about the ‘starving artist,’” she explained. “It’s almost like it’s expected for people in the arts to struggle financially. But that presentation — by School of Theatre alumnus Joe Abraham — made me realize that if you think about the arts from an entrepreneurial business perspective, you don’t have to struggle. I realized I wasn’t going to be someone who failed, as long as I educated myself.”

Jones began taking arts entrepreneurship courses from Jonathan Gangi, director of the minor, and soon realized she had a plan not only for the rest of her Penn State career, but for her future.

“Music had always been a big part of my life, but I sort of blocked it out when I started college. I wanted to pursue music, but I was afraid it wasn’t a viable path financially, that it had too many risks," she said. 

Discovering the arts entrepreneurship minor, and soon after the integrative arts major, was the turning point.

“I had bounced back and forth aimlessly in DUS (Division of Undergraduate Studies) for a long time, but I could never stay away from music," Jones said. "I joined the Pennharmonics, an a cappella group, during my sophomore year, and later began singing in the J.R. Mangan Band. So I became even more impassioned about performing. I realized that maybe I shouldn’t listen to those who told me not to pursue music.”

Credit: Julie O'Connor Ufema, Bittersweet StudiosAll Rights Reserved.

While Olivia had some naysayers in her inner circle, they did not include her parents, Liz Grove and Scott Jones, both of whom have worked in the music industry (her mom was a piano performance major at Penn State). “They have been so supportive of me pursuing my dreams,” said Jones. “I was really the one who was putting the pressure on myself.”

Olivia was nervous about changing her major again — she had already considered kinesiology, hospitality and psychology — but realized she was the one holding herself back. “The stress was internal, not external, and that has been my biggest challenge,” she explained. “And it’s something I have discussed with my classmates, the whole challenge of overcoming your fears, and telling the voice inside your head that it’s wrong — that it’s okay to go against your protective instincts.”

According to Jones, some artists don’t see the business side of their work because the art itself is so gratifying. “But you still have customers,” she noted. “And you have to figure out how to balance making art you love and that your customers love, too.”

She said her arts entrepreneurship courses gave her courage — and securing her internship is one example. “I was frustrated during my internship search because I kept hearing I wasn’t qualified, or it was too late," she said. "One day my roommate found Castle Recording Studios online. I just picked up the phone and called, and asked to speak to the person in charge of hiring. He happened to be the one who answered the phone, so I had to sell myself!”

A few weeks later, after an informal in-person interview, she was offered the internship on the spot. “The arts entrepreneurship program really has helped me gain confidence in talking to people. In Nashville, there are opportunities every day to talk to people in the industry, to make connections.”

And making connections, Jones hopes, will help her find success as a singer/songwriter. “Writing a song is like an invention — putting it out there is scary. People judge it, and in turn they judge you,” she said. “But I have learned you have to go out and be confident, and sell yourself.”

Last Updated April 12, 2019