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Exploring Entrepreneurs

08/17/2011

In responding to an assignment to rebrand RISD, Illustration major Amy Lee proposed a series of smartphone apps.

In a course that explores the business of art as a design problem, Illustration faculty member Oren Sherman 78 IL helps students to bridge the gap between what goes on in the studio and the practical concerns of marketing, employment and business savvy. Called Entrepreneur, Sherman’s class has evolved in recent years – meaning it doesn’t just walk artists through the ABCs of mission statements and business plans, it helps students to better position themselves and their work by drawing on the greatest asset they already have: design thinking.

“I’m always stunned seeing kids really tackle a business problem as a design problem and seeing what they do with it,” says Sherman. “A big part of what RISD has been about for a long time is this lifelong obsession with the crafted object – the things we make. But to me, what really makes RISD RISD isn’t just the crafting skills. It’s the thought processes.”

Starting this fall, Entrepreneur will be more fully woven into the curriculum, offered as an interdisciplinary course co-taught by Sherman and Bill Foulkes, an adjunct faculty member in Graduate Studies. In introducing students to business basics, the course will challenge them to develop a studio project as a formal business, complete with market analysis and the exploration of issues such as competition, finance, operations and marketing. It’s open to students in Illustration, Graphic Design and Industrial Design and there’s already a waiting list. 

The key is creative thinking
“In a lot of circles the idea is finally starting to catch on that it’s not that there’s art over here and business over there. It’s all creative thinking,” says Sherman, who worked for years as a commercial illustrator before reshaping his freelance business into one with an emphasis on custom artwork and textiles. “Artists can be brilliant marketers if you pose business challenges to them as design problems.”

In last spring’s studio, Sherman asked students to rebrand RISD – a challenge that led in a number of different directions, from a proposal for a traveling RISD pop-up gallery to products like a custom-designed RISD app that would allow students to quickly access campus-related information from their smartphones. “The deliverables weren’t just objects,” Sherman says. “It was about a beautifully explained thought process.” Other student projects included objects made from sustainable materials and campaigns to tie the sale of artwork to disaster relief.

Like previous iterations, the latest round of Entrepreneur helped launch graduating students in new and unexpected career directions, Sherman reports. Many of the award-winning artists, designers and entrepreneurs who visited as guest speakers also gave students leads to internships, interviews and jobs.

Among the participating professionals were John Lloydof Magnet Inc., a specialist in branding and marketing strategy who has worked for organization such as the Metropolitan Opera; Mark Pollack 76 TX, founder and principal of the high-end New York-based  textiles firm POLLACK; Joe Ginsberg, head of the interior design firm Tempo Home, whose corporate clients include Sony, Dreamworks, Izod and Steuben Glass; and Andy Cutler,founder of the Providence strategic communicationsfirm Cutler & Company, who helped connect each student in the class with personal contacts in the local entrepreneurial community. Other speakers included RISD’s legal counsel Steve McDonald, who offered a primer on copyright law, RISD Trustee Michael Spalter, who champions the digital arts, and Foulkes.

Nationally, recent studies have already begun to dismantle traditional stereotypes about students in the arts failing to find success after college. Last spring a study by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) found that despite the myth of the struggling artist, graduates of arts programs are likely to find opportunities, good compensation and satisfaction in pursuing creative careers.

related links:
Oren Sherman’s website
survey results from SNAAP


tags: entrepreneurship, faculty, graduate, interdisciplinary, Graphic Design, Illustration, Industrial Design, students

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Furniture Design students walk along the riverfront, carrying their projects to class.