The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Arts Entrepreneurship Is More Important Now Than Ever

An Interview with Greg Poggi

Greg Poggi is the Chair and Visiting Professor in Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship at SMU Meadows School of the Arts. He oversees the M.A./M.B.A. (MAMBA) in Arts Management, the Arts Management Undergraduate Minor, and is the new director of the MMIAM program in Dallas at SMU.

What is your background in the art and what has your career trajectory been like?

I have always been involved in theatre, but my background in Arts Entrepreneurship began while I was doing my PhD in Theatre at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. I, along with some of my colleagues noticed the need in Indiana for a professional repertory theatre, so we figured we should start one ourselves. We ended up starting the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis in 1972, so it should now be in its 48th season!

After that, I got an offer to move to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada to be the Managing Director of Royal Manitoba Theatre Center for five years. Then I became the artistic and producing director of the Philadelphia Drama Guild at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania and stayed there for 11 years. I then decided I wanted to start teaching, so I moved to Texas to work at SMU. I worked there for 15 years as the Director of the MAMBA dual degree program at SMU where we began to develop the idea of mixing the arts and business entrepreneurship. After that, I founded the program of Performing Arts Management at the University of Michigan and became the Professor Emeritus of Theatre. I stayed there for 15 years and just retired. Now, I have returned to SMU where I had been working years ago and am excited to be here again!

You are one of the founders of the Arts Entrepreneurship field, could you talk more about what arts entrepreneurship is and your experience with it?

I got my start in Arts Entrepreneurship by starting the Indiana Repertory Theatre that I mentioned earlier. It started as an idea and took a lot of commitment and willpower to make it work.

It was a lot of experimentation and trying to figure out the best way to do things, but we knew we needed to work hard to develop our audience from the beginning so that it could continue on. We used techniques that were developed by the Lyric Opera of Chicago to begin building our audience and spreading the word.

We collaborated with a lot of other theatres and prepared a coherent strategic plan which we presented to the City of Indianapolis and they were impressed. The planning that we put into it showed them that we were serious so they supported our vision. We worked building relationships all over Indianapolis to make sure that we had as much support as possible for the theatre. We contacted and worked with the media and nurtured that relationship a lot so they would recognize us and our mission. After all our hard work, we ended up having almost 5,300 season ticket holders our first year, which is a huge success.

After that, I continued to work in theatre and then when I began at SMU, we developed the MAMBA dual degree program between the Cox Business School and Meadows School of the Arts. It was always a smaller program with about 10 students a year and an obligatory internship but now it’s larger and just one of our programs that combines the arts and business.

Arts entrepreneurship itself is about planning and being critical. It’s about looking at the arts as a business that needs to be sustained. To succeed in arts entrepreneurship, you have to constantly look at what you’re doing right or wrong and then make adjustments.

How do you think arts and culture have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s actually really hard to speak about that because there is no precedence. Take for example the Broadway theatres. They’re closed. You’re talking about 41 playhouses and it looks like they won’t be up until 2021. 16 shows that were supposed to open since March haven’t opened. People like the Actors Equity Association don’t want their members to be at risk of getting COVID-19. Now some museums are at least starting to open again with limited capacity, but most arts institutions are still closed.

Arts organizations are going to have to be entrepreneurial and think outside the box. You have to have new ideas and take chances that you never have before to be able to combat this because no one was prepared for it and the business models of most organizations can’t account for it.

What are you excited about in the arts and culture?

The arts and culture have always been a major part of my life, and I have always been interested in how art develops and how people come together to make it and create it. I’ve always wanted to help the general public engage with the arts, to get the average person involved because I think it helps create humanity in the best sense of the term. Artistic experiences help one grow as a human and develop relationships.

Today in the arts we have great challenges, but we have great opportunities for the next generation. All we can do is make things better. Even if things are looking down, any steps are steps forward, and I know that the MMIAM program is a great way to advance your skills and learn from the best, so I’m sure each of these students will make their mark.

Arts Entrepreneurship: Research, at a2ru National Conference, November 3-5, 2016, University of Colorado Denver. Graphic recording and picture by Peter Durand. Courtesy: Creative Commons.