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Cultural Entrepreneurship

Interview with Thomas Arctaedius

“We need to see much more public funding going into cultural and art entrepreneurship.”

Name: Thomas Arctaedius
Title: Adjunct Professor at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, working with entrepreneurship, innovation, and collaborations. Thomas position is financed by Scania in collaboration with SSES.
Contact: thomas.arctaedius@kmh.se

How did you first discover SSES?
In 2005, I started working at Stockholm University (SU) as Head of the Stockholm University Holding Company (SUHC), which was part of the university structure. SUHC was created to foster and support researchers and students in entrepreneurship and innovation, and to disseminate knowledge from research into the surrounding society in other ways than scientific publications. An important part of getting research out is learning about entrepreneurship. At that time SU wasn’t part of SSES, which was hard for me to understand. SSES had the best courses in entrepreneurship and had all the universities in Stockholm connected to it. I wanted SU to be a part of SSES. It took five years to get to a point where SU could join SSES.

What do you think the responsibility of SSES should be in society?
There are two parts to that. One is giving students the tools to create new businesses to solve societal problems. This is social entrepreneurship, focused on using the power of entrepreneurship to solve societal problems. Also, there’s a traditional aspect as well: creating new companies that will grow will provide jobs for people. I’m more interested in entrepreneurship as a way of getting people to solve actual problems rather than just creating new companies.

The other part is about research. How to get results from research out into the surrounding society. How can researchers be more entrepreneurial in their thinking when they come to the value they create by doing research? There are more ways to disseminate the knowledge created within the university than with academic papers. SSES plays an important role here, as a provider of courses and training about entrepreneurship and promoting the idea of entrepreneurship as something to be used by everyone, not just those who want to be entrepreneurs.

What new perspective has your interdisciplinary work given you on entrepreneurship?
If you are by yourself or with people that are exactly like you, it’s difficult to see innovation. If you think of innovation as something you can discover, then the idea of new possibilities is so much more likely to occur when you mix and you discuss and you argue and you see different views of a topic, area, or problem. Interdisciplinarity is such a fundamental aspect of discovering new things.

To do that you need to have mechanisms for people to meet each other across disciplines. The university isn’t good at that, because they are formed on structures separating subjects and disciplines in different departments. It is important for research because you need to be very specific. But if you’re interested in new ideas that can create something interesting in society, I think it’s important to work across disciplines and genres. SSES is a really good place to do that because you meet others on neutral ground.

At KMH we’re currently working on a project where we create forums for researchers and people to meet over institutional borders, collaborating with external partners and other research organizations within the arts.

How do you counteract the drive for people coming from a specific discipline to stay within that discipline?
SSES is doing it one way. You gather around a topic, entrepreneurship for example, and you meet and talk about it. At KMH we’re looking into where your curiosity takes you, to see if we can get people from different backgrounds to find common ideas on what you want to do. So by looking into curiosity-driven types of research we think we can find interesting collaborations. It’s a work in progress. We’ve had open workshops with external partners, researchers and students, where we discuss possible themes that we then can narrow down to different questions. But it’s super simple to talk about interdisciplinarity, and it’s super difficult to get it working. The university doesn’t have any strong structures for doing it.

You have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics, you’re a politician. You’re a tech entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur and a scientist. How has your view of entrepreneurship changed over the years?
When I started my first company together with some colleagues in nuclear physics research in the early nineties, we didn’t think of it as entrepreneurship. It was more about doing what you wanted to do. Over the years I have been involved in different aspects of entrepreneurship. I constantly change what I’m doing, and that has evolved my idea of entrepreneurship. From being something focused on new companies and growth and job opportunities to a set of tools and methods that can be used in many different settings to go from idea to action. And if the action is based on creating sustainable change, then it becomes very interesting.

Entrepreneurship for me has evolved from being technical and product-oriented over to humanities and social entrepreneurship-oriented. For the last three or four years, I’ve been working within the sector of culture, creativity, and the arts. Today we’re talking about art entrepreneurship or cultural entrepreneurship. What we try to do at KMH is a bit like what happened with social entrepreneurship 10 years ago. Nobody knew what it was or if it was useful. But today 10 years later, there are EU-programmes and strategies on social innovation. There’s a government strategy around social innovation and funding for social innovations at VINNOVA. I think there’s an equally big opportunity in creating something similar with culture or artistic entrepreneurship, where you could find new ways of bringing culture and art into society. It could create change, it could solve large societal challenges. I am sure that art and culture can contribute much more and in different new ways.

Should today’s students be more entrepreneurial? Why?
They don’t have to be entrepreneurial. When leaving university, they should have had the possibility to learn some of the tools and methods of skills of entrepreneurship. Those tools will help them if they want to do something else than simply applying for a job. Some forms of education have a strong line of going into work. Others, like music, don’t have a clear job position after the students graduate. We as a university have a responsibility to give the students tools to help them create their project, business or company. At KMH we’ve made entrepreneurship a mandatory course for all bachelor students. Arts entrepreneurship education is concerned with the identification and creation of artistic opportunities, based on the individual’s artistic core, and the sharing of these opportunities to add value of some kind.

Speaking about teaching entrepreneurship in a classroom, what would you say is your best practice?
The courses we do at KMH are built around three different blocks. The first block comprises lectures about tools, methods, rules, financing and pitching, etc. The second one is bringing in guest lecturers to talk about different aspects of entrepreneurship and to broaden the view of what entrepreneurship can be. The third part is project work, where the students get to work with students from other disciplines. I think the combination of these three parts is a good way to give the students a faceted view of entrepreneurship.

Our courses start with the students finding their artistic core, their unique voice. We want to build their ideas from within themselves rather than doing whatever the market wants. It’s important that our students start formulating something about what they want to create, and from that build projects and ideas of how they can do it and share that with others. The entrepreneurship tools come into play when you want to use your artistic core to create something that people can experience and see that there is value in. It doesn’t have to be economic value, but some sort of social or cultural value. In my opinion, all artists desire to share their work with others in some way and to add value of some kind. To me, that’s entrepreneurship.

What are your hopes for the future?
That culture and art entrepreneurship will be an accepted form of entrepreneurship that is supported by public financing. The funding of innovations is still very much focused on technical innovations. Some go to social innovations, but we need to see much more public funding going into cultural and art entrepreneurship. An artist who wants to create a new type of organization to make a positive change in society has the same need for financing possibilities as all other entrepreneurs and innovations. But today it’s very difficult to find funding for an art entrepreneur, and that needs to be changed. We need to allocate some of the money within the innovation support system towards arts and cultural entrepreneurship. Sweden spends a lot of public money on supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. But a very small part of that is geared towards arts and cultural entrepreneurship.