Sustainable ventures

A panel of experts discusses arts, culture and entrepreneurship to inspire participation in the President's Innovation Challenge. 

By Sasha Barish '20

As part of the President’s Innovation Challenge, Harvard Innovation Lab hosted The Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship on November 16. The event included a panel discussion with innovators and organizers in the arts. The following are highlights from their presentations.

  1. Kate Gilbert, executive director of the public art organization Now and There, talked about her work creating and organizing installation art in public places. Among other subject, she discussed the importance of testing projects out and seeing how people react. As an example, she cited her Faces of Dudley project, which put photo portraits of passersby in conversation with a longstanding Boston mural. “I wanted it to go beyond just the portraits,” Gilbert said, “so I asked people to write down something someone might not know about them just from seeing their picture and hold it up on a board. But when the photos started coming in, when we saw all these black and brown faces holding up the boards, they looked like mug shots. So we cancelled that part of the project.”
  2. Allyson Esposito talked about how when she was younger she was taught to focus on analysis and social systems but was always passionate about art. Looking at existing arts organizations, she saw that most artworks were supported by ineffective nonprofit organizations with a few people at the helm. Esposito saw that this model was inefficient and wasn’t getting funding to everyone that needed it, and experimented in the field of strategic philanthropy with ways to run arts foundations. Esposito is now the arts and culture director for The Boston Foundation.
  3. Brendan Ciecko had another approach to innovation. Since age 13, he has been helping musicians be tech savvy, making websites for the likes of Mick Jagger and Katy Perry. He recently created Fontly, an app that teaches users about vintage fonts and related typographic art history. At the panel, however, he discussed his project Cuseum, designed to bring museums into the digital age with an app-based platform for audio tours, links or other information for museum visitors.
  4. Chris Grimley’s advice was to build organizations first for impact rather than for financial sustainability. “Even with all the planning in the world, nothing you do in the beginning is going to be sustainable,” he said. “Innovation isn’t sustainable.”

To learn more about submitting a “participation declaration” to participate in the President’s Innovation Challenge, click here. The deadline is December 5.