Cultural entrepreneurship challenge kicks off

by Brenna McDuffie '15

On Oct. 23, professor Mukti Khaire of the Harvard Business School addressed an audience at the Harvard Innovation Lab with a request: "I want you to raise your hand if a book, a song, a painting, a film or anything of this genre has ever had an impact on you." Every hand in the room went up.

The evening launched the second annual Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, a collaborative effort of the Harvard Business School’s i-lab, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Silk Road Project, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Harvard and founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma '76. The challenge invites students from across the university to assemble teams and develop projects that aim to sustain the role of the arts and expand their impact in society.

The grand prize for last year’s challenge went to Harvard Graduate School of Design students who developed MUSEY, a mobile app which uses geo-technology to allow users to discover art in their immediate vicinity and aid it financially, supporting art outside gallery walls. CEO Judy Fulton, GSD '13, explained, "Our long term mission is about trying to disrupt existing notions about culture and value. When we see a painting hanging within a gallery wall, we have a preconception about what it’s worth, but when we see a busker on the street, there’s a very different perception of value, even if that performer plays with the philharmonic. When he’s on the street, we have a very different perception of value than when he’s in Symphony Hall."

Other speakers at the kickoff event included Diana Sorensen, dean of Arts and Humanities and co-chair of the challenge. "A driving concept has been to foster the arts and the humanities as activities that can happen within the world of careers, of organizations that create revenue and that create value in society. So I’m absolutely thrilled to be here and grateful for the second round of this challenge," Sorensen said.

Khaire echoed the dean’s sentiment. "This is not just about helping starving artists. It’s about creating a civic society in which more and more people can raise their hand when asked if there’s a piece of art that has changed their life. This is about making sure these two things, culture and entrepreneurship, come together in a way that is beneficial to society," she said.

Also in the conversation last week were two exemplars of cultural entrepreneurship in action, Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. The two artists run a small nonprofit that sponsors about a dozen Ugandan students. Gould and Matthews are sharing their story and spreading news of their mission via art. Their new musical Witness Uganda, directed by the American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus, will premiere at the A.R.T. in February. "Witness Uganda isn’t the end of a story or process. It’s the beginning of a conversation," said Matthews.

The kickoff was just the beginning of a myriad of events related to the challenge. The i-lab will be hosting a series of workshops related to entrepreneurship, and applications from student teams for this challenge as well as two other i-lab sponsored challenges will be accepted through February 9, 2014.