What’s the secret sauce that gives talents like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Wynton Marsalis such staying power? That’s what creative entrepreneur and educator Aaron Dworkin set out to uncover in The Entrepreneurial Artist, which looks at artists who harnessed their vision into a successful brand. “Art is not just our passion,” Dworkin says, “it’s our creative enterprise.”
As a professor of arts leadership and entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s School of Music,
Theatre & Dance, Dworkin’s mission is to equip both up- and-coming talents and veteran professionals with the tools necessary to face the real-world challenges of a life in the arts. “The arts have not found a comprehensive way to teach and empower the whole per- son,” Dworkin says. “The most significant challenge is to change the mindsets of our young artists and, critically, those who teach and mentor them.”
For his book, Dworkin turned to the examples of artists who found success in a range of creative industries. He conducted exclusive interviews with 11 artists, whose backstories provide inspiration for over- coming obstacles and offer actionable, practical advice for finding one’s voice and connecting with audiences. “These are artists with extensive portfolios who’ve taken excellence, resilience, and creativity to the next level and built lives that enrich and inspire,” Dworkin says.
The roster includes professionals in dance, theatre, music, and film. Along with Miranda and Marsalis, Dworkin profiles Emmy-winning actor Jeff Daniels, now star- ring on Broadway in To Kill a Mockingbird; Mannheim Steamroller creator Chip Davis; classical violinist Midori; and country artist Lee Greenwood, who wrote “God Bless the U.S.A.” Dworkin also explores how Shakespeare and Mozart developed their own creative enterprises.
The research and interviews reveal similarities among Dworkin’s subjects, including “intellectual curiosity, resilience, and grit,” he says. Some of the most inspiring narratives follow pioneers such as Bill T. Jones, who faced racism, homophobia, and the scourge of AIDS on his way to becoming one of the most respected and awarded choreographers of our time. Other artists bulldozed right over road- blocks. Female conductor Marin Alsop endured blow- back from all sides during her rise through classical music’s ranks, and violinist Rachel Barton Pine wouldn’t let a serious commuter train injury that severed her left leg and mangled her right foot keep her from a stellar career on the concert stage.
Dworkin himself knows a little something about breaking through barriers. “Being a black, white, Jewish, Irish-Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness adoptee raised as a violinist positions you with a certain rare perspective on life,” he says. While still an undergrad at Michigan, he was inspired to create the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity in classical music. More than 20 years later, the Sphinx Organization sponsors several premier ensembles; runs classes and competitions; reaches more than 100,000 young people and two million in audiences annually; and donates instruments to under- served youth around the world. “Without Sphinx, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” Dworkin says. His journey has brought him a MacArthur Fellowship and nomination by President Obama to the National Council on the Arts. Reflecting on his own growth as a musician, Dworkin says he was driven to “bring about some- thing greater than myself, something that benefits and serves others.”
Like Dworkin, many of the artists profiled in the book share a commitment to paying it forward, whether through mentoring, establishing arts organizations, or bringing music education to New York City’s public schools. Rachel Barton Pine established a foundation to create opportunities for underprivileged musicians and to promote the work of black composers, and Marsalis’s world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center hosts performances and educational initiatives.
Dworkin advises emerging artists to remember that inspiration is only the beginning and that success is achieved only through hard work. Sometimes artists must “reinvent themselves to stay relevant,” he writes, but all of the work goes toward capitalizing on their voice, which he calls a “passport to a fulfilling creative life.”