Posted on Sep 28, 2009

Sophomore Will Mahony wasn’t sure what to expect when he enrolled in a new class, “The Business of Visual Art & Contemporary Entrepreneurship.” But what he’s discovered, three weeks into the term, has really impressed him.

Lorraine Morales Cox, director of American Studies and associate professor of contemporary art and theory

“Not being an art history major, I questioned how valuable this class would be to me,” said Mahony, an American Studies major focusing on media and popular culture. “But this isn’t just about art, it’s about things like urban development and the role the creative sector plays in that.

“The class also fits nicely into my major because it deals heavily with American culture.”

This type of multifaceted applicability to various fields is exactly what Lorraine Morales Cox had in mind when she developed the course, with the support of private donors and a grant from Ethics Across the Curriculum.

“A liberal arts education is all about the connections between disciplines and how they complement each other,” said Cox, an associate professor of contemporary art and theory. “This is an art history class, but it’s also part of the American Studies program and the Entrepreneurial Thinking cluster headed by Professor Hal Fried.”

Blending art and entrepreneurship was logical for Cox, who also directs the American Studies program.

“The art world is rich in entrepreneurship, and the artist is the ultimate entrepreneur,” she explained. “Artists must find someone to fund their creative efforts, they must write grants, they must develop their work and showcase it. They must understand how integral business is to the art industry – how galleries work and gallery owners operate, and how to get their pieces into galleries to be sold.”

To foster this type of understanding in her pupils, Cox doesn’t stop at classroom lectures and readings. She is a firm believer that the benefits of cross-disciplinary education are exponentially increased with experiential learning.

For every subject students study in a book with Cox, there is a corresponding field trip or guest speaker to take that inanimate lesson and breathe life and first-hand experience into it.

“These field trips and speakers are extremely valuable components because everything we’re learning is real, not just material from a textbook you have to imagine,” Mahony said. “After reading about Richard Florida’s theories on urban culture and the creative arts of society, for example, our class was able to see him speak in Albany.

Students taking “The Business of Visual Art & Contemporary Entrepreneurship” toured museums and galleries in Boston the weekend of October 26, 2009.

“We’ve also studied the most prominent auction houses, like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and have been able to get the inside scoop from people who actually work in this industry,” he added. “And learning about art galleries in one thing, but going to Boston and meeting the directors of those galleries is something totally different and invaluable.”

In addition to a recent visit to Boston, students will travel to New York City and Cummington, Mass. They’ll also hear from a multitude of entrepreneurs and art world professionals, including Catherine Hedgeman '96 of Albany, an attorney and CEO of The Stakeholders Foundation, a young professionals networking group. Near the end of the term, David Steiner, a prominent Los Angeles art lawyer, will speak.

“Getting these young people out into the art world to give them real experiences in it creates comfort, awareness and familiarity with careers they may one day be part of,” Cox said. “By providing interdisciplinary instruction and experiential opportunities, we give them – and students of all majors – the confidence and adaptability to succeed in an increasingly diverse workforce where people and fields of all kinds intersect.”