MBA Programs in Design and the Arts

More business schools are catering their programs to creative people - not just their managers.

Art and business may sometimes seem like two different worlds. In reality, they usually aren't that far apart. Most gallery owners, designers, musicians, filmmakers, and fashion moguls will tell you that while style and innovation are crucial, so is a little business savvy.

Just think of a sold-out rock concert. The band on stage might be the main attraction, but successful events like these rarely happen without a lot of organizing, budgeting, and marketing behind the scenes. Bigger arts venues, like museums, symphonies, and theaters often need professionals with these skills year-round.

To answer a need for managers in the arts sector, some business schools - including UCLA, Rutgers, Illinois State, and York University's Schulich School of Business - offer concentrations in arts and entertainment management as part of their MBA programs.

"I think there's a huge benefit to arts organizations to having people the passion for the sector and the management skills," says Joyce Zemans, director of the Arts and Media Administration MBA and MBA-MFA (Master of Fine Arts) dual-degree program at Schulich.

Zemans has followed the careers of many of her program's alumni. Some are now directors or executives at arts and media organizations in Toronto and beyond.

"They come from all sectors, and they work in all sectors," she says. "There are museum directors, people in the film business, broadcasting, the performing arts, and the music industry."

Beyond arts management, a few new MBA programs for artists have emerged in North America and Europe. These programs aim to equip people like graphic designers, producers, and interactive programmers with the skills to lead projects, start their own companies, or land a managing position at a company or consultancy.

"Consultancies are searching desperately for these people," says Nathan Shedroff, who chairs a new Design Strategy MBA at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco that began earlier this year. "They're crying out for people to bridge the gap between design innovation and business."

Since most students come from a design background, Shedroff's program does not teach the nuts and bolts of design (layouts, fonts, and colors), but instead focuses on the strategic aspects of design and innovation management.

"A big part of it is helping clients understand what the process is, and what needs to be done, and to be comfortable with it," says Shedroff.

The film industry is also seeking people with that rare combination of artistic talent and business acumen. Recently, two of the premier film schools in the United States - New York University (NYU) and University of Southern California (USC) - have opened their doors to business school students.

In NYU's three-year MBA/MFA program, for example, students split time between business courses at Stern School of Business and production classes at the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television. Meanwhile, USC MBA students can take "Business of Entertainment" courses at the university's School of Cinematic Arts. London's Cass Business School also recently launched an EMBA program specializing in the film business.

Several other niche programs are out there for people working in the creative industries. These include the MBA / Masters of Communications and Media Arts program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the MBA in Digital Media Management at St. Edward's University in Austin, a New Media MBA program at MODUL University in Vienna. 

There are also a handful of fashion-oriented MBAs, including those at the London College of Fashion, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. And while technically not an MBA, SDA Bocconi in Milan offers a Master in Fashion, Experience and Design Management.

Another trend is the uptake of design principles in mainstream business education - the likely result of demand for innovative MBA grads. Both Stanford and London Business School have recently established new design or creative-focused programs to foster innovation among their students. Similarly, the University of Toronto's Rotman School introduced Designworks, an infusion of "design thinking" into business theory and practice.

So even if you don't consider yourself a creative person at all, if you're headed to business school in the next few years, you may soon be called on to think like one. 

Photo: Ariel Waldman / Flickr

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