How Daemen fuses the arts and enterprise to fuel the Creative Economy
Creativity drives creation—of art, of new ventures, of value. It’s a boundless idea and can take root on a canvas, in the boardroom and during any brainstorm.
It’s put humans in space, inspired symphonies, produced life-saving medicines, brought the Mona Lisa into being and given us the internet.
Creativity in motion—as ideas expressed in pursuit of a goal—is entrepreneurship.
The so-called “art of business” and “business of art” are not as unrelated as common narratives may suggest.
In fact, art and business are colliding all around the world; the evidence of it is only limited by how far we look.
Increasingly, we are working and playing in what’s known as the Creative Economy. And, we learn there, too.
In recent years, Daemen College has accelerated inventive approaches that harness, teach and create educational experiences channeling the shared spirit of expression and entrepreneurship.
It’s been a story equal parts imaginative and industrious—and inspired by the world of today and to come.
Sayeed Osorio ’22 makes pictures. Passionate about fashion and photography, the New York City native and Daemen senior gathers with friends to plan outfits and seek sceneries for shoots—and then shares the images and videos to their Instagram accounts— which boast more followers than some small newspapers have circulation.
“To be seen, and raise awareness for yourself and what you care about—it’s pretty crucial to have marketing and branding skills today,” said Osorio.
No matter what Sayeed’s professional path may become after graduation, the sports management major wants to help others reach their potential as professionals, while realizing his own. In the meantime, he’s presenting himself, and his creative spirit, freely to the world. It’s a living, public resumé, of sorts.
“It’s so important to present as authentic,” said Osorio, a member of the men’s basketball team. “If you share who you are, especially online, it’s easier to connect and meet more people who can relate to you—and there’s where opportunities can grow.”
Creative pursuits, such as they are in an increasingly decentralized economy, are a driver of employment and incomes, economic growth, tax revenue creation and place-based investment.
The key to a strong brand is that other people can retell your story easily.
“For its size, our region has a vibrant cultural scene,” said Robert Waterhouse, chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts (VPAC) and associate professor of theater.
The total economic impact of the arts topped $352 million in Western New York, according to Arts Services Initiative of WNY. Including nonprofit and arts professionals, this economic activity created or supported 10,160 full-time equivalent jobs—with state and local governments reaping more than $40 million in tax revenue.
“Grounded by big institutional layers like the Buffalo Philharmonic and Albright- Knox (Art Gallery), there is a dynamic avant garde and independent scene as well,” said Waterhouse.
Regionally, there are significant built-in advantages for entrepreneurial activity and startup businesses, from a wealth of state and private support and recent investment, a lower-than-average cost of living, energy rates—even the region’s relatively zippy commute times—all while sitting within a day’s drive of 40 percent of the binational population.
Daemen is recognizing the emerging opportunities sprouting in recent years—and responding.
“Today, your imagination is as valuable or more valuable as traditional resources you bring to the table,” said Aaron Joyal, assistant professor of business administration at the college. “Students understand this. We help them use their ideas to generate value for employers and themselves.”
Banking on imagination
In fall 2021, Daemen launched a new degree program—Leadership in Entrepreneurship and the Arts, or LEA—that will prepare graduates to enter the Creative Economy.
“The growth of the startup and gig economies, coupled with positive changes in the nonprofit cultural sector, led us to create LEA,” said Waterhouse. “It’s both a deep foundation in the arts and the skills needed to succeed as a creative professional.”
The interdisciplinary program’s areas of focus— entrepreneurship, business, the liberal arts marketing and branding—may, at first glance, seem like unlikely bedfellows.
Yet, building the degree was deliberate and detail-driven; the years-long process saw Daemen faculty and leadership work with more than 30 leading arts professionals and solo artists to design the curriculum.
The resulting lineup of classes, student experiences, and requirements emphasizes the common skillsets of those working in a range of cultural and entrepreneurial settings.
“The putty of the degree was formed by those in the field today,” said Waterhouse. “Employers tell us they want students who know about literature, film, and art—and have skills in public speaking, marketing, and creative problem-solving.”
LEA students form their own business or creative enterprise, staging a theater production or exhibition, starting a podcast or other media-based outlet. They each guide their endeavors through planning and development, culminating in a public presentation.
By graduation, students will be prepared to market themselves and sustain careers in a variety of fields. Ongoing relationships between Daemen and the creative community will provide gateways—including a semester-long internship with an arts organization— for students to make connections, through partnerships and events.
“It’s not purely an in-class experience,” said Waterhouse. “It’s paramount students talk and negotiate with professionals in the field because they’ll be doing that for a living.”
The call of creativity—and community
Creating and building communities is an essential part of pursuing a professional life at the many intersections of arts and business, said Annie Stoll ’08, a VPA graduate.
She speaks from experience. Now a senior art director at Columbia Records, working at its headquarters in New York City, Stoll credits her career and standing in her field to inclinations first impressed on her at Daemen: to be an active and effective advocate of her own work.
“In creative fields, it’s so important to join or start a community where you can feel inspired, share openly and follow your values and path,” said Stoll, who won a Grammy Award in 2019 for her designs and also created Star Wars merchandise.
Valuable (and invaluable) opportunities arise from such an approach. “It’s how you get a foot in the door,” said Stoll. “Then, down the road, open doors for others. Providing those chances is its own reward, but also gives your common community a boost.”
Still, cultivating an entrepreneurial streak is needed for any creative navigating of new territory, said Stoll.
“Put yourself in as many situations as you can,” she said. “Make great creative work—but step outside your comfort zone out in the world— little things often lead to something bigger.”
A tolerance for navigating ambiguity and uncertainty is one of the most necessary—and teachable—skills to possess working in the Creative Economy, according to Christina Coyle-Lenz, director of the graduate-level Leadership and Innovation program at Daemen.
“Creativity is a skill required in all aspects of life—and you can teach it,” said Coyle-Lenz, “especially in preparing students how to lead during unscripted times and in unfamiliar situations.”
The program’s curriculum focuses on how to harness and facilitate creativity—emphasizing the collection and use of knowledge and information as tools—in and outside the workplace.
“These are valuable skills for anyone—and especially entrepreneurs and artists,” she added. “In fact, no Creative Economy would be possible without visionary and courageous leaders.”
Many post-industrial cities, especially in the American Rust Belt—Buffalo included—have leaned on the so-called “creative class” as a driving force for economic development.
The concept and ideas associated with it—popularized by economist and sociologist Richard Florida’s now-fabled writings on the regeneration of cities—helped launch a new focus on the economic potential of urban areas that draw on their inherent concentrations of residents with diverse skills, educations, and creative pursuits.
Rust Belt cities have followed a prevailing narrative that private and public investment follow and reinforce phenomena associated with this demographic, including a bevy of business startups taking advantage of low costs of operating and living, the creation and patronage of new and existing cultural organizations, and a general thirst to revive cityscapes hollowed out by a cocktail of postwar social and economic forces.
There’s evidence the approach may be working—or at least contributing to positive population trends. For the first time in 70 years, Buffalo is growing; according to the 2020 U.S. Census, the Nickel City added nearly 20,000 residents over the last decade.
The benefits of new people calling the city home—or sticking around—is as much of a psychological boost as economic. It also cannot be attributed to any single effort, said Coyle-Lenz.
Instead, it’s likely a reflection of unity built among stakeholders in a variety of fields and constituencies—among them, cultural and entrepreneurial communities in the region. This, in turn, has led to support from key politicians and public and private entities.
“The creativity that people have inside them can be drawn out of them by effective leaders,” said Coyle-Lenz. “Such leadership requires creativity. Complex problems force leaders to use creative approaches to find new solutions.”
For an example, consider the work of Dan Shanahan, an assistant professor and program director for entrepreneurial studies at Daemen.
Shanahan is a unique blend: a strikingly original artist unafraid to take risks and a pragmatic leader of a successful arts organization that’s attracted significant investment.
In fact, this summer, now-New York Governor Kathy Hochul joined Shanahan to open a new performance facility for the nonprofit he founded and runs, Torn Space Theater.
“Revitalizing the arts is vital to our economic recovery. Torn Space … is a prime example of Buffalo’s comeback story,” said Hochul. “A vibrant arts and cultural industry is crucial to any thriving neighborhood, and Torn Space … will inject new life into Buffalo’s East Side.”
The theater is not just a space to see performances—it’s an example of “community development and cultural placemaking,” according to an announcement by one of the project’s funders, Empire State Development, an economic development agency of New York State.
Shanahan draws on these real-world experiences in his entrepreneurship courses at Daemen, which place particular emphasis on students honing their passions toward creating endeavors that are self-sustaining.
This means winning over and wrangling supporters and securing grants; Shanahan places special attention on how students can articulate the essence of their artistic and entrepreneurial projects in ways that align with the funding priorities of those who hold the pursestrings.
“You can’t rely on volunteer support for eternity,” said Shanahan. “From my own journey. I tell students: It’s on you. You are the network. Then, you gain traction.”
In career assessment and planning surveys at Daemen, nearly a majority of students indicate they may want to start or own their business, immediately or eventually.
Given the entrepreneurial streak of Daemen students, the college created a new minor—available this fall—in web design and e-commerce, which offers a mix of in-demand skills needed for selling and marketing goods and services online.
“We aren’t afraid to make changes,” said Aaron Joyal, who helped create the curriculum. “Especially when the data points us in a certain direction.
In the last year, Daemen has also launched two new significant avenues for generating inspiration and insights from within and outside the college community.
Last spring, the Daemen Speaker Series was launched, in partnership with Western New York Book Arts Center, to directly engage with young creatives. The series—on topics such as branding and marketing for artists—attracted a wide and diverse audience: from high school students to established professionals.
“The key to a strong brand is that other people can retell your story easily,” said Christy Francis, a Daemen Speaker Series panelist and research and creative director at the college.
Knowing how to tell stories effectively is one of the most significant determinants to a creative professional finding (and keeping) an audience, Francis told attendees.
“We’re lucky to live in a time when the Creative Economy is inventing new opportunities constantly,” said Francis, a small business owner, and an arts management and entrepreneurship instructor at the University at Buffalo and Daemen. “This leads to value creation—a term maybe only heard in business settings before.”
In that vein, the college’s new Innovation Incubator Pitch Competition was launched last fall. The annual contest is not for a grade or credit: It’s a chance for students to compete on the strength of their ideas.
Participants were issued a challenge: create a marketing plan about “what matters most” at the college—especially to those unfamiliar with Daemen. Influencer marketing, cross-promotion and interactivity were concepts explored to increase the college’s presence throughout media.
Then-senior and current MBA student Jevon Jordan ’21 won, for focusing on the college’s culture of belongingness and inclusion—and for the inventive way he presented this theme: through a new media channel he founded (with a hand from Dan Shanahan), Wildcat Media & Entertainment.
A creative life is about adaptability—somewhat of an ever-changing merger of inspiration and practicality, says Kari Achatz ’07, an artist and educator.
A painter in college, Achatz switched gears when her camera broke senior year—and was encouraged by a professor to step outside her comfort zone to cut into and compile her film negatives in a new way.
What was born were photo sculptures—an artistic form Achatz has become known for and exhibited at The Burchfield Penney Art Center, CEPA Gallery, and others. Two were acquired by the Albright-Knox for its permanent collection.
As a Daemen undergraduate, Achatz learned how to work with a variety of art materials to create a range of works—an approach that informs her teaching at Nichols School in Buffalo: creative play.
“I’m not afraid of any materials thanks to my time at Daemen,” she said, “and my students see they don’t have to be either, because I walk the walk.”
For proof, look no further than Achatz’s latest works: She has adapted the style and aesthetic of her photo sculptures into striking and substantial metal sculptures that have been installed at Canalside and Hotel Henry in Buffalo during recent festivals.
“Arts and business are about risk, yes,” said Achatz. “But they’re about putting yourself in the position to control the ones you take.”
Since Daemen announced the LEA program, arts and business professionals have said they wished the degree had existed when they were in college, said Waterhouse.
It’s a validating endorsement from credible voices, he said, especially in an era where higher education is seeking to be more nimble in preparing students for what awaits (and could change).
What’s more, this feedback about LEA is also a reflection of the lived realities of creatives and entrepreneurs who have forged success in a hypercompetitive landscape.
“The lines between arts and business are blurring and merging into new ventures, products, and artwork,” said Shanahan. “We, as educators, ignore this to our peril.”
In May, Ziv Basden ’21 graduated from Daemen with a B.A. in business administration. He’s opted to continue his studies at the college as an MBA student for a few key reasons: a desire to work for himself, turn his passion for helping people into new ventures, and the college’s proven track record in preparing him to pursue his path.
“Today, you need to be able to pitch your ideas at a moment’s notice,” said Basden, who is from Nassau, Bahamas. “Daemen is all about staying ready for the right opportunity— and knowing how to create it.”