For years now the talk has been about how the economy in America will thrive if we focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. In response to this, Rhode Island School of Art and Design started a movement to turn STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Math), citing that art and design will drive the economy of the 21st century. We all know how companies like Apple and Google have created success by leveraging art and design. Our company's growth is an example of the economic potential of adding arts to a small business venture.
Our staff has steadily grown to 10 employees over the past six years, 90 percent of which have a background in the arts. We have degrees in music, lighting design, comedy, musical theatre writing, product design, architecture, stage management, and acting, all focused on the daily task of making Sitters Studio great. Not a single person working here has a degree or background in business so we use the skills we have to navigate the small business landscape.
I majored in musical theatre at NYU's music school. During this time I spent the bulk of my efforts focused on the singular question, "What does my character want?" From the past to the future, from rich to poor, it was my job to immerse myself into all aspects of a character's life -- to know it so well that I actually became the character. It is this training that helps me to understand my customer's needs, envision new services, and be a positive addition to our families' lives. Marketing...check!
In order to fund my theatre habit, I also played the French Horn (parents note: colleges will pay for a good horn player, even if it is not the student's major...choose horn!) The inextricable link between music and math is undeniable at this point. I loved playing my French horn, and today, in a very similar way, I love analyzing my company's numbers. Finance...check!
Our lighting designer spent college behind the scenes, learning ways to mix different sizes, shapes, and colors of light to create an overall experience. Success in this task is presenting something so well-crafted that the audience doesn't even notice it. And to get such design to run smoothly for eight shows a week: light board programming. Technology...check! UX...check!
Our architect: Operations...check!
Our stage manager: Human Resources...check! Check! (Have you ever tried to manage the needs of a company of actors?)
Our musical theater writer: Sales...check!
Everywhere you look in our office you see artistic skills converted for business use and business tasks being accomplished artistically. At the end of the day, what artists do best is produce a professional product, with a limited budget, on an exceptionally tight timeline. They are able to imagine something where once there was nothing. And, they keep smiling through it all because, "the show must go on!" If those aren't the skills needed to grow a successful small business, I don't know what are.
There is no denying that the STEM fields are vitally important to our country's growth and economy. But as we look to small businesses to boost the future of America and drive job creation, I certainly believe that we will never harness our true potential without STEAM. And I believe that the best thing small businesses can do to set themselves up for success is to bring on an artist. It doesn't really matter what discipline of artist that you hire, they will innovate, inspire, and add to your business in ways that you could never imagine... they sure do for mine.
For more information on the STEAM movement visit http://stemtosteam.org
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.