Arts Entrepreneurship Class and Lecture Series Emphasize Memphis Leaders Bridging Art and Business

A come up of a student with head resting on her fingertips
Raneem Imam '20 listens attentively as Dan McLeary from the Tennessee Shakespeare Company speaks as part of the Arts Entrepreneurship Lecture Series.

The city of Memphis is full of leaders who have built careers by combining a passion and talent in the arts with finely honed business skills. That’s why a liberal arts education that prepares students for careers today, which require skillsets that are diverse and the ability to blend seemingly opposite disciplines together, is so advantageous. With this in mind, visiting assistant professor and internationally renowned music director, conductor, and scholar Dr. Zak Ozmo encourages artistic students to think with a business mindset through his arts entrepreneurship class.

“I see entrepreneurship as a state of mind,” says Ozmo. “It is about the way we view the world and identify ways of bettering it while also bettering ourselves in the process.”

“I believe that a liberal arts college like Rhodes is a perfect place for training in entrepreneurship. I wanted to juxtapose approaches of successful entrepreneurs, regardless of their profession, and to identify common threads.”

By spotlighting 10 local leaders throughout the semester, Ozmo gives students the opportunity to witness the relevance of business and entrepreneurial practices within artistic careers by inviting some of the most well-known voices within the Memphis arts business into the classroom.

Ozmo’s Arts Entrepreneurship Series centers around these weekly guest speakers by introducing students to a variety of community leaders who are “sustaining their art financially while changing the world around them in the process.” Ozmo believes exposing students to many different stakeholders within the Memphis arts community is the best way to gain professional networks as well as obtain further insight into the challenges and benefits of entrepreneurship within the arts community. Student Ethan Garland '20 agrees, stating, “you can’t replicate the value of hearing and learning from someone who has made their vision tangible.” 

The invited speakers include a wide variety of art-based leaders such as Katie Smythe, CEO and artistic director of New Ballet Ensemble, Peter Abell, president and CEO of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Eric Barnes, president and executive director of The Daily Memphian and publisher of The Daily News, and Dr. Lawrence Hass, professional magician, associate dean of Jeff McBride’s Magic & Mystery School, and founder of Theory and Art of Magic Press. Dr. Ozmo reached out to each of these artists with a specific purpose for the course, stating that “all speakers are involved with the creative activity of some kind, producing works of beauty and emotional power.”

One of the course’s first guests, Ekundayo Bandele, founder and executive director at Hattiloo Theatre, spoke to the class about the process of creating and running Hattiloo. In detailing his experience, he gave insightful information about the process of founding an arts organization within the city of Memphis. He emphasized the importance of forming relationships, instituting strategies, and creating legitimacy within any business. He also described some of his struggles as an entrepreneur, especially within the nonprofit arts scene. Bandele specifically discussed the process of creating his business within the culture of Memphis. 

Student Yifei Zhang ’21 found this particularly significant. “It demonstrates the role that art plays within the greater picture of Memphis as a whole,” Zhang says.

Although Arts Entrepreneurship is an upper-level music course, the classroom is not filled by music majors alone. In this course, there are students majoring in Greek and Roman studies, philosophy, English, and theatre accompanying the handful of music majors. The diversity of students within the classroom adds to the value of these interdisciplinary courses. Each student is able to contribute by bringing their own insights, informed by various levels of academic expertise and outside experiences, to the conversation. The wide range of majors within a singular classroom speaks directly to the diversity of interests within the realm of arts entrepreneurship itself.

Ozmo believes that these speakers are crucial to the class as a whole, as students could not fully understand arts entrepreneurship without interacting with those who have been longtime members of the Memphis art community. His overarching goal for this course is for students to expand their mindsets for arts and entrepreneurship outside of the Rhodes community.

“In the process of learning these skills required for entrepreneurship, we also learn much about ourselves and the world around us,” he says.

This speaker series is open to all members of the Rhodes community. It takes place each Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. in Hassell Hall 201.  

The upcoming speakers are:

October 25: James “IMAKEMADBEATS” Dukes (Hip-hop artist, producer, 

and founder of UNAPOLOGETIC record label) 

November 1: Peter Abell (President and CEO, Memphis Symphony Orchestra) 

November 8:  Dr. John Bass (Director, Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College) 

November 15: Eric Barnes (Writer, CEO of The Daily Memphian, and publisher of The Daily News, Memphis) 

November 22: Lawrence Hass (Magician, author, founder of Theory and Art of Magic Press) 


By Madeleine O'Toole '22