Todd Gormley, area chair of the faculty for finance, and Dean Mark P. Taylor shared this update to the WashU Olin community.
We are writing to let you know that Tim Solberg has been appointed as the academic director for the business of the arts minor at WashU Olin. The business of the arts minor integrates specialized coursework, experiential learning and rich networking opportunities for undergraduate students looking to gain a deeper understanding of how business principles apply to a range of arts-related fields.
Launched in 2018, the program offers students a framework of business, financial, marketing and strategic approaches for managing a career out of their artistic pursuits.
Tim joined the Olin faculty in 2018. He is a professor of practice in finance as well as the academic director of the corporate finance and investments platform. He will lead the business of the arts minor program in opportunities that engage faculty, students, alumni, and community members.
The minor launched with a generous donation from Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, his wife Linda, who expressed a commitment to challenging students to practice their artistic endeavors with rigor and business savvy. The Ritholz’s donation is targeting the creation of new courses, experiential learning opportunities in the arts, scholarship funding and internship stipends, and paying for faculty members to teach and publicize the program.
“I am excited to be the academic director of the business of the arts program. I have always had a deep commitment to the arts, whether performing or design, or literature,” Tim said.
“We are designing a program that will have on-site experiential learning with fashion and garment design and creation, gallerists and museum managers, theater and media producers to learn the backstage operations methods. With my teaching experience in arts management at the premier arts and media management school in Chicago, Columbia College, and my own musical education, I am eager to mix finance and management with the arts and provide a hands-on experience for the students.”
In addition to his background in the arts, Tim has worked 30 years in finance, including as a corporate banker and investment advisor for endowment and foundation trustees on their asset allocation and spending policies.
Erin Noh, AB ’21, is one of two recipients of Olin’s $2,500 stipend for the business of the arts minor. Noh snagged summer internships at both Almost 30 and Hawke Media. She wrote this for the Olin Blog.
In which area of the arts are you focused? Why?
I am a graphic designer with experience in digital marketing and branding. I love working in this field because I can use my creative skills to deliver a message or purpose to a target audience. Visual marketing allows me to combine my eye for art and passion for marketing. I work in diverse creative fields, including print and logo design, branding and social media.
How do you envision your career path going forward?
I hope to pursue a career path in digital marketing or brand management after graduation. I am open to both larger advertising firms or in-house agencies related to the lifestyle or fashion industry. Because I love working collaboratively with different individuals and teams, I prefer larger work environments that foster this interaction.
How did you find the minor in the business of the arts program? Can you speak yet to the ways it has influenced the vision you have for your career?
My friend who is pursuing fine art major in the Sam Fox School introduced me to the business of the arts minor last year when it first became one of the Olin Business School programs. After talking to my Sam Fox adviser, I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to learn about and prepare for pursuing a career in the creative field.
One key takeaway for me is that I need to be self-aware of my own interests, passions and purpose. Although I always knew I wanted to do something related to art or design, thoroughly thinking about potential career paths helped me to realize that I want to create designs that further a purpose or advertise ideas.
In addition, I not only learned so many new business and management principles but also ways to implement the ideas to my own life. In particular, the core class “business of the arts” was a whole course designed for students to think about their career paths as creatives, and set action steps that can be taken to make those goals a reality.
The program has motivated me to be more proactive about pursuing my career path by encouraging me to research diverse occupations and conduct informational interviews to gain more industry insight. I definitely became much more confident in my career direction and learned about realistic measures I can take to get closer to my vision.
What drew you to the program?
I was drawn to the business of the arts minor because I wanted to learn about art-focused business management principles. Because I want to start working at a company or design firm right after graduation, I thought it would be an opportunity for me to gain knowledge of business fundamentals and management tools.
This would allow me to make more informed decisions related to my finances as I move forward. I also wanted to learn about ways that I can make maximal use of my skills, interests and experiences in design.
How did you land the internship? How did that experience influence your plans for the future?
My business of the arts minor adviser, Sandra Philius, forwarded an application for a graphic design intern position for Almost 30, a lifestyle podcast based in LA. I was so grateful that she informed me of this opportunity. The position was exactly what I was looking for: a designer that creates social media posts and digital marketing collateral.
After the application and interview process, I became a part of an 11-member team that works collaboratively to promote the podcast brand. I strengthened the brand identity by designing new social media marketing templates.
Additionally, when I was about three weeks in with Almost 30, a hiring manager for Hawke Media, a full-service marketing consultancy, reached out to me through LinkedIn and asked for an interview. I had applied a few months back and was happy to hear back, as I had strongly been drawn to their work.
The workdays and hours of the two companies don’t overlap. It has been very manageable and fun to work with so many different individuals. I love that Hawke Media is a larger scale advertising firm, as I get to interact with diverse teams and individuals.
I am responsible for designing creative assets promoting E-Commerce Week LA. This event focuses on highlighting Los Angeles’ wealth of e-commerce brands and the people behind them.
Through my experiences so far, I realized I definitely love creating designs for various digital platforms that people interact with. After graduation, I hope to continue pursuing this path as a graphic designer. I would prefer to work for a lifestyle or fashion company. I am grateful for my internship opportunities as I can get real-life work experience and learn more about what kind of projects I am passionate about.
What’s the most surprising takeaway from your coursework or your internship?
While taking Management 200 as a part of the minor requirement, I learned about what it means to have a “business mindset,” which is something I never really thought about before. I was surprised to learn that this mindset requires both the ability to think strategically and realistically, as well as having the necessary interpersonal skills.
Some of the soft skills required in this mindset are open-mindedness, communication and collaboration.
During my internship, I learned about the interconnected nature of different departments and roles within a business. When I first joined the internship teams, I thought I would be working closely only with other designers or members of the creative team. But to my surprise, I regularly interact with a wide range of people such as the copywriter, social media manager and partnerships director.
As for my internship with Almost 30, the two hosts of the show are actually heavily involved in all of the production and design decisions. I learned how diverse departments of a business are closely connected to each other and although the roles may be different, everyone is working toward the same goal.
In early 2017, WashU Olin marketing alum Diana Zeng decided to launch the greatest rebranding campaign of her young career.
The product was Diana Zeng.
Until that January day, the “Diana Zeng brand” was about developing marketing strategies for startup organizations and nonprofits. By the end of the process, the brand was about a new career in the fine arts. The new Diana Zeng was all-in as a painter.
In between, she retooled the product and, for a time, even identified herself by a riff on her Chinese name—Zen She—to separate the “old” Diana from the new. She devoured biographies of fine artists and plunged herself into developing her studio practice so she could unleash the artist she knew had always been inside.
“I’d been working with startups since graduating. I saw that they often built something from nothing. That’s essentially what being an artist is: starting something from nothing,” said Zeng, BSBA ’14. “I took it seriously.”
The business of the arts
Two years in—with the confidence that she can support herself as an artist—Zeng is returning to Olin to speak to some of the first students in WashU Olin’s minor in the business of the arts. The genesis of the new business minor was a $1 million donation from Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, and his wife, Linda, inspired by their daughter’s experience as a fine arts student.
The new program targets students in the creative arts who want to make a career of their talent, but need to understand how to run their careers like a small business—complete with a grasp of marketing and branding, pricing, customer relationship management and finances.
Glenn MacDonald, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy, will teach one of the foundational courses of the minor — “the business of art” — and invited Zeng to speak to his students on October 3.
“Diana is an Olin graduate who used her business skills to fashion a visual art business that allows her to make the art she loves while paying the bills,” MacDonald said. “She is an excellent example of the outcome we anticipate for the students who complete our class.”
In some ways, Zeng is the mirror image of the students targeted for the business of the arts minor. Instead of an artist needing business acumen, she was a business student who had never met an artist or visited an art museum growing up. The closest she’d come as a child to making art was learning Chinese calligraphy and ink painting in Chinese school.
She had harbored an interest in art, however, and she took her father’s advice as an undergraduate: major in business, but use every elective to explore other interests. She took courses in queer theory, poetry and nature, and art classes at the Sam Fox School—enough, in fact, to earn a minor in fine art.
A day of reckoning
A year before Zeng’s graduation, while seriously involved with Sam Coster, the WashU 2012 grad she’d met in her freshman year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A year of treatments forced the disease into remission—for a bit.
By the fall of 2016, the lymphoma had returned and, once again, been beaten back. Zeng and Coster had begun a New Year tradition, asking each other: If you had a year to live, what would you do?
By then, Zeng had held several marketing positions with St. Louis-area nonprofits and startups. The pair had married in October. A month later, the presidential election made them consider drastic changes. In January, as 2017 began, Coster asked Zeng: “If you had a year to live, what would you do?”
“I’d paint,” Zeng blurted out.
And thus began the process—outlined thoroughly on Zeng’s own website—that led her to remake her career and pursue her passion.
“The first year and the second year of my art career have looked drastically different. The first year wasn’t so much focused on making art. It was very difficult and very dark and it wasn’t great,” Zeng said. “The second year has really been about challenging myself and the creation of art. It’s been fulfilling in a really great way. It hasn’t been a very linear progression.”
Sharing the experience
Today, she’s grateful for the business background she gained and can draw a direct line from that experience to her early success as a professional painter, supporting herself in the fine arts. In fact, her first solo exhibition opens Aug. 23 at St. Louis’s Bonsack Gallery.
With that experience comes an appreciation for branding and marketing, for telling her story and finding an audience for that story. It also taught her how to value the work.
“The intrinsic value of my work is important. Understand the value of your work: I say that over and over again to artists,” Zeng said. She has benchmarked herself against other artists at her career stage—and those whose career trajectory she aspires to emulate. Assigning value—a sticker price—to her work is difficult, but necessary.
Under-price it and you cast doubt on whether the work has value. Overprice it and—well, you don’t make the rent. And yet, Zeng said, “It’s the hardest thing to let go of a piece of work and sell it. I genuinely love it and hate it. I want to keep all my work.”
Though hard, it’s not impossible, of course, and a business approach to her career is key. Zeng said artists must not shy away from viewing their work as a business or approaching art as a career.
“It does not interfere with the integrity of your work,” she said. “Connecting how art and business are aligned—I didn’t have that experience in school. This minor wasn’t available. It definitely would have made the possibility of going into art feel more feasible.”
An Olin alumnus is providing $1 million in seed funding to launch a new “business of the arts” minor as a way to give back to his alma mater—with a little inspiration from his daughter’s WashU fashion design experience.
Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, his wife Linda were on hand Sunday, April 15, when Dean Mark Taylor announced his gift during the Shakespeare at Olin event.
“As a result of the visionary leadership and the generosity of Linda and Rich, we are going to launch a minor in the business of the Arts in the fall,” Dean Taylor said in making the announcement. “He’s a great friend to the school.”
The new minor will be operated at Olin—like the existing minor in the business of sports—and will be open to undergraduates across the WashU campus. Students will be required to fulfill 15 credits in a specified curriculum of courses, some of which will be new classes still in development for this program.
The first students will be able to enroll in the program in the upcoming fall semester.
“We know the university has a wealth of incredibly talented young artists, musicians, writers, and designers,” said William Bottom, Joyce and Howard Wood Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and chair of the BSBA curriculum committee. “By providing them with a basic understanding of business and some critical skills, we can prepare them to excel in their fast-changing and supremely competitive fields.”
Ritholz’s donation will support creating new courses, offering experiential learning opportunities in the arts and design, providing scholarship funding and internship stipends, and paying for faculty members to teach and publicize the program.
“We always knew that when we had the means to give back, we would do that,” said Ritholz, who was honored last week with Olin’s Distinguished Alumni Award. “Being able to be philanthropic has always been an important goal for my wife and me.”
Ritholz, an equity partner at New York City-based hedge fund Elliott Management Corporation, has for many years funded scholarships for Olin students and remains in regular contact as an adviser and mentor for some past recipients of the Richard and Linda Ritholz Scholarship. When he decided he was in a position to do more, he reached out to discuss ideas with Dean Taylor and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.
One source of inspiration was the experience his daughter Madeleine, BSBA ’20, had when she first began as a fashion design major at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. While enriched by her experience, she last fall decided she needed a stronger business background to succeed in design. She swapped her major to business and now minors in fashion design.
Ritholz said the dean’s deep love for the arts gave him comfort that the program would be in good hands when it launches. Taylor is a Shakespearean scholar and holds a master’s degree in English literature from Liverpool University.
“I know this is an area where the dean has a particular interest,” Ritholz said “I’m very confident he’s going to be sure to do what it takes to make it work.”
Taylor said the program fits well into Olin’s strategic plan, with opportunities to give students global experiences, study abroad opportunities, and chances for experiential learning. New courses specifically targeted at the arts are in the planning stages and will combine with existing courses such as “Thinking Creatively and Leading Creative Teams” and “Economics of Entertainment.”
“Creating a minor in the business of the arts at this time in our history would send a powerful message that Olin is on the move, preparing our students to think critically and act boldly to meet the challenges of 21st century business,” Taylor said.