On campus beat: UMD blends liberal arts with entrepreneurship

  • Article by: Maura lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • September 25, 2013 - 6:07 PM


It must be a sign of the times: Now, even liberal-arts professors are talking about partnering with the “business community.”

Michael Mullins, who teaches German at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has created a new major called “Cultural Entrepreneurship,” which is trying to marry the worlds of business and the humanities.

Basically, he said, it’s a way to teach artists and other right-brain students how to turn their creativity into business opportunities.

At a time when people are questioning the value of a liberal-arts degree, he says, this can be “a game changer.”

Mullins said that although this is the first of its kind in the country, it was inspired by similar programs in Europe. There’s a recognition, he said, that “creatively thinking students” can be the driving force behind a lot of small businesses, from eco-tourism to jewelry design to filmmaking. But “they have no idea how to position themselves in today’s market,” he said. “So that’s one of the things that we’re addressing.”

The students will take a series of online business courses, such as finance, marketing and accounting, along with classic liberal-arts subjects. And to make sure they have a global perspective, everyone will have to take two foreign languages.

Aparna Katre, a former management instructor who now teaches cultural entrepreneurship at UMD, said the timing is right. Up to now, many artistic ventures have been supported by nonprofits, but that money is drying up. “The question is, how can you swing the pendulum more toward having market-driven approaches?” she said.

In her first class of 34 students, most say “they want to do something in the arts sector,” she said. “Eighty percent of the class said that they really want to learn more about business.”

Mullins said he’s working with the Chamber of Commerce and an advisory board from the business world to help shape the program and to promote internships for the would-be entrepreneurs.

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