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We’ve all heard of starving artists, but starving MBAs? Those two words have probably never been uttered together in the history of the English language. The average base salary of MBA-holders is about $100,000. In other words, most MBAs are eating pretty well. So what does one group have to do with the other?

A new branch of business degrees has opened up, incorporating into the education an area that traditionally has been overlooked for having little value in the business world: creativity. Most of these MFA-MBA and MBA-MA programs and their ilk are intended to give ladder-climbing company men and women a different perspective on business. As one student told U.S. News & World Report, “Oftentimes in business, people sit around boardrooms having high-level conversations, and every single person around the table has a different vision of what is being talked about. [Artists] have a unique way of very quickly sketching out [what they're] talking about.”

As an artist — be it a painter, sculptor, actor, dancer, or filmmaker — you probably already have your own unique way of looking at the world. However, like many creatives, you might also be under the mistaken impression that you’ll somehow lose your artistic cred if you “sell out” by actually making a decent living off your work. Allow us to dissuade you of that notion while introducing you to some of these programs that can help you do what you love and still make a profit, or that can open up new business opportunities for a person with a creative bent.

Why B-Schools are Embracing the Arts

In the wake of the financial crisis — the blame for which some placed at the feet of business schools for their failure to develop their graduates’ ethics and critical thinking skills — many colleges have become much more open to the idea of teaching a more diverse range of subjects. At the undergraduate level, liberal arts have already made significant inroads into the curriculum. For example, Augustana College business administration majors who study abroad take courses on literature, art history, and more. Business students at Bentley University can double major in liberal studies.

The other major reason for the paradigm shift is that in the new economy, creativity is in high demand. A thorough IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs across 60 countries and 33 industries that was released in 2010 found that the organizational trait most believed to get companies through increased volatility and complex challenges in the business world is creativity. At the time, not even half the respondents felt their organizations housed enough creativity they will need to be successful in the coming years. Clearly a huge demand exists for employees who can think outside the box and help businesses innovate.

Design MBA

It would be hard to find a better home for an MBA designed to foster innovation than Silicon Valley. Here at the California College of the Arts, one of the longest-running creative MBA programs has been offered. The school’s MBA in Design Strategy takes a creative approach to business education, training students to produce not just new products and services but entire business models that embrace sustainability and positive societal impact. Students at the San Francisco campus have access to the well-stocked CCA design studio complete with 3D printers, digital media editing equipment, and more.

The Maryland Institute College of Art is a recent entrant to the artistic MBA arena. In a partnership with the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University, the school began offering an MBA/MA program in Design Leadership in Fall 2012 that is similar to the CCA program in many respects. Students apply the principles successful designers use to commercial leadership situations. Of the two programs, MICA’s seems to more strongly embrace the artistic aspect, proudly stating on its website that “creative individuals” are the inspiration for the principles taught in the program.

Though it doesn’t offer degrees, Stanford’s D.School — a.k.a the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design — actually preempted both CCA and MICA, having been founded in 2005. Its courses are wildly popular with students in majors across the spectrum at the school and have names like “Rebooting Government with Design Thinking” and “SparkTruck: Designing Mobile Interventions for Education.” Those who don’t live near the playground-esque space are still able to get at least a crash course in design thinking by watching the aptly named Virtual Crash Course” online.


For a degree that is a true marriage of art and industry, there’s the MBA/MFA dual degree. Those that aren’t happy lending just their creativity to the corporate world and who are set on a career in the arts will be more interested in these programs. One excellent choice is the dual degree program at NYU Stern School of Business. Teaming with the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at the Tisch School of the Arts, the program aims to “bridge the gap between the ‘creatives’ and the ‘suits.’ Over three years, students receive instruction in filmmaking, from both the creative side and the business side. Before you get too excited, however, we should warn you: there are only slots for about five students each year.

Luckily, there are a handful of programs that are a little more accessible. Chapman University in California offers a three-year MBA/MFA in Film and Television Producing. Yale University allows its MBA students to combine a number of subjects into a dual-degree MBA, including an MFA through the School of Drama. California State University Long Beach offers a similar MBA/MFA for those interested in a career related to theater, from roles in arts service and performing arts organizations to government.


Because MFA programs can be difficult to get into, and usually take longer to complete, a master of arts coupled with an MBA can be another route to take. An MA also allows artistic students to focus on their particular medium of interest and hone their skills. At the University of Colorado Boulder, students have the option of pursuing either an MBA/MA or an MBA/MFA through a partnership between the Leeds School of Business and the Department of Art and Art History. As with every dual degree program we’ve mentioned, applicants must be accepted into both programs separately to be admitted.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, one of the finest MBA schools in the country, also offers an MBA/MA in International Studies. The Lauder Program takes only two years to complete and includes a two-month immersive trip during the summer to a country that corresponds to the language the student has been studying. Johns Hopkins offers similar MBA/MA programs for a master of arts in government or communication. The latter instructs students in new media for positions in advertising, PR, organizational development, and more.

Business Resources

Should you decide to forego an MBA, you would still benefit greatly by learning all you can about the business side of fine arts. In many cases, there are free resources on the Web that are every bit as helpful as what you might find in a classroom. Here are a few to check out:

  • Marketing – There are tons of places to find marketing help on the Internet, but one of our favorites is Check it regularly to stay informed on competitions, promotional tools, public art opportunities, and even the site’s own virtual gallery.
  • Financial support – In the beginning of your art career, it will be necessary to take time to develop your skills through education and time devoted to your art. The National Art Education Association offers places to find scholarships, grants, and other funding opportunities so you can focus on your work.
  • Networking – Some have said the most valuable part of getting an MBA is the contacts you make. To make up for those lost connections, consider becoming a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education. It offers online tools, chapter meetings, conferences, special interest groups, and other ways for aspiring artists to meet people who will help them develop skills and do business.
  • Contracts – explains the different types of gallery agreements and gives you a sample contract to reference.
  • Internships – Professionals working in creative fields share their tips and comments on landing and maximizing an internship in the arts.
  • Taxes – Although most art types don’t love math, paying less in taxes is very helpful for aspiring artists. Legal help site NOLO fills you in on valuable deductions you can take advantage of as a professional artist.
  • Legal help – Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts offers a legal help hotline, in-house appointments, and even pro bono representation for low-income artists.
  • Technology – Technology in the Arts is an open online resource provided through the master of arts management program at Carnegie Mellon University. You’ll find articles, publications, and a podcast on the latest uses of technology in art.
  • Internships II – An L.A. theater group manager shares her insights for securing either an arts internship or entry-level job.
  • General art business – Former project management consultant and current successful artist Ann Rea shares her insights on copyright, marketing, pricing, and more. She’s even developing an online MBA course set to launch in 2013.