Can Museum Incubators Launch the Next Generation of Creatives?

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, June 25th, 2015

NEW INC museum incubator workspace

As the business world becomes more diversified and tech-driven, people with creative talent have more employment opportunities than ever before. Creative minds are being drawn to app design, the tech world, internal innovation teams, and much more. Cultural institutions like museums also rely on creative innovators to push the envelope on their exhibits, expand our collective knowledge, and create memorable guest experiences. One approach to drawing people into the museum world is being pioneered through an incubator started at The New Museum on the Bowery.

NEW INC, one of the first museum-led incubators, is a shared workspace and professional development program designed to support creative practitioners working in the areas of art, technology, and design. The non-profit initiative launched in September 2014 and today hosts a selective group of cross-disciplinary participants focused on creating new art and new ideas.

The New Museum NYC

As the program outlines, “Creatives today are working in unique ways that are cross-disciplinary, collaborative, leveraging technology, and increasingly straddling the line between culture and commerce. Because they are exploring new modes of cultural production, the professional landscape in which they work is still undefined, and few resources and systems exist to support these enterprises or to address the unique challenges they are encountering. NEW INC offers a lab-like environment and framework for the development of new ideas, practices and models in the pursuit of innovation.”

In practice, members receive twelve months of support in a format that is similar to traditional “for-profit entrepreneurial incubators.” The program offers desk space in their 231 Bowery Street building, shared office resources, events, professional development programming and access to a network of mentors. They also get to interact with museum staff, Artists-in-Residence and other like-minded partners in the area.

NEW INC museum incubator

The museum staff said in an interview that “our programs and projects extend beyond the walls of the Museum and into the broader sphere of culture and include re-visioning the role of the Museum. We believe museums have to think about themselves differently in the twenty-first century.”

The theory underlining this project is critically important to museums and similar organizations that are reimagining their roles in the community because simply being a repository of artifacts and artwork isn’t enough. Facilitating the development of new ideas may be an essential piece of their growing list of contributions.

Many have wondered whether NYC needs another incubator but that isn’t the right question. No one else is focused on the intersection of art, design and technology. In reality, the program is viewed more as a cross between a business incubator and an artist-in-residence program.

The program has a fairly rigorous application process and members are required to pay an entrance fee to become part of the program, which aids in the financial sustainability of the incubator.

Rhizome

Some of the early anchor tenants include Rhizome, a primarily internet-based organization that runs programs to support artists working at the furthest reaches of technological experimentation and those working on issues around the political implications of new tools and media. Another is StudioX, an initiative at Columbia that is working on new ideas and innovations related to the future of cities. A random cross section of other members reveals a company working on simplifying media-rich web experiences, performance artists, a group of information designers focused on museums and experiments on ways to apply animation to the physical environment.

Museums that are competing for the best talent, as well as for a relevant way to make a contribution in their communities, should consider the NEW INC business model. Depending on a museum’s focus and long-term goals, finding a way to leverage its platform to support art, new idea generation, scholarship, or entrepreneurship can make an immeasurable impact. There are larger questions based around how to focus the incubator, how it should be run, what services need to be offered, and what a sustainable model looks like. But one thing is for sure: NEW INC is pointing a new way forward for museums thinking about how they want to grow and change over time.

Images sourced courtesy of Musee, The Real Creators Project, The New Museum, NEW INC

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