Celebrating female creative entrepreneurship: innovators of the past and present

Amber Massie-Blomfield was identified by the Evening Standard last year as one to watch in a feature spotlighting young female entrepreneurs who, the newspaper proclaimed, would “inspire you to start your own business”.

At the time she was executive director at the iconic Camden People’s Theatre, a community venue renowned for supporting early career artists, actors and performers.

She has since quit that post and is about to release her first book, highlighting 20 weird and wonderful performance spaces you must see before you die. The book is due out in May.

She now describes herself as a creative consultant, producer and freelance writer, contributing regularly to The Stage, national newspapers and other specialist publications. Here, then, is what appears to be a perfect example of a young entrepreneur honing her skills and reputation as an employee before striking out alone to fulfil her ambitions.

Just a quick trawl through her Twitter feed gives me a valuable insight into her identity and beliefs – her pinned post, for example, encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harrassment to drop her a line if she can help (she’s also a trained counsellor).

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Massie-Blomfield is clearly a success in her field, feted enough by her peers in the London arts scene to make it onto this Evening Standard list, for example.

More recently she has been celebrating the release of her book, and its first positive review.

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But what this information doesn’t give me is a sense of whether she can yet be judged a success against the additional criterion of entrepreneurship – making money.

Does an entrepreneur have to be financially profitable to qualify as a success?

According to Leadbetter and Oakley (1999), cultural entrepreneurs are “individuals who are self-employed, freelancers and owners of micro-enterprises or who have a portfolio career and work within the so-called ‘creative industries’.”

The creative, or cultural, industries are those defined by the United Nations as “industries that combine the creation, production and commercialisation of contents which are intangible and cultural in nature; these contents are typically protected by copyright and they can take the form of a good or a service.”

Does Massie-Blomfield also meet the criteria laid out by Chris Bilton (2014) for a successful creative entrepreneur? Does she, for example, learn her business skills on the job, take on ‘projects’, manage risks by small steps, is she involved in both production and distribution, and does she have important networks or clusters?

Entrepreneurship, says Bilton, is “the bridge between the art of innovation and a viable market.”

He cites “five angles” of strategic entrepreneurship that are needed to get good innovations off the ground and into a community: recognition, development, evaluation, elaboration, launch.

Massie-Blomfield has clearly established a degree of expertise and a reputation  in her field through her employment roles and through her writing.

Naudin and Patel (2017) have highlighted how expertise is often a term taken for granted in accounts of cultural work, and there is a great deal of ambiguity around what expertise is.

To be known as an expert in a field, an individual needs to have specialist knowledge and skill, but also the endorsement and approval of others – that’s according to a range of scholars, among them Bassett et al (2013).

History also tells us that creatives can be exceptionally vigorous and feted in their field, without necessarily being entrepreneurial.

On International Women’s Day 2018 (March 8th, 2018) I reflected on the women through time and place that have inspired or influenced me – all of them innovators, but not necessarily all entrepreneurs.

One who definitely fits the template for being both an innovator and a successful entrepreneur is the aviator Amelia Earhart, the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic, and one of my earliest heroes.

Her adventurous spirit and derring-do appealed to my young tomboy self – here was a woman who did boys’ stuff and did it incredibly, risking her life to make her mark.

When, during my teenage political awakening,  I discovered she was also an inspiring supporter of equal rights and a member of the National Woman’s Party fighting for women’s suffrage in the USA, and was a distinguished writer to boot, the deal was sealed. (That she was aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine from 1928-1930 – a made-up job title if ever there was one – makes me particularly gleeful).

She was first and foremost an aviator – but also used her drive and talent to become an entrepreneur.

As a teenager she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.

She later formed The Ninety Nines, a network of female pilots, to provide a sense of sisterhood but also to look to exploit any shared commercial opportunities and to ensure they had a collective voice.

She had been raised, rather unconventionally, by her grandparents and parents together. The family moved around. Her father was a drunk, yet this childhood gave rise to her entrepreneurial spirit.

She tried her hand at a range of ventures, including a photography business, while enjoying a burgeoning interest in flying, and took her first flight aged 23.

“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet [60–90 m] off the ground,” she said, “I knew I had to fly.” After that 10-minute flight (which cost her father $10), she immediately determined to learn to fly.

Earhart became a well known international celebrity during her lifetime and used her fame to make money. She exploited her appeal positively to become not just famous but also successful as an entrepreneur, writing books, attending speaking engagements and putting her name to commercial products and international justice campaigns.

Earhart’s accomplishments in aviation inspired a generation of female aviators; her birth home is now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and is still maintained by the Ninety-Nines.

Bibliography

Leadbeater, C. & Oakley, K. (1999) The Independents, Demos

Bilton, C. (1999) Risky business: The independent production sector in Britain’s creative industries , International Journal of Cultural Policy, 6:1, 17-39

Bilton, C. and Cummings, S. (2014). Handbook of management and creativity. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Naudin, A & Patel, K (2016) Entangled expertise: Women’s use of social media in entrepreneurial work, European Journal of Cultural Studies, pp. 1–17.

Image credit: Amelia Earhart: By Underwood & Underwood (active 1880 – c. 1950)[1] – http://amextbg2.wgbhdigital.org/wgbh/americanexperience/media/uploads/special_features/photo_gallery/amelia_gallery_07.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57938262 

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