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Ready for its Close Up: UMD's Cultural Entrepreneurship Program

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CUE student stands next to her Polaroid project at CUE & A  
Cultural Entrepreneurship student Alicia Hays with her team's "Instantly Innovative" project  

There's only one Cultural Entrepreneurship program in the country, and it's at UMD. On December 11, this ground breaking cohort unveiled the outcome of their first semester in front of a panel of judges at "CUE & A," an event designed to introduce the program to the community.

The class was asked to focus on a cultural issue and propose solutions. It didn't take long for the evening's introductory formalities to step aside for some genuine dialog. "With this weather, your really onto something!" encouraged audience member and Art in the Alley owner Tami LaPole Edmunds. She was reacting to Elizabeth Mund and her group, whose project focused on enhancing a proposed skywalk through Duluth's Temple Opera Block. "The skywalk may alter the integrity of the Orpheum Theatre," explained Elizabeth. "Our solution is to reuse some of the architectural materials from the Orpheum in the skywalk's design."

But entrepreneurs like Elizabeth shouldn't get too attached to a resolution, warns Assistant Professor Aparna Katre, who leads the class, "The passion is what carries the project. Entrepreneurs may or may not find the desired outcome, so they need to have the passion to keep moving forward."

Alicia Hayes is passionate about Polaroid pictures. She vividly remembers her day care lady snapping pictures that she could hold in her little hand, something that made a big impression. "Today you take digital pictures over and over again until you get it right. You couldn't do that with Polaroids. It was authentic, you couldn't take the picture back." Her team's "Instantly Innovative" project laid the groundwork for a business that would import and sell Polaroid film, as well as partner with Duluth's tourism business so that guests could take home pictures of the attractions they visit. Alicia sees both a need and a market for the Polaroid business, "We're capitalizing on the hipster movement, who love all things retro."

Also hoping to tap into hipsters, “Duluth2U,” Jake Wargin and his team’s project that piggybacks on Duluth Mayor Don Ness’ 90 by 20 campaign, an effort to get Duluth’s population up to 90,000 by 2020. “This was kismet to what we’re doing in our Cultural Entrepreneurship class,” reasoned Jake, who personally understands the need for this campaign. He was astounded how few of his metro-area friends knew about Duluth. “One of my friends came to visit me and was surprised that Duluth wasn’t a small town with a main street running through it. They just have no idea what Duluth is like.”

"Duluth2U" project
Jake Wargin and his group's project would help recruit young people to live in Duluth

Here’s how Jake and his team are going to teach them: They would commission Duluth artists to create work in the Twin Cities, producing pieces that represent Duluth’s iconic images. Scan codes and a “Duluth2U” website would help tell the story of the Zenith City.

More and more, Duluth's daily stories are read in the online edition of the Duluth News Tribune, something Christopher Owen and his group hope to reverse through their project focused on preserving the newspaper culture. The group went to the source, interviewing Duluth News Tribune editor Robin Washington and Kevin Abrahamson, the coordinator of the Duluth school district's curriculum and instruction. Through their research, the group's tack became getting newspapers into the hands of students. "Entrepreneurs understand that the key is getting things to a younger audience," says Christopher.

For Christopher and his classmates, CUE & A wrapped up the very first semester of this very new major. They'll continue to build upon what they're learning, using the traditional lessons of business schools with the creative thinking that is most often cultivated in the arts.

More information on UMD's Cultural Entrepreneurship program

CUE students Zach Schilling and Frannie Beraducci present their proposal for Duluth's Temple Opera Block












Story by Lori C. Melton

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