Featured The Hustle

Fifteenth Arts Business Competition set for Feb 28, finalists named

Photo of the 2023 finalists by Mats Rudel/UW-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s annual “Shark Tank” style competition for the arts-related businesses returns at the end of the month.

The Arts Business Competition brings student artists from across the university to meld arts, entrepreneurship and building the Madison community through creativity. Three finalists will compete to give pitches in the Arts Businesses Competition’s 15th year running on their ideas to win one of three cash prizes to fund their ventures.

“We’re elevating what the Bolz Center started with the Arts Business Competition,” said Samara Frame, Advancement Manager for UW-Madison’s Division of the Arts. “It’s a whole campuswide initiative to reach out to artists or entrepreneurs who want to explore the arts.”

Frame is excited for her first Arts Business Competition since joining the Division of the Arts team. She watched the video from last year and got to experience one of last year’s projects, but she’s excited to see the pitches and how local artists are “convening,” as Frame likes to describe it, the arts and entrepreneurship together to build community.

This year’s finalists bring a variety of arts disciplines with the intention of strengthening the community.

Finalists will have the chance to win $2,000, $1,000 or $500.

Cornhusk Collective

Giselle Oliva launched the Cornhusk Collective in January 2024. It is a shared space artist collective that aims to support artists, strengthen cultural ties and contribute healing and vitality to the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. The collective is made up of local artists who practice multiple art forms including traditional Indigenous work, hybrid and contemporary styles.

The collective is also in the process of creating collaborative programming between artists and communities aimed at Indigenous youth to teach traditional forms of art like music, production, visuals and more.

Madison Gamer Symphony Orchestra

The Madison Gamer Symphony Orchestra (MGSO), founded by Ben Carlee, aims to bring generations together with high quality symphony performances of video game music. The project sees video game music as intergenerational and resonating with both the “young and the young at heart,” as its website describes it.

The MGSO seeks to be a solution to shrinking audiences of instrumental music performances, like symphony, by capturing a component of multiple generation’s lives growing up with video games and introducing younger generations to the orchestra through their favorite games.

Tufting with Tony

Tufting with Tony, founded by Tony Sansalone, is capitalizing on a textile process that has been growing in popularity on social media. Tufting is a process commonly used for textile production of carpets, rugs and upholstery practiced frequently as an art form in Asia and has gained popularity in Europe the past few years. The process involves knitting into a base with U-shaped loops of extra yarn from the outside so that their ends point inward.

Tufting with Tony wants to raise appreciation for the art form and bring it to the Madison community.

Changes in the future

Last year’s Arts Business Competition saw Ollie DiPietro and Ashley Shaw take home the grand prize of $2,000 with the Big Gay Market. The market is held quarterly for LGBT+ businesses to sell their goods in a space dedicated to them.

At last year’s competition, UW-Madison’s Director of Division of the Arts, Chris Walker, proclaimed his goal to see the competition grow.

Walker said he wanted to see the competition stronger than ever, and in a moment of excitement last year, wanted double the prizes the following year and the year after. The goal is still the same in growing it, but Walker and the Division of the Arts is looking for sustainable growth to increase access, and eventually prizes, at the Arts Business Competition.

“To get there, we have to ramp up to that reality. I wish I was in a position as an individual to turn around all of my ideas in a day, but I recognize so many and it lives long beyond you, you have to treat it like a moving ship,” Walker said. “The turn is slower, the ramp is lower, so the ramp is longer.”

The Division of the Arts spent the last year looking at how it could make the competition stronger. It expanded its team to increase partnerships and make more students aware of it. The Arts Business Competition saw double the entrants this year, Walker said.

Frame was hired to help as an Advancement Manager in November 2023. Previously, Frame worked for the Forward Theater Company. Kayla McGhee was added to the team in July 2023 as an outreach and engagement editor. She previously worked as a youth outreach coordinator for Young Chicago Authors and is project lead on the three year Arts for Everyone, Everywhere initiative funded by the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment.

The two have worked to increase outreach and partnerships with the Arts Business Competition.

One of the partnerships that have been made for this year’s competition is having the CEOs of Tomorrow attend. CEOs of Tomorrow was founded to inspire youth to use entrepreneurship to make the world a better place. Ten teens from CEOs of Tomorrow went to The Gambia for 13 days in August 2023 for a life-transforming experience.

“Accessing young people’s creative ideas and giving them the pathways and processes and tools to innovate those so that they can make better the lives of those around them,” Walker said. “That’s the work. That’s the promise. And I don’t expect that it’s going to be solved in a year, but I’m happy to report that we are very much on the journey to go there.”

The Arts Business Competition will be held Wednesday, February 28 from 3-4:30 p.m. in the Planetary Room at the School of Business, 975 University Ave.

RSVP’s are open on the Arts Business Competition website. There will be no livestream this year.