What happened in the entrepreneurial laboratory of San Miniato

- Or how to write about living experiences during three weeks.

- Or a try out to do an ontological verbalism of something meaningful.


In July 2019 a group of teachers and researchers from 6 European performing art schools invited 34 students and graduates to join a three-week long working laboratory within the field of artistic entrepreneurship. The lab happened in the Italian city San Miniato and is the main event of the two-year long ERASMUS+ project “Entrepreneurial Challenges in Theatre Higher Education Curricula”. Six partner schools have attended the project since 2017 and at its core it is seen a research project. And so became the stay in San Miniato.


School has its roots in the Greek skhole. Originally the word was connected to the word “leisure”, which evolved into a “place for discussion”. Leisure means “free time” and some of the synonyms of free time is

Breathing space
Peace Recreation
Diversion Distraction
Fun Games

Did we make the contours of a future international performing art school in San Miniato?
Did we create a community of practice?
Did we experience to tune in (to) each other in a togetherness of work and creativity?
Did we find a balance between the individual and the common journeys?

Maybe it is not interesting to answer yes or no to these questions? Maybe it is more interesting to find out aspects of what went on, what kind of structures we tried out, what kind of different emotions and creations were made and what kind of future potentials the experiment emerged?

On the following pages I will try to put into words some of my professional and personal learning moments of San Miniato entrepreneurial lab 2019.


The core group of teachers and researchers in this project have worked together for about two years. We are in different ways connected to our national institutions. Together we represent an enormous amount of experiences and knowledge when it comes to designing learning spaces ad teaching programmes, mastering curricula and choosing the content of teaching in higher performance education. Along the way we got more and more convinced that the time we had in San Miniato was precious and a time for us to show that the French word oser (to dare) was really a key word for the whole research project.

Instead of designing the whole stay in advance, we invented a managing tool called Time Table. In short it consists of a large piece of paper on the wall, arranged into different workspaces (very large room, large room, small room) and two fixed pauses (lunch and dinner).

The core group of teachers had already brought a bunch of workshops to the table, because we had tried out different workshop types during the last 6 months before going to Italy.These workshops created the first content of the Time Table but from the very beginning we asked the students and graduate to contribute to the Time Table with workshops and offers. Every day at five the whole group of participants - that we decided to call researchers - sat down and created the next working day. Step by step we took all the workshop suggestions(written on small pieces of paper with theme and numbers of participants) and negotiated about where to put these workshops for the next day. When the day was planned, we all got up at wrote our names on the workshops or sessions that we wanted to attend. Sometimes this creating Time Table – sessions took 15 minutes, sometimes they took 40 minutes, but we all stayed until the next day emerged in front of us.

What did this planning tool do? It definitely created a feeling of togetherness and common responsibility for the leaning space. It also created a more flat structure in terms of how we as a community looked at each other. Being aware of the fact that the emotions and experiences rising from the time table structure were not the same for everyone, I still have the feeling that this way of working gives a lot of new possibilities for inventing new workspaces, workshops, sessions, material, relationships and actions. The Time Table formed a basic structure for a community of practice that little by little was shaped by us all. Let us look into that term for a short while.

Community of practice – in practice

The learning theorist Etienne Wenger has evolved the term community of practice throughout his academic career. Wenger describes communities of practice as

“groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

The learning that takes place is not necessarily intentional. Three components are required in order to be a community of practice: The domain, the community and the practice. Wenger describes the three components as such:

The domain: members are brought together by a learning need they share (whether this shared learning need is explicit or not and whether learning is the motivation for their coming together or a by-product of it)

The community: their collective learning becomes a bond among them over time(experienced in various ways and thus not a source of homogeneity)

The practice: their interactions produce resources that affect their practice (whether they engage in actual practice together or separately)

A community of practice also defines itself along three dimensions:

What it is about: its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members

How it functions: the relationships of mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity

What capability it has produced: the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.

(Wenger: Community of practice – learning as a social system, in Systems Thinker)

Having read these different aspects of the term, it is possible to see the San Miniato laboratory as a community of practice. A huge part of being a community of practice is the urge to share both experiences and knowledge and to help each other unfolding potentials regardless of roles and labels. In both concrete and abstract ways the sharing, the helping and the unfolding became general principals in the entrepreneurial laboratory. And even though there were conflicts, frictions, out bursting groups, disagreements and disharmonies the acts of sharing,helping and unfolding potentials continued to be the largest part of the community of practice.

For Wenger there are two essential elements in a community of practice and how we negotiate meaning: Reification and participation. These two elements also became essential for the participants in San Miniato. Reification means to treat something immaterial – for instance love or fear – as a material thing to make it easier to comprehend. The Time Table is possible to see as a reification of very complex immaterial stuff like: self-efficacy, courage, curiosity, togetherness and artistic entrepreneurship.

Wenger writes about the other essential element participation:

"Communities of practice usually involve multiple levels of participation, as do most social learning spaces. Because involvement can produce learning in multiple ways and the domain has different levels of relevance to different people, the boundaries of a community of practice are more flexible than those of organizational units or teams." (www.wenger-trayner.com)

Further on he helps us defining typical categories of participation in the community of practice:

Core group: a relatively small group of people whose passion and engagement energize and nurture the community

Active participants: members who are recognized as practitioners and define the community (though they may not be of one mind as to what the community is about)

Occasional participants: members who only participate when the topic is of special interest,when they have some specific to contribute, or when they are involved in a project related to the domain of the community

Peripheral participants: people who have a sustained connection to the community, but with less engagement and authority, either because they are still newcomers or because they do not have as much personal commitment to the practice. These people may be active elsewhere and carry the learning to these places. They may experience the community as a network

Transactional participants: outsiders who interact with the community occasionally without being members themselves, to receive or provide a service or to gain access to artefacts produced by the community, such as its publications, its website, or its tools
It is interesting how these different levels of participation were all at stake in San Miniato, as I see it, and it is interesting to bare in mind the words from Wenger that has to do with the importance of “movements across levels”. In most community of practices there are a flow of people and knowledge between the levels of participants, and in our community of practice there were also different kind of movements across levels during the three weeks. Baring in mind the importance of this movement, it maybe could be interesting for the core group of the ERASMUS + project to invite new participants to help us look into the future.


"Exister, c’est oser se jeter dans le monde" (Simone de Beauvoir)

Since the beginning of this project and long before we gathered in San Miniato, the term entrepreneurship has caused the core group of teachers and researchers a lot of wonderful trouble. It makes sense because it is a term with strong connotations and meanings towards business, growth, financial risks and profit. For many people in artistic fields these words are the opposite of artistic freedom, independency, choices and necessity. Along the way the core group discussed and “massaged” the term and its various contents and at some point we started connecting the term to words like

• Autonomy
• Empathy
• Intuition
• Potential
• Self confidence
• Expansion
• Identities
• Courage
• Disruption

Looking at the possible values and meanings of these words we can investigate more freely what entrepreneurship might be in an artistic field. Being entrepreneurial can be seen as being able to approach opportunities in various ways. In literature about artistic entrepreneurship it is often stretched that the entrepreneur has to be able to both discover and predict opportunities and to create opportunities – meaning being able to create new realities.

Especially the competences within creating (co-creating) opportunities and new realities are important in a world of political instability, capitalistic logics and right wing politicians claiming to bear the true cultural and artistic values. Therefore the entrepreneurial focus in the art schools should be to strengthen the student’s competences within expanding their fields of opportunities relying on their artistic skills and heart. We are obliged to help our students to investigate in questions like:

How agile are you?

What does it mean to have a free entrepreneurial spirit?

What does it mean to lead a sustainable artistic life?

How do we redefine terms like success, work and values?

What we have found out during this two-year project and especially in our laboratory in San Miniato is that entrepreneurship within the field of performing arts is connected to creating values in a much broader sense than the economical path suggests. We have to DARE to provide dialogues about togetherness, communities, courage, autonomy, empathy, flexibility,self-efficacy, risk taking, co-creation and liberty. Together with our students. Together.

Entrepreneurship within the field of performing arts has to do with strengthening our trust in action, reflecting upon our own and other people’s practises, traversing and challenging our own ways of thinking and working and expanding our needs of creating new communities of practices.


In the beginning of this text I refer to the root of the word “school”. For me San Miniato became a version of a free space and a free time for learning and growing. It became a version of a workspace with

Time to explore
Time to do research
Time to search
Time to be in doubt
Time to disagree
Time to negotiate
Time to make compromises
Time to choose

The different European schools of performing art that are involved in this ERASMUS+ project are autonomous, tradition based, national school that, in a way, are independent of each other. But....

What if the performing school of tomorrow is an international, collaborative, Do-it-with-others,participatory, transdiciplinary, dialogical school?

What if the performing school of tomorrow is a workspace for artistic researchers of different ages, generations, nationalities, points of views, professions, gender and tastes?

What if the performing school of tomorrow is a workspace for mixing up formats, ways of learning, ways of producing and ways of creating?

What if the performing school of tomorrow is a workspace for shared experiences and useful inconsistency?

What if the performing school of tomorrow is a workspace of freedom to fail because it is a laboratory - a room-room for experiments without judging?

What if the performing school of tomorrow is a room-room for stumbling and working together towards common goals even if we do not clearly know the goals in the beginning?

What if the performing school of tomorrow is a space for gaps, recognitions and artistic research?


I believe in a European future international school of performing art that could take place each year and be seen as a supplement to the national schools. A residency for developing artistic communities of practice, artistic research, new formats of art, new ways of producing,new ways of thinking about performing art products and new ways of being sustainable in life.

I believe that this ERASMUS+ project has all the potentials to grow in new directions and blossom even further than the project period and the formal closure in October 2019. Ibelieve that we need to help each other in new trans European manifestations of what we find important: A world with access to artistic learning and working, artistic events, artistic rooms,artistic stories, artistic growth. The three weeks of laboratory in San Miniato became the configuration of the core group’s ambitions during two years. The next steps are already being taken as I write by the San Miniato community of practice, now spread all over Europe.The international school of tomorrow is not an illusion. It is a Utopia for realists and it is doable.

/by Rikke Heinsen, teacher and artistic researcher and a realistic dreamer.