Creativity and commercial riches can be natural bedfellows - as a new course shows

For a lucky few, the muse is a passport to adulation, but to many artists the idea of earning a decent crust is a pipe dream. But hope is at hand for all those attic painters, struggling musicians, and undiscovered novelists.

An MA in creative entrepreneurship - the first of its kind in the UK - is being launched this autumn by the University of East Anglia, home to some of the country's most prestigious arts postgraduate courses. The faculty, which spawned the late Malcolm Bradbury's celebrated creative writing MA and boasts alumni ranging from Ian McEwan to This Life actor Jack Davenport, hopes the new programme will give artists of all hues the practical know-how to make a living.

"Our aim is to enable artists to build a creative career," explains Ian Chance, the course's director. "Until now, the term entrepreneurship has almost exclusively been applied to the area of wealth creation, but it shouldn't be subject to that narrow definition. Artists often exhibit the skills we look for in entrepreneurs, like self-reliance, risk management and innovation. Historically, we've been blinded by the genius of Shakespeare, but forget the fact he was also a brilliant entrepreneur."

Lest mention of the word "entrepreneurship" puts off artists wary of tainting the purity of their vision, Chance stresses the course is not about turning art into big business. Rather, it will attempt to demonstrate that it is still possible for those with talent and determination to build sustainable artistic careers, even if bigger prizes and commissions elude them.

"There's an attitude out there which suggests that being an artist isn't a proper job, but I'd like to say to the artists, 'You have got a proper job'," he says. "There are very few conventional 'vacancies' out there for you to apply for, but how about employing yourself?"

In keeping with certain aspects of the university's creative writing MA, until recently led by Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, and now by novelist Michèle Roberts, the new course will be fiercely vocational.

Work placements and practical seminars will introduce students to the complexities of everything from applying for grants and sponsorship to hiring venues. Among those who have tentatively agreed to lead workshops is the critic Mark Lawson, and at least one will be run by Barclays Bank, which injected £10,000 to kick-start the course. What's more, there will be guidance on how artists can limit the need to compromise their ideas by reducing their dependency on external funding.

As part of their final assessment, students will have to produce personal "artistic plans" outlining the practical steps they will take to achieve their goals in their first few years as working artists.

To ensure the MA offers an experience as hands-on as possible, 20 per cent of it will be delivered in London, where students will have better access to leading professionals in their fields. A number of venues are under consideration, including the splendid 18th-century home of the Royal Society of Arts, designed by Robert Adam.

The first year's intake is limited to 12 students, marginally fewer than are traditionally enrolled on its sister MAs in UEA's faculty of arts and humanities. Entry requirements are flexible, meaning places potentially may be offered to applicants with non-creative undergraduate degrees, provided they demonstrate genuine artistic ability and commitment. Competition is already keen for the £3,000 course, with applications flying in from as far away as the United States and the Far East.

One early applicant is Kate Hodges, 40, a prospective mature student who wants to hone her business skills after struggling to earn her keep as an artist. Kate, a single mother, graduated from Norwich School of Art and Design with a first in sculpture in 2005, and has funded her work since by moonlighting as a chauffeur for Norwich Union.

"I spent the first year after graduating working out what direction I wanted to go in, and I'm now keen to build my business so I can make a living from it," she says. "You don't want to sell your soul to be able to sell your work, but you need to know how to finance it."

Jon Cook, the faculty's professor of literature, says the new course was designed to provide a missing link in its portfolio of creative MAs: "It will give students an opportunity to see whether they can reconcile their artistic integrity with the requirements of making a living."

Further information can be found on the following page of UEA's website: