The Creativity and Commerce Conundrum (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by John Eger, May 30, 2013 4 comments

John Eger John Eger

Business in America knows well that we have entered the Age of Innovation. This became evident to attendees putting together a California "Blueprint for Creative Schools" meeting in Fresno California recently.

Business knows too, that creativity leads to innovation and that, understandably, we need to find a way to nurture creativity and attract the creative worker--across town, across the nation or using H1B visas for young people in other countries. As Randy Cohen of the Americans for the Arts has argued--and The Conference Board, and studies by IBM have found--"the arts build the 21st Century workforce."

What is still not yet clear is whether the role of the arts and art integration is perceived by the business sector as the most legitimate method to foster creativity. Yes, business says, the arts are nice but are they really necessary?

Business isn't stupid or's just that they don't always see the connections. Or maybe they do but don't have the time to hear all the rhetoric about how important the arts are. Or maybe, because of the quarter-to-quarter pressures, are not yet willing to invest in programs that will deliver a more sophisticated workforce with the new thinking skills in the decade that follows. Maybe it's all too long range.

More to the point, maybe artists and educators are not yet talking the talk.

They are not saying what business needs to hear to get them fully engaged in the struggle to put arts back into the formula; and to push for STEAM not just STEM education.

It time we acknowledge that it isn't the arts per se. It's about creativity that leads to innovation. It's about teaching creativity, not just performance in a given discipline like acting or painting or making jewelry.

For those in education and the arts, we start at a disadvantage.

Richard Deasy, former director of the Arts Education Partnership, once complained that "the fundamental problem we confront in making the arts an unquestioned part of the learning required of students and teachers is the position of the arts in the broader culture." Deasy suggested what's most valued in America is "muscularity" or toughness. The math and science curricula carry with them this sense of muscularity through their inherent formulas, truisms and theories. By comparison, the arts experience seems less tough, softer, more anecdotal.

As one committee, chaired by Anne Bown-Crawford, Director of the Arcata Arts Institute, agreed, there seems a need to change the vocabulary of the educational establishment, change the lenses in the camera, and in the process awaken to the competitive demands of this new age.

"You can study music, dance, narrative storytelling, and art making scientifically, and you can conclude that, yes, they're deeply biologically driven, they're essential to our species, but there would still be something missing," David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University says, "and that thing is an appreciation for the work itself, a true understanding of its meaning in its culture and context."

As a whole new economy based upon creativity and innovation emerges, the importance of reinventing business strategies, corporations, communities, schools, and more is critical. Nothing can remain the same if we are to survive, let alone succeed, in this new global, knowledge-based economy.

At the annual conference of American for the Arts last year, all the talk was about creativity but it was a halfhearted attempt just to appease the philanthropic community. It also narrowly centered on the so-called creative industries (film, television, graphic design, publishing, etc.), which ignores the fact that most businesses -- at least as The Conference Board and IBM (who also did a major study on the subject) -- define it more broadly. To them, the creative economy includes all businesses not just those that are directly associated with the arts.

Lets not simply talk about the arts. Let's talk about creativity.

And lets be specific too. The creative economy has become much larger, even more important than arts-based enterprises, and it is a missed opportunity not to recognize the vital role of the arts and importantly, arts integration and the vital connections between art and culture, creativity and commerce to the future of the country.

(This post, originally published on, is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

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4 responses for The Creativity and Commerce Conundrum (from The pARTnership Movement)


May 31, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Thank you Christine,,,,the California CREATE folks are thinking about 'rebranding" but few other states are doing so.keep up mall the good work!

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Ms. Christine Harris says
May 30, 2013 at 9:26 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with this posting. Thank you, John. Instead of leading the way, the arts community has really been behind the eightball on linking the arts and creativity. We can't keep using the same language and arguments that have not moved the needle for decades and expect the rest of the community to 'just get it'. There is so much entitlement and expectation from the arts community that our role is sacred that we have missed the beginning of the creativity conversation. We should be looking at identifying the wide range of creative assets that exist in our arts organizations beyond performing or K-12 education (i.e. each individual artist is his/her own creative asset and can be delivering something else creatively on behalf of the arts organization); and we should be reframing the conversation from arts education to creative education. Until we do, we will continue to be perceived as we have always been perceived - as a 'nice to have', a quality of life resource that is expendable when times get tough.

As the lead researcher in the National Creativity Network's NEA research profiling of how our creative economy is being defined nationally, and the founder of Creative Alliance Milwaukee, I can tell you that there is substance to the creative economy including the arts. But all too often the nonprofit arts are 'frozen' out of strategizing the development of the creative economy because they haven't figured out a way to join the creativity conversation outside of their own mind set. That has been a real pity.

Fortunately, we haven't missed the opportunity. There is still time to carve out and reframe our arts organizations as engines and facilitators of creativity on behalf of the entire community. But, we need to act quickly.

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June 05, 2013 at 11:47 am

We at National Corporate Theatre Fund completely agree with John's assessment that arts education needs to be positioned to corporations as a workforce skill, not a prelude to a professional arts career, as important as that is for our art forms. A speaker at last fall's Arts Education Partnership Conference said that one thing missing in the arts education movement is corporate engagement, which has actually been critical to other social change movements, especially in the equal rights spheres. We are doing what we can, check out, and it's great to find support like this. Thank you.

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June 05, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Thx for your comment.Great Site BTW.

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