Finally Time for the Arts to Shine in "The Age of the Creative Economy"?

Posted by Hannah Jacobson, Feb 21, 2012 10 comments

Hannah Jacobson

Delight or die; this is the new paradigm set forth by Steve Denning to adapt to the new creative economy.

In a particularly fickle consumer-centric universe, the increased focus on services as opposed to goods, he says, creates a need for “continuous innovation” and what he terms “radical management.”

This new economy will be David versus the Goliath of the outgoing manufacturing economy, and we all know who ultimately wins that battle---but it will require smarts, innovation, flexibility, a great survival instinct, and a lot of new energy.

Yet for the arts, how “radical” is it really to be focused on services, to continuously innovate to survive, and, perhaps most importantly, to delight audiences? If nothing else, the arts community provides a masterful example of survival in any economy---creative or otherwise.

So the idea of the “creative economy,” a concept that has more disparate definitions than can realistically be explored here---think about the spectrum of understandings that would arise from places as distinct as the United States, Norway, England, Australia, and far beyond---might be relatively new, but creativity in the economy and even creativity as a driver of the economy are functions that the arts have long recognized.

One of the major fights for the arts has been to present the sector as an investment, not a handout.

In FY 2010, the National Endowment for the Arts gave out $139 million to organizations that directly contributed $2.1 billion to their communities. Dollar for dollar, the arts have always been an amazingly productive investment---and, to be frank, pretty cheap, too, for the economic and social benefits they provide.

In an economy that sees industries struggling to radicalize their operations and learn to compete in an increasingly digital world, the arts remain surprisingly steady---and it’s not exactly because everyone has jumped on board with increasing funding.

No, it’s because the arts are fundamentally attuned to engaging audiences in any fiscal climate, and because they are, at their core, tied to that ability far more than they are dependent on specific dollar amounts.

Does money help? Undoubtedly.

Should the arts---which employ 2.99 million people in 756,007 businesses in the country, representing 2.17 percent of all employees and 4.14 percent of all businesses respectively---be seen as a real economic investment? Absolutely.

But for all the talk about a “creative economy,” there is surprisingly little discussion of the ways in which connectivity and engagement can become commodities, wealth that we can trade and in which we can invest.

The arts provide an excellent example, if we let them, of a service industry that has always survived, and sometimes in the face of incredible backlash.

The kind of radical management here cannot be found in a step-by-step manual, but rather in the value added by the services rendered.

It’s true that people can find a great deal more on the internet than they could before, and to compete in that environment will take ingenuity and, in some cases, entirely new ways of providing goods.

The arts are way ahead of us, in that they saw the writing on the wall and began to capitalize on their natural assets of audience engagement and connectivity as successful financial tools: in Ireland, there’s :fund:it; in Sweden, artistically-minded innovators can try FundedByMe; in France, KissKissBankBank, and the evocative Mutuzz; fansnextdoor is for all of Europe, and came from a collective of groups from France, India, and the Philippines; and of course, there is the now nearly-ubiquitous Kickstarter from the US, which inspired many of these crowdsourcing projects.

The list could go on almost ad infinitum, but the essential point here is that the arts, never the darling of tough economic times, have always found ways to utilize the best of what they have to offer to generate the kind of support they so desperately need.

Is it finally the time for the arts to shine, if this is truly "The Age of the Creative Economy?"

My inclination is to enthusiastically assert---sort of.

If the basic premise of this new economy is that survival is based on the ability to delight and engage audiences, well, we’ll be hard pressed to find a more apt industry. Yet I would be careful not to conflate “creative” with the arts per se, and instead see an incredible opportunity for the arts to finally prove the shrewd economic acumen they possess, a skill that many dismiss in “creative types.”

In this new paradigm, it might still be a fight to survive, but the arts are already pros at felling Goliath with every rock they can lay a hand on---and in the creative economy, it will be up to everyone else to catch up.

10 responses for Finally Time for the Arts to Shine in "The Age of the Creative Economy"?


February 23, 2012 at 9:26 am

I champion all artists. Artists are not the problem. The problem is the direction taken by arts advocacy organization and arts organizations that more and more see Art's value in it's economic development potential.
The creation of art, the direct support of art producers is increasingly taking a back seat to the fostering of arts organizations and their health and well being.
The Americans for the Arts extensive report on each states arts economic impact, "The Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts" doesn't contain artists or non-profit economic data, only what Americans for the Arts declares as a "creative industry".
What really is the creative economy is an important question we should be asking, but more importantly who is it that is deciding what the definition is?

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February 23, 2012 at 9:05 am

While you are welcome to share your opinions here on the blog, Hannah did not say that "artists, authors etc. want nothing more in the world than to create work that connects and engages with an overly generalized audience."

I also think you are oversimplifying the creative economy issue. As Hannah notes, "the 'creative economy,' [is] a concept that has more disparate definitions than can realistically be explored here."

I would also argue that some artists, authors, etc. are trying to make art that reaches a very broad audience in order to touch as many as possible even in the smallest way, so as to make a specific statement, promote an internal value, or to simply make people who do not usually appreciate art in life to do so.

I think it's innate in the definition of an artist that the person can produce works on their own terms, for whomever they want, at anytime. It's the artist's choice to be involved in your definition of the "creative economy" or not. It sounds like you would choose not and that's okay.

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Steven Blumenfeld says
February 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Recognizing the economic contributions stemming from the arts is very different from commoditizing it. By highlighting the multifaceted nature of art's value (beauty, education, economy) this article advocates for a more complete understanding of the art's contributions to society at-large. Narrowing the lens to focus only on its economic value or, on the other hand, only on the artist’s intent, would yield an incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of the arts and its contributions (of both the intentional and unintentional varieties).

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February 23, 2012 at 9:35 am

I understand your point better with that clarification and I think Hannah is also asking your last question. Thanks again for adding to conversation.

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February 23, 2012 at 9:59 am


You make an interesting point, and it is one that I think really lies at the heart of the arts environment today. On a personal level, I agree completely that art for art's sake is an entirely appropriate and extraordinarily important component of the world, and I would never want to suggest that I would prefer to see "utility" art; as in, art that is important only because it is "useful" for the economy. That said, I don't really see those two concepts as mutually exclusive. While I personally find art fulfilling and important on its own terms, I am well aware that this is not a view shared by everyone--and I've come to decide that that, in fact, is okay. It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition wherein everyone appreciates art on its purely aesthetic/intellectual level OR art must form its own closed-off community that ONLY welcomes such people. I think that people can engage with art on a variety of levels, and it is my goal to suggest that Art is a large and inclusive enough concept to accept all of them.

Further, I would like to assert that while I do think the arts provide an excellent example of survival in any kind of economy, I am not suggesting that the arts should be used ONLY as a driver of the economy, and should therefore be as generalized as possible. Instead, I am hoping that as the economy grows, develops, and changes, that the arts will receive more of the respect I feel they deserve for their ability to be flexible, creative, and adaptable to any kind of economic circumstance. It is absolutely true that much of the art we now revere was maligned in its own time, but I suppose my point is less about the broad acceptance of specific artistic styles or pieces, and more about our ability to support the arts in all incarnations. I think we would all like to see the arts supported, and I believe that from children's art classes all the way up to cutting-edge artists, from musicians and dancers to actors, producers, and writers, the arts span a huge swath of the population. It is on that level that I say: the arts are important economically BECAUSE they are important to so many people on such a variety of levels, including the art-for-art's-sake position you espouse. Accepting that the arts mean different things to different people--and encouraging people to engage with Art as much as possible--is, I believe, extremely good for Art. And for all of us!

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February 24, 2012 at 8:40 am

Thank you for your reply to my post Hannah. At the risk of monopolizing the thread I want to make one more clarification.

When NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman announce the latest rounds of grant he said that the mission of the NEA is to preserve excellence in the arts and provide access to the arts for all Americans. The original Congressional Bill, signed by President Johnson,seen here on my blog 'Art and Public' states that greatness should be the goal of it's endeavors in the Arts.

Both goals of greatness and excellence can only be achieved if the agencies and programs that are the gatekeepers of the funds are able to converse in the language that defines those goals. Simply saying excellence is a matter of personal taste is not only incorrect, it's not enough.

Ever since the NEA was the victim of a political culture war in the 1980's (which continues to this day) we have seen the the conversation on the quality and purpose of art be shifted to more politically safe and neutered terminology. We don't directly support the art producers of our cultural any longer but rather politically acceptable, economically rationalized projects that involved placemaking and community building.
Last night here in Chicago Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa gave a presentation on their NEA white paper "Creative Placemaking" where Anne Gadwas in response to a question on measuring the artistic success of projects said that she didn't think "aesthetics was that important" to the scope of placemaking projects.

I fear that Mr. Landesman was right when he suggested we have too many arts administrators today. I also fear we have too many arts administrators and arts advocates, well intentioned as they are, that simply are not knowledgeable enough in the history and language of the arts and are buying into overly simplified ideas and generalizations. It may be a individuals right to think about art anyway they choose but it won't bode well for the sustainability of projects or the financial accountability of those projects, if those people lack the tools needed to assess the excellence, the greatness of their choices.

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February 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Good point Tim. How many art organizations or arts advocacy organizations can say they have artists on their boards. My research shows hardly any.

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February 22, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Ever since Richard Florida hi-jacked the term 'creativity' for business use and abuse internet blogs have been inundated with economic pundits, arts administrators and second generation Florida types who all fail in their understanding of what art is really about.
The common mistake is the misunderstanding that "creativity" is simply a brain activity that designers, computer code writers, creative placemakers, painters and playwrights all apply in some generic manner.

This is Florida speak at work where artists, authors, musicians, actors, film makers have been forced into the same family as talent lawyers, baristas, projectionists. And the second misrepresentation that Hannah Jacobson also makes is that artists, authors etc. want nothing more in the world than to create work that connects and engages with an overly generalized audience.

Most of the really great art, art that has had the most lasting and profound effect on us as a people has been art that the general public has, at first, hated. This is because great art, important art, breaks new ground which the average person resists.

Yet today we, the artists, the art producers of this country are being portrayed as some fantasy economic recovery stimulus by community leaders, administrators, and economic developers who think good art is art that improves diversity, rehabs old real estate and makes everybody happy.

This is not good for Art.

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February 24, 2012 at 9:35 am

Assessment is extremely important and it is something the field as a whole -- artists, administrators, grantmakers, etc. -- need to work together on in order to bring change across the board and avoid the pitfalls you mention.

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Samantha says
February 24, 2012 at 6:46 am

There's a new book out called A Vocal AdVocate that talks about how to advocate for your arts programs in schools. It's actually free on friday over at amazon:
What is interesting about this book is that it asserts that while schools want creativity, they don't see the arts classes as vital to that effort. It then goes into how Arts teachers and advocates can have a seat at that table. While creativity and innovation are big hot button words right now, they ways that we achieve that are considerably varied and our Arts teachers need the tools to advocate for their (rightful) position in this movement.

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