So How Do You DO The Creative Economy, Anyway? (Hint: It’s A Process)

Posted by Ms. Anne Katz, Apr 15, 2016 0 comments

There are many ways to advocate for access to creative opportunities and investment in the arts as integral to economic, educational and civic success.

Some of the most important partners in this effort, in these changing and exciting times, are local governments and the economic development sector. Local officials, economic development professionals, and civic leaders are concerned with economic vitality, education for the 21st century, healthy, vibrant communities, and engaged residents. Those are arts issues in every way. As Wisconsin’s community cultural development organization, Arts Wisconsin is strategically and proactively involved in civic policy, planning and programming, working at the intersection of the creative workforce, industries and communities. Our partners now include statewide civic organizations including the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Wisconsin Economic Development Association, Wisconsin Main Street Program, and the Wisconsin Downtown Action Council. We all care about our state’s future.

Advocacy and education are key. As I work with local elected leaders and economic development professionals around the state, I am often asked, “We want to do some creative economy stuff in our city/town/village, so can you tell us how to do it?” (And the subtext usually is, “How do we do it quickly, without spending any money, and without having to change anything?” J)

We all want the magic answer, but there’s no one “solution.” Change is constant and the work on the ground doesn’t stop. Creativity, imagination, innovation, and entrepreneurship is what we are all looking for, from the small town mayor to the school superintendent to the self-employed artist. Like any development strategy, what’s needed are coordinated, pro-active strategies at all levels to capitalize on and invest in community assets and provide pathways to growth and stability:

  1. Focus on a community’s assets–human, financial, social, economic, educational—while addressing issues and challenges. Support an asset-based community development mindset.  
  2. Support a mindset and programs that welcome a multi-cultural, diverse mix of creative people. A rich and ever-evolving mix of income levels, backgrounds, and perspectives enlivens the city. A really creative city must recognize and take action on the idea that diversity is what the 21st century is all about. Everyone in a community, regardless of income level, background, or perspective, can bring their creativity to the table and should be able to participate in the creative economy and all that the community has to offer.
  3. Prioritize access to the arts—and everything else—for all. Any place can and should be recognized for its creative economy if the arts and creativity are available for everyone in the community. There must be a diversity of arts opportunities in the community so that everyone can participate in some way, not just those who can afford the price of a ticket.
  4. Arts integrated into education for all students in the public schools is key. All kids deserve and need the arts in the learning process, to help them express themselves and gain the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century world and workforce. It’s especially important to include the arts and creativity in education in public schools, since school is often the only place many kids get to participate in the arts. Global research and practice show that students with high levels of arts participation outperform other students on virtually every measure from standardized tests to community participation, and that learning through the arts has a significant effect on learning in other areas, particularly in the early years. It’s all about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).
  5. The arts are not separate from everything else going on in a community. It’s not like only some people are artists and others are not. There’s creativity everywhere and in every person, whether they are an artist or not.  Creative collaborations, imaginative processes, innovative, thinking and entrepreneurship, connecting arts/business, arts/education, arts/environment, arts/recreation, arts/food, arts/civic issues…the arts and creativity can and should be part of every project, program, organization and effort happening locally and beyond. Partnerships do take work–but community involvement and engagement is the only way to move forward.
  6. Creative economy growth needs leadership: local elected officials and civic leaders who are visible, pro-active, enthusiastic champions of the arts. By the way, if you really want to make change, don’t wait for someone else to do it - run for office on the local level. 
  7. Support investment in arts infrastructure–sure, we need investment in buildings, but what we really need is investment in organizational and leadership infrastructure. Creative people in all sectors will always do a lot with a little, but ongoing human, organizational and financial resources must be available to make things happen.
  8. A creative place is built, nurtured and sustained through a great quality of life—a vibrant street life, arts, food, libraries, parks and other public spaces, local radio stations, museums, bikeways that everyone can enjoy. 
  9. Change and success take time. Hard work, relentless optimism, a can-do spirit, collaboration, vision…those are the keys to success. And never giving up.

Creative economy development is a process that requires a constant evolution of systems and mindsets. Investment in the arts and creativity is a clear path for growth and success. Access to the arts for all, economic and educational opportunities, and vibrant communities require an ecosystem of support, partnership, and advocacy to keep moving forward. We’re all advocates for the cause.

Note: Google “creative economy” and “creative industries” and there will be more links than you can imagine.  Here are a few to check out.

Anne is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.

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