Monday, September 22, 2014

What's The Creative Economy All About?

Anne Katz, Executive Director, Arts Wisconsin
Far smarter people than me have thought long and hard, and written, about the “creative economy” since the beginning of the 21st century.  At the dawn not only of a new century but a new kind of economy, creativity is becoming recognized worldwide as a desirable asset that can be used for economic, educational and civic benefits and growth.  Locally and globally, we’re at a moment in history where the old economy is fading away (folks, we’re not in a recession any more, we’re in a whole new economy) and the new economy is happening all around us. That means everyone, from economists to politicians to for-profit and non-profit businesspeople to workers trying to make a living, are defining what this new/creative economy means.  

As director of Arts Wisconsin, the state’s arts service, advocacy and development organization working as a catalyst to grow Wisconsin creatively, I run a small non-profit dealing with Wisconsin’s creative life, economy, educational systems, and civic issues.  It’s a big job and one that I feel very passionate about, because I get to work with incredibly creative and interesting people in every corner of the state.

Although I love my job, I imagine you feel the same way I do much of the time - scrambling to catch up to the changes coming at me. In general, the marketplace, funding and support systems, and mindset for economic and community development and engagement, for my business and for every other business out there, are based on the pre-2008 economy.  In order to keep growing and reap the benefits of our creative people, organizations, businesses and communities, our systems and mindsets are changing and must continue to change. 

So one of the questions is - just what do we mean by the creative economy?  

The creative economy is the intersection of the creative workforce, creative industries and creative communities.  That’s a general definition that manifests itself in a lot of different ways.  The creative economy is the musician performing in bands and orchestras, recording his/her own music and send it out into the universe in a lot of different ways.  It’s businesses like Broadjam helping to get that music out there.  It’s nonprofit organizations producing musical works.  It’s communities recognizing and investing in the work of creative people in promotion, economic development efforts, education.
Here are some additional definitions of the creative economy, from around the world:
·         The enterprises and people involved in the production and distribution of goods and services in which the aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional engagement of the consumer gives the product value in the marketplace. (Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Office)
·         …socio-economic potential of activities that trade with creativity, knowledge and information. (British Council)
·         …21st century jobs that move away from the old methods of industrial development (Global Green Growth Institute)

In my work, I get to delve deep into Wisconsin’s creative economy, on all levels.  I’ve spent nearly 20 years traveling around Wisconsin as an activist, educator, and facilitator for the arts and creativity. I can tell you that there’s a lot of creativity on the local level throughout the state.  Right here, right now, creative programs, projects and institutions are making a difference in their communities.  It’s an interesting and exciting time, full of anxieties and opportunities.

I’m not at all a fan of the term “creative class.”  Although it’s become popular shorthand for the most desired kind of creative economy development, it only focuses on one segment of the creative sector.  Arts Wisconsin encourages more inclusive terms to keep the community vibrant and interesting for young people, families, and creative people of all types.  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. 

Every mayor, city council member, and economic development leader wants to know how to make their community known as a creative place.  Well, it’s not like there’s a magic wand you can wave to overcome those obstacles and voila! – you’re a creative place, and will stay that way forever.  A creative community happens and keeps going over time, with consistent attention paid to big and small issues.  Entrepreneurialism, imagination, innovation and creativity are key.  To become known as a creative place, and to really live that mindset, takes a sense of common purpose and goals, persistence, planning combined with flexibility, big-picture thinking, and a can-do attitude.   It’s vital to admit and learn from challenges and celebrate big and small successes.  

What are the essential components of this creative economy?  These are some economic principles that can and should lead to 21st century economic strength, education focused on 21st century learning, a vibrant community life, and engaged residents.  As an advocate and community member, you can help your community be involved in this issues.
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 mix of talents, income levels, backgrounds, and perspectives enlivens the city.  
3.       Prioritize access to the arts – and everything else – for all.  A place can really be recognized for its creativity if that creativity is 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.  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.   We know that Wisconsin needs more workers proficient in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies.  We must add the arts for 21st century STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in Wisconsin.
5.       The arts are not separate from everything else going on in a community.  Encourage creative collaborations, imaginative processes, innovative, thinking and entrepreneurship, connecting arts/business, arts/education, arts/environment, arts/recreation, arts/food, arts/civic issues. 
6.       Local elected officials and civic leaders should be visible, pro-active, enthusiastic champions of the arts, leadership that encourages rather than “squelches” new ideas.
7.       Support investment in arts infrastructure – not just physical buildings, but organizational and leadership infrastructure.  Creative people can do a lot with a little, but there’s got to be the realization that sufficient and ongoing human, organizational and financial resources need to be available to make things happen.
8.       A creative place is built and nurtured through a great quality of life that includes a vibrant street life, arts, food, libraries, parks and other public spaces, local radio stations, museums, bikeways that everyone can enjoy.

Resources for creative economy development:
Google “creative economy” and “creative industries” and thousands of interesting links from around the world will come up. Here are a few to check out:
·         What is the creative economy, really?
Forbes, 10-8-2011
·         Defining the Creative Economy
Ann Markusen, Director, Project on Regional and Industrial Economics (PRIE), University of Minnesota, 2006
·         Creative Placemaking
Ann Markusen, commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts, 2010
·         The Creative Economy – A New Definition
New England Foundation for the Arts, 2007
·         Creative Placemaking 101 for Community Developers
Ann Nicodemus, LISC Institute for Comprehensive Community Development, 2014
·         The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts and Culture by Tom Borrup, 2006.  Assesses 20 arts-centered community development projects and provides a step-by-step guide to building the economic, social, civic and physical infrastructure of communities through the arts. The book includes case studies from urban, rural and suburban communities and best practices related to ten successful community building strategies.
·          Lots more info and ideas at Arts Wisconsin’s Creative Economy Resource Center.

There’s so much more to say about the creative economy and possibilities for growth in Wisconsin and beyond.  Get in touch with me to discuss at 608 255 8316 |

Anne Katz is the arts leader in Wisconsin. She is an activist who understands the power of the arts to sustain and strengthen communities and has spent her entire working doing so. She has developed and coordinated many educational programs which expand cultural experiences for all. She is a true champion of the artist and admired by everyone who knows her. 

Thanks to Anne for sharing here experience and wisdom here.