It’s late, so I’ll be brief. Seattle is very, very pretty. Went to the Creative Economy: By Design advance workshop today to learn about creative community building with Meri Jenkins, Tom Borrup, Craig Dreeszen, and Maren Brown. Here were the major notes and takeaways for me:
- Some startling statistics: in Massachusetts, attendance at arts & cultural events is nine times the state’s population, and seven times the number that go to sports events (and this is Boston Red Sox country, remember). Total audience spending is $1 billion a year. As Meri Jenkins likes to say, this is “an underplayed hand.”
- In talking about the intrinsic vs. instrumental benefits of the arts, one panelist claimed that the distinction doesn’t matter in the end, because “bad art doesn’t inspire economic development – good art does.” I’m sympathetic to this line of thinking, but skeptical at the same time. Could we possibly test this empirically? Some food for thought.
- John McKnight is the pioneer of asset-based community development, which uses community strengths as a starting point rather than “needs assessment.” Assessment of needs happens anyway as part of the process; the point of starting with assets is to focus the tone of the conversation in a positive and constructive direction.
- Craig Dreeszen introduced us to a couple of different ways of defining the “creative economy.” For me, the most interesting part was a portion of one of the definitions reserved for “creative workers in non-creative businesses.” This is a really tough one methodologically, and a largely unexplored dimension of how creativity can impact the economy as a whole. Is there such a thing as “partially creative” industries?
- Craig also gave a roundup of current national and international trends in creative economy planning and development. Some of the most interesting trends to me were cross-sector and cross-agency partnerships (big in mainstream philanthropy as well), support for individual entrepreneurs (shades of a microphilanthropy/microenterprise model for the arts?), link to larger planning goals (yes! integration!), and “art as business and as partner to business.”
- Sustainability is a HUGE issue with creative economy partnerships, especially if not staffed by administrators dedicated to the project (dedicated in the sense that that’s their only job). Partnerships are exceptionally vulnerable to leadership transitions, and many groups quit at the first sign of trouble, complicating matters.
- A couple of themes that kept coming up: first, promoting industry clusters – this is something that I hope to research further this summer, but apparently, the CW is that clusters are a key part of creative economy success. Looking for the existing clusters in your community is important. Second, there seemed to be an acknowledgment that use of storefront spaces makes a big difference in facilitating artist-led neighborhood development.
- Gentrification was a hot topic. Definite consensus that the responsible thing to do is to anticipate its effects as part of the planning process, since we know that the arts have this effect on communities.
- People are still figuring out what the proper and most productive relationship is between nonprofit cultural organizations and creative industries, and what the differences are in supporting each. This is a very nascent field.
- Pretty much everyone seems to agree that “big box” arts development – i.e., huge performing arts centers in the middle of downtown – are not the answer; networks of small independent organizations and individuals are.
Tomorrow, the conference officially begins. Will be back with more shortly!