An Interview with Karen Hanan
Executive Director of ArtsWA



bio-karen-hanan1What does an executive director of the arts commission do?

The Executive Director of the WA State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) is appointed by the Governor to provide leadership for the arts statewide.  I oversee the management, development and conservation of the state’s growing collection of public art. In addition, I oversee grant programs, provide training events, and develop and manage other programs, projects, and initiatives. The Executive Director authorizes contracts for grants, artwork acquisitions, personal services, and other expenditures and manages the state’s annual funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, ensuring compliance with Federal regulations including NEA application, contracting, and reporting requirements.


What is the vision and mission of ArtsWA (the Washington State Arts Commission)?

The vision of Arts WA is to establish a Washington where the arts are thriving and celebrated throughout the state–woven into the fabric of vital and vibrant communities. We act as a catalyst for the arts where we,

  • Distribute state and federal dollars through grants to expand opportunities for people statewide to participate in the arts;
  • Support projects that connect the arts to economic development, neighborhood revitalization, lifelong learning and local issues;
  • Partner with local, state and national leaders to develop and promote policies that advance the arts;
  • Track the impact of the arts and arts education on Washington communities;
  • Document and communicating the results of public investment in the arts;
  • Protect the state’s investment in the State Art Collection through stewardship that minimizes maintenance needs and offers resources for taking good care of artworks;
  • Advance projects and collaborations that bring high-quality, standards-based arts education into the lives of public school students throughout the state.

What relevance does art have to economic development?

Based on recent research from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, we know that today’s creative economy gets a big boost from the arts. In 2013, arts and cultural production contributed $704.2 billion to the U.S. economy, a 32.5 percent increase since 1998. Another key finding is that consumer spending on the performing arts grew 10 percent annually over the 15-year period. This tells us that the arts remain a valuable and desirable commodity for U.S. consumers, and that the arts are a strong contributor to America’s economic vitality. Another interesting data set showed arts and culture outpacing other sectors. It grew faster than other sectors such as accommodation and food services (1.4 percent), retail trade (1.3 percent), and transportation and warehousing (1.1 percent). The vibrancy of the creative economy is clearly shown when we look at copyright-intensive industries such as publishing and arts-related computer systems design. This shows that the arts and culture sectors make up $435 billion of the total of $704.2 billion of the nation’s creative economy – nearly half!

What ideas for collaboration do you have for economic developers.

ArtsWA has adopted a larger focus on economic development and the ways in which culture, creativity and the arts contribute to local and regional economies. ArtsWA is interested in partnering with economic development entities in whatever ways make sense.

One example of future collaborative opportunities could revolve around the design of a “Creative Districts” program for our state that ArtsWA is currently working on. Why a “creative districts” program? The goal is to put in place a state certified “creative district” program that would incentivize local communities to use arts venues, businesses, and activities to create or enhance economic opportunities.  Creative districts would be appealing places to live, visit, and conduct business, which in turn enhances the economic and civic vitality of a community. Many communities have capitalized on creative areas – museums, theaters, and neighborhood arts facilities – and could use a “creative districts” designation to harness additional activity.

What is the creative vitality index and what metrics are used?

ArtsWA was instrumental in developing the Creative Vitality Index, a research-based economic development tool that provides high-quality creative economy data and reporting that facilitates a better understanding of the labor market through the measurement of creative industry earnings and sales activity. It helps in assessing the size and variability of the creative workforce. Demographic and wage trends generate additional creative economy insights.

ArtsWA hopes to help EDBs and other economic development organizations be able to easily explore this data, which allows access to nearly 80 creative industries and 60 creative occupations, nonprofit cultural revenues, and state arts agency granting information, to gain a complete understanding of the creative economy in specific communities, zip codes, legislative districts and more.

Can you give us some examples of how the index has helped a community in its economic development strategies?

Arts of Clark County and the Clark County Arts Commission worked together in 2013 to use the Creative Vitality Index to capture a more complete picture of their creative economy and to initiate conversations about the arts economy with their community leaders. They received a grant from ArtsWA (Washington State Arts Commission) and Art Works (National Endowment for the Arts) in 2013.

As a result of their involvement with the CVI, Vancouver began to place a more deliberate focus on the economic impact of programs they initiated. In November 2013, they held their first Open Studios tour, featuring 50 artists located throughout the county. The preview reception attracted 750 visitors. Each studio had an average of approximately 100 visitors per day, many from out of the county. Each person typically visited about 8 to 10 studios and 38 of the artists reported combined gross sales of $50,000. A number of artists also reported getting commissions for future work as a result of the tour.

Using the CVI, Vancouver summarized their creative economy sales and revenue and showed that creative economy sales and revenue figures increased incrementally in almost all categories, as would be expected due to the county’s population growth and the region’s continuing economic recovery following the 2008 recession.


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