Last month, I finished my blog with lyrics designed to encourage parents to teach their children to grow up to be entrepreneurs. Frankly, I was surprised by the response. Within minutes after publishing it on social media, I was inundated with hundreds of messages from readers (O.K., so I may have rounded up a bit). Some offered to buy me a one-way ticket to Nashville; others suggested I keep my day job and that my momma should have read more Dr. Seuss to me as a child. Taking the life coach suggestions out of the mix, what I found interesting was that most people who took the time to write wanted me to mention that the arts are an essential component of any economic development strategy and that it also plays an important role in entrepreneurship.
Investment in the arts, which is often referred to as the creative economy, is not only about producing jobs and revenue for a community, but creating a sense of place for its residents. According to a recent study by Arts Fund, the arts sector in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties of Washington generated $2.4 billion in business activity and supported more than 35,000 jobs in 2014. Studies have also shown that communities that support a vibrant arts and culture environment are more attractive to companies wanting to plug into a local economy. Support for the arts implies numerous other positive elements that work as a magnet for businesses and workers looking for the next great place.
The arts are not just for urban centers. In fact, the arts are even more important for rural communities that want to retain and grow their own youth while drawing the kind of talent that is able to work independently while enjoying the perks of culture and nightlife after hours. Lone eagles by day, yet wild and crazy by night! Jobs are now expanding and moving to where the bright and creative people are, and with global connectivity and a global marketplace, that increasingly means rural communities that support and nurture a sense of place.
Entrepreneurs have a lot in common with artists, though I’m not sure they’ve painted many happy little trees. They are talented and creative people who want stimulation in a livable, attractive community that also supports their family’s needs. Invention and innovation are related ideas: invention translates thought into a thing and innovation is what follows as an idea is turned into a product, service or business. Artists use dissonance in their creative efforts to work a problem and then resolve it by creating or connecting possible solutions and successful pathways. Artists are entrepreneurs and vice versa and both seek the same kind of robust empowerment in a lively place that celebrates itself in personal and civic events that are equally creative and satisfying.
An appreciation of the arts starts at a very young age. Introducing our children to the arts and creativity in the formative years can form the bedrock of a community’s workforce down the road. The creative economy supports real jobs. In fact, there are more than 100 professions within the creative economy that employs 150,000 people in Washington State alone. Young people can, if encouraged, consider and experiment with creative careers as they move through their education. Being a creative can be a real job.
STEM learning has gotten broad support from national leadership as a means of providing for the next generation of scientists and technical professions, but without the creative spark and out-of-the-box innovation of the arts, those professions will simply not generate new ideas and products. A creative mindset is the tool that generates future innovation and invention. It’s what jump starts an economy. In this current industrial revolution, triggered by amazing new technologies, such a mindset has never been more important and more easily nurtured. As we continue to encourage the investment in STEM in our schools, we should not forget the role that arts will play in broadening minds, enriching imaginations and heightening senses. Adding arts into the mix (think STEAM instead of STEM), can help propel our economy in the 21st century to new heights, just as science and technology did at the turn of the last century.
How can you make your community more attractive by using arts and culture? Washington has a number of opportunities that you can pursue. Check out this month’s interview with Karen Hanan, Executive Director of the Washington Arts Commission. The commission has developed a vitality index that measures a community’s creative economy that can be used in recruiting a business or talent. They are also currently developing a certified “creative district” program that would incentivize local communities to use arts venues, businesses and activities to create or enhance economic opportunities. This will lead to bringing more outside dollars into the community. This is textbook economic development applied to building creativity and innovation.
Other excellent resources that will help you transform your community using local assets, arts and culture include:
- Creative Community Builders handbook provides a wealth of examples, best practices and strategies.
- Startup Spokane has just completed interviews for their radio podcasts with local creative entrepreneurs. Startup Spokane Radio is a half hour program dedicated to bringing you the latest in entrepreneurship from the region but the information is relevant to all entrepreneurs.
- Two of my favorite websites on this topic include: Next Generation: The Future of Arts and Culture Placemaking in Rural America and the Creative Business Cup.
- Funding art projects is always a big question among communities but there are grants from numerous foundations such as Art place, and NEA Challenge America grant. Startup Washington’s grants page is also updated weekly and often includes funding opportunities to support the creative economy.
Arts and culture are timeless, proven attributes that have been integrated into the fabric of every human community in history; we are all hardwired to be creative, contribute to where we live in fun and lively ways and turn good ideas into businesses and jobs that sustain our families and towns. Adding more foot-tapping, smile-inducing moments to our lives is sound public policy that instills pride, hope and resilience in a community and its citizenry. Creative and inventive activities are proven paths to the development of independent minds and prosperous communities.
And on that note, I’ll spare you a song about the arts. My agent has advised me that doing so would make it harder sell the rights and besides, my singing voice sounds horrible in print.