To have the creative industry be invited to the top economic development tables is almost unheard of in any community. Let’s face it; classic business development and support organizations can have a hard time wrapping their heads around the value of this dynamic industry. Often, its value is hindered because it is hard to fully quantify the impacts of these businesses and individuals. The quantification is often pieced together from many sources and the numbers never really seem to capture the true dynamism and impact.
The early leadership of Berkshire Creative had the amazing foresight to be inclusive in our definition of the creative economy. The Berkshire Creative Economy Report fully clarifies the different segments of the creative economy and their relationships, which have significant overlap with one another.
Though it is good to be inclusive we also have to draw the line somewhere. I have people ask me all the time, “I am a creative lawyer or plumber, am I part of the creative economy?” The answer is no. Not all jobs are part of the creative economy even if the people working in them are creative. New England Foundation for the Arts released a report in 2007 outlining the creative industry with an appendix that outlines the industry and jobs codes that truly define the creative economy. This is how we count who is in and who is out of the core creative industry. That is not to say that we completely exclude lawyers and plumbers – they are welcome to join events, discussions, and to get our newsletter, but they are not the primary focus of our work.
Another component of our creative economy work is a new argument for “the arts” that turns old assumptions on their heads. Often times when we speak of “the arts” and “supporting the arts” it gives the sense of struggling artists or cultural institutions looking for donations. In other words, the organizations and individuals are “taking” something from the community, usually money, and giving art in return. The basic assumption is that we have to give money so we have art in our community. The success of this argument hinges on the person’s appreciation for the “arts” and its level of importance in the community.
By changing the “the arts” argument to the “creative economy”, the inherent message conveys that art organizations and creative businesses have an impact on the economy. It focuses on what the businesses and organizations give to the community and not receive from it and forgets their incorporation status and again focuses on the core value of creativity. It makes them a “sector” of the economy, with a strong impact, not just people with their hands out. The “creative economy” says that art jobs are real jobs too, that donors or patrons are still spending real money, that a struggling artist contributes to the “movement” of the economy, that all businesses centered around creativity have a place in the county’s plan and that the creative organizations and businesses are seen by economic developers and that their needs are met by business support organizations.
Again this is where argument for the support of the “creative economy” versus “the arts” carries more weight at economic development tables. With the “creative economy” argument, you are speaking “economic development” which says: The creative cluster is providing jobs and has a large economic impact. Plus, the creative industry sets our region apart from other regions.
All of the aspects of this work add up to much more than just a set of initiatives to support an industry sector. It is a movement and a synergy between the businesses of creativity – no matter their incorporation. I look forward to the continued growth of our work not only in Berkshire County, but also hope to spark this work across the nation.