Tim McClimon

Tim McClimon

Last month, I attended the annual conference of Americans for the Arts in Pittsburgh, which was focused around the question, “Why are the arts the best kept secret when it comes to building healthy, diverse, and engaged communities?” While I was there, I presented the American Express Emerging Leader Award to Abe Flores, who is the advocacy field manager for Arts for LA in Los Angeles, CA (Congratulations, Abe!). I also participated in a panel discussion about the challenging state of private support of the arts.

During my remarks, I suggested that the arts community hasn’t done enough to align itself with the concept of creativity, which is something that is valued by many, if not most, Americans. Granted, the first part of that statement is my opinion, but the second part is based on a recent survey of Americans by Time Magazine, Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

According to the study results, which were published in Time on May 20, 2013, 94 percent of Americans value creativity in others – compared to 93 percent who value intelligence, 92 percent compassion, 89 percent humor, 88 percent ambition, and 57 percent who value beauty.

91 percent say creativity is important in their personal lives and 83 percent say creativity is important in their professional lives. 65 percent think that creativity is central to America’s role as a global leader. In fact, 35 percent of Americans think that the U.S. is the current leader in creativity with China at 23 percent, Japan at 19 percent, Germany at 3 percent, India at 1 percent, and the U.K. at 1 percent.

However, for those who say that the U.S. is not the leader, the following factors are cited as being the most responsible:

  • 31 percent say that schools are not building creativity in students
  • 30 percent say that government is not doing enough to support creativity
  • 17 percent say that businesses do not value creativity enough, and
  • 8 percent say that workers do not have the tools they need to be creative.

Finally, 62 percent of Americans say that creativity is more important to success in the workplace than they anticipated it would be when they were in school, and 55 percent say that technology is making Americans more creative, while 32 percent say that it is making them less creative.

These are pretty impressive results, and they point to the increasing importance of creativity and innovation as factors that will boost our global competitiveness. And, they are consistent with the results of a 2008 study conducted by Americans for the Arts and the Conference Board called Ready to Innovate, which surveyed 155 U.S. business executives and 89 school superintendents to determine the skills and abilities that cultivate creativity.

In the 2008 study, 99 percent of superintendents and 97 percent of business leaders agreed that creativity is of increasing importance in the workplace. And, 85 percent of employers seeking creative employees said they were having difficulty finding qualified applicants with the right characteristics. For both employers (56 percent) and superintendents (79 percent), a degree in the arts was the most significant indicator of creativity.

One business leader was quoted saying:

  • We need people who think with the creative side of their brains – people who have played in a band, been involved in the community as volunteers. It enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea or how to get a job done better, less expensively.

Ironically, the Time study results came out just a few days before an article in the Wall Street Journal (“Risk-Averse Culture Infects U.S. Workers, Entrepreneurs,” June 3, 2013) which suggests that Americans are becoming more risk averse. According to this article, companies are adding jobs more slowly, investors are putting less money in new ventures, and Americans are starting fewer businesses. They are also less inclined to change jobs or move for new opportunities.

These changes can be attributed to an aging population, the dominance of large corporations in many industries, rising health care costs, two-income households, the collapse of the housing market, and other changing demographics. All of which can make it harder for families to move and cause households to take fewer risks. Companies too are taking fewer risks, keeping more cash on hand rather than expanding payrolls, opening fewer locations, and paying off debts.

Economists worry that these changes may be permanent, and may help explain why the economic recovery has been sluggish. One economist frets that “we’ve lost our mojo.”

The ability to take risks has always been viewed as a characteristic of a creative individual, and is certainly a characteristic of artists and many arts organizations. Accordingly, the concepts of creativity and risk often go hand in hand, and are both descriptive of, and indicative of, a flourishing arts and cultural community.

What do you think? Are Americans enamored of creativity but afraid of risk? What could artists and the arts community do to turn this around?

P.S. Did you know that both business leaders and school superintendents feel that their respective professions bear the greatest responsibility for encouraging creativity?

(This post, originally published on American Express CSR Now!, is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

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The pARTnership Movement


The pARTnership Movement is a new initiative from Americans for the Arts that provides businesses and arts organizations with the resources they need to make meaningful collaborations; partnerships that not only support a healthy, creative and artistic community, but that also give businesses a competitive advantage.
For more information please visit www.partnershipmovement.org.

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