Tenth in our series of Eleven Trends for 2011 is a prediction that this year we will come to realize that job creation and retention in the creative industries – is a major contributor to how to create, save, and sustain creative cities, and, as a result, to our economic recovery.
There are roadblocks. And they need to be addressed if we can fulfill this vision.
One problem is that a large portion of the creative sector hasn’t been holding onto jobs. Nonprofit cultural institutions have cut their payrolls to the bone. Despite the job-retention intentions of the Federal stimulus funds passed along to nonprofits through Federal appropriations to state arts agencies, the nonprofit creative sector is not adding extra staff. Even foundations that fund creativity through their grants don’t ask grantees how many jobs they have created in their organizations.
At the same time, those foundations have also been investing less in the arts. As I have discussed in previous blog posts, working capital is at what could be an all time low.
So when we talk about the ability of the creative sector to rebuild and sustain our cities, are we simply talking about the so-called ripple impact of the arts onto other sectors – the waiter jobs created when people eat out before going to a performance?
This is the point: the creative sector has been limping and hasn’t been sustained through any systemic approach. No one has provided realistic growth goals for the creation of jobs in the creative sector.
But at the same time, the creative sector has real potential to create jobs, lots of them. Not jobs based on ripple effect spending that supports, for example, x number of jobs in hotels or restaurants that are near performing arts centers, but true creative industry jobs. (Of note, these are not predominantly nonprofit, educational, or public sector jobs.) The true creative jobs are commercial musicians playing gigs and making recordings, tattoo artists and chefs, game designers and film screen writers, commercial and industrial designers, photographers and animators. They are custom furniture makers and stone fabricators. They are clothing designers and the creatives sketching out newly aerodynamic running shoes. They are videographers, website designers, the writers of sitcoms and documentaries, the entertainers at the ever-expanding number of casinos, the comedy club owners. They are the architects and designers who have hung on through the tough times, the landscapers who have introduced beauty back into urban neighborhoods. They are the novelists and ghost writers, the technical writers and the designers of tomorrows apps. Even the precious few music and theater critics left.
It has been a long time since Richard Florida started talking about them (us) all as a sector, but our industry still is just as fragmented and splintered a sector as it was a decade ago. We all need to work to make this happen.
Who represents this commercial sector so capable of growing in response to society’s quest for the new, cool, and aesthetically next thing? Who gathers them together as an industry to lobby and win economic incentives? Who represents them in seeking their start-up and business building capital? Who creates industrial parks for their start-ups?
And, if we figure that out, how does the sector go about growing jobs in all these fields and careers?
Here are some ideas.
Our industry should champion for economic development councils, redevelopment agencies, job corps and workforce development entities to take this on. We should build a case for them to stake their own economic development goals on it. We should challenge and support them if they pledged to grow the creative sector jobs in their town by x% a year for 10 years. We need to build this partnership.
As an industry, we have to develop and sell a portfolio of investment strategies. For example: the start-up funds for those musicians needing pre-major label recordings, or the business growth funds to capitalize the potter whose new lines could go commercial. We need to show our partners in economic development the advantages of investment pools for backing local film makers on their next fund, and backing the next playwright on the next play. We need to demonstrate to individuals that investments in the future of artists can have viable returns. We need to push for annual creative industry job fairs, standing industry round tables, and industry promotions. We need to promote the use of government programs like AmeriCorps to provide on-the-job training and career growth in creative industries, and job bank resources.
We need to work to update the funding and grant paradigm of the last decade that placed audience growth as a top priority and job reduction as the top necessity, moving now to favor a job growth and capital growth as the dual top priorities so that nonprofit cultural and creative institutions can do their part in building the industry. We need strong metrics, however, to make sure that both the jobs and the capital do what they should to develop new excellent product that in turn garners additional earned and contributed income. And we need to change the all-too-common mindset that still thinks healthy cultural nonprofits are those that just manage to scrape by.
We need to broaden our concepts of commissions and the use of funding streams such as percent for public art, to provide start-up opportunities and portfolio development for every type of creative. Decades ago, it was not uncommon for cities to commission symphonies or plays. Governments have long commissioned sculpture and other public visual art. Let’s look at commissioning the full range of creative work, and let’s also create the comprehensive rosters of creatives so they can advertise and promote their own excellence.
In many states and more than a few communities, government arts agencies have already become a part of economic development departments. Some have begun moving into this more comprehensive direction. But it is still viewed as a sidebar to the core task of traditional grants to nonprofit cultural organizations. But rather than ad hoc movement in this direction, let’s now go for the logic-path of realignment to the creative industry of today. Let’s focus on jobs, backed by working capital. Let’s treat the creative sector as what it can be, a true engine of economic development.