Tag Archives: cultural policy

Cultural Development #2: Who does Cultural Development, and Why?

As promised, we’re back with another weekly installment on topics impacting cultural planning and cultural development as we sail on into the brave new post recessionary world.

This week we’re musing about arts councils, cultural commissions, local arts and heritage agencies. Many have quietly gone out of business over the past decade, and others are barely holding on. Is it because they don’t bring value? Ironically, most have brought great value but are no longer seen as necessary.

The real story in most communities is that a wide range of agencies have come to see the value of being cultural development leaders, and the field has gotten very, very crowded.

Downtown “renaissance” groups? They do cultural development.
Regional economic development planners? They do cultural development.
Libraries? They do cultural development.
Tourism office and CVBs? They do cultural development.
Local on-line media and calendars? They do cultural development.
Community foundations? They do cultural development.
Mixed use developers? They do cultural development.
Human services? They do cultural development.

And so on…

Is this failure, or success? Success, certainly. Success has put arts and culture on everyone’s radar, and everyone wants a piece of it. Arts, culture, and heritage have achieved their goal of being “at the big table.”

Does this have to mean the demise of local arts agencies? Or is this the start of a new model, one that is more efficient, more nimble? That depends largely on what local arts and cultural agencies exist to do, and who they exist for.

Unfortunately, in many states the local cultural agencies have become bureaucracies so linked to the disbursement and tracking of state funds that they have little time left to do anything else. There are way too many councils and commissions that annually devote months of paid staff time and almost all their volunteer (board, commission) time to the process of re-granting a total of $20,000 or so of state dollars to twenty or so local organizations, complete with panels, 20 page applications and final reports, annual instructional workshops and yet more final reports. In many places, this has become the full time work load for two or three fairly well paid professionals.

Is this really doing the work of cultural development?

Separate from the granting issue, too many councils have have not broken out of their former mold to become oriented to brand new needs and realities. It is hard to dump the old and transform into something out of the comfort zone, but it has to be done.

In this world of web-facilitated networking, web-based meetings, on-line calendars and consultation, on-line document sharing and web whiteboards, does a stand-alone arts council in a traditional office-cum-gallery-cum-conference room that used for grant-writing workshops make as much sense as it did a decade ago? You know the answer.


Swat teams of cultural development specialists that can move from the tourism office to the downtown renaissance to parks to economic development, paid for by a fund put up by all the agencies that benefit;
Grant teams that handle the (streamlined) re-grants processes for a dozen agencies;
Archivest or curatorial teams;
Others who zoom in with economic development skills, still others who zoom in to work with parks and recreation departments, schools and life long learning providers;

If cultural development is done by many different agencies, it is no longer necessary for an arts council to be the keeper of all the expertise in, say, arts education. That may better be done the education specialists at parks and recreation. (I know, I can feel the arrows coming this way…)

There are many communities where the “calendar” is already managed by an independent entity, but even here there is still more specialization and expertise to develop – web based CRM, customized sales messages, and the like – that might be better accomplished through expansion of that independent organization or by a financially well backed branch of a CVB. (More arrows sighted on the horizon…)

Deploy these teams and specialists within a county, statewide, or even within a multi-state area. In the process, eliminate the redundancy of too many generalists tending the arts fields, in favor of deepened specialization across municipal departments and county agencies.

The point is, cultural development entities need to be designed to meet the need and reach the goal, not the other way around. And the need has to be more than “serving as a granting agency” or even “facilitating advocacy for the arts.”

“Begin with the end in mind,” always. In the current and foreseeable economy, getting the job done is more important than who owns the job. And now that cultural development is owned by many who see its value, why not build on that enthusiasm in creating new and sustainable delivery mechanisms?

This can’t and won’t happen in a vacuum. If the funders of cultural development don’t think this way, and prefer to keep the status quo, guess what will happen? Those that do see the advantages, however, are going to see real gains in cultural development, everywhere.


So just what is the creative economy?

One of my goals whenever I work on a cultural plan is to establish a baseline of the area creative economy, and then to identify ways to grow that economy.  Too often the creative economy – at least in the US – is  narrowly defined.  (Americans for the Arts has done a fabulous job with the conservatively defined arts-centric part of the creative industries, but I think their creative industries data under-represents reality.) (See blogroll for their 2008 update.)  On the other hand, some define the creative economy as anything based on intellectual property, which might be too broad.  ( My geologist friends develop a great deal of intellectual property, but does that make the mining industry a part of the creative economy?  Doubts.) 

So just how do we get to a viable baseline?  Americans for the Arts uses Dunn & Bradstreet as their data source.  In my own searches, I begin with the North American Industrial Classification System, or NAICS codes.  NAICS codes are assigned to every enterprise in North America, and from this we can assess the enterprise impacts, the jobs, the value added, and their total economic value.  As such NAICS can be the key to assessing the bgroadly defined creative economy.  But there are many judgement calls to be made, and this offers an interesting discussion for the arts/cultural development field.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had a standardized way of defining what codes belong to the creative industries and which codes don’t? Something bigger than what we see now from AFTA, but realistic extractions out of NAICS?

Each creativity-based element of NAICS has three components: education and training, jobs and the creation of economic value, and impact – audiences, buyers, users, and those touched economically and socially.  Think about the case we could make if we would work toward a true definition of the worth of our industries.

The first three sets of NAICS codes – ag, mining, utilities – don’t have any sub codes that really seem a part of the creative economy.  The forth, construction, might have a few.  By the fifth, manufacturing, you get into some interesting judgement calls.  For example, I would include the Manufacture of Fine China, Earthenware, and other Pottery; and the manufacture of Pressed, Blown glass, and Glassware in my creative industry profile of a community.  (AFTA includes individual artisan work, but not manufacture.  But many artists and artisans are employed in the manufacturing process, so I’d opt for the larger definition.) But should the manufacture of other glass containeers be included?  Book printing, yes, but should Quick Printing be included?  How about clothing manufacturing?  Do we include it all, or just sub-parts – for example, manufacturing of Schiffli lace?  Or what about food manufacturing?  I guess you would include specialty cheese manufacturing – my neighbor who makes artisan cheeses would argue for that – but what about fruit and vegiatable canning?  Include piano and musical instrument manufacturing – yes.  But what about photographic equipment? (AFTA includes photographic equipment, but excludes musical instruments.)   

 I’d be likely to include all of the economic activity of NAICS code 51 – Information – which in addition to  sound recording and movies includes telecommunications.  

Code grouping 54 codes professional and scientific enterprises.  From these, the normal picks include graphic design, interior design, photographic studios and the like along with the standard inclusion of advertising agencies.  But how about custom computer programming? (That’s where some computer game enterprises can be found, and these are largely considered a part of the creative industries.)  Most defitions already include architectrual and landscape architectural enterprise, but how about mapping? 

The codes (71) for arts, entertainment and recreation are particularly frustrating for those of us in the arts field.  For example, how are we to break out the enterprises/occupations from the grouping “promoters of arts, entertainment and sporting events?”  Does that mean a local NFL franchise and Symphony are in the same code?  (Yes.  AFTA has broken these out using D&B data.)   How about food services codes?  Do we include chefs/fine dining, but not the coffee shops offering up custom lattes? 

The point is, creativity, innovation and foundational arts thinking can be found to shape and influence hundreds of industry classifications, and thousands of job types.  The arts field is even broader than  represented by AFTA’s ground breaking analysis.  And, if as a field we had a broader definition of what is in and out of the “creative industries” of NAICS – which opens the door for many detailed economic profiles at the local level – we’d be better positioned to make the case for what the arts really mean to our economy and our communities.  We’d be able to work toward a far more holistic approach to educating for the creative sector.   And we’d come even closer to assessing the real value of the economy driven by creativity.