The Creative Economy

The Creative Economy is a term coined by John Howkins in his book, The Creative Economy: How People Make Money From Ideas. His new book, Creative Ecologies: Where Thinking is a Proper Job, identifies a new ecology of learning and thinking.

Artists and performers have been entrepreneurs since ever, but some have been more successful than others. Think Michelangelo or Da Vinci, two Renaissance artists who produced magnificent commercial work. Without their patrons, we might never know of their works of art.

Many artists shy away from commercial thinking, considering themselves to be concerned with creation, not commerce. Hence the image of the poet starving in the garret. Is it better to starve than compromise? The famous picture on the left is of Thomas Chatterton, by the way.

I met a local potter who produces beautiful work and is commercial, with no compromise in either department. He and his wife/fellow potter went to art school after other careers and not only learned their craft, but were happy to do take obligatory courses on commerce, too.

Arts and economics are a good mix

Entrepreneurship is itself a creative activity. Commercial success in the arts is ever more important to enable cultural life to survive. The Creative Economy encompasses creative enterprises—both commercial and nonprofit—and individuals that together provide a significant contribution to local and regional economies by creating and distributing cultural goods and services and through taxes, on them and the activity they generate.

We are talking about:

  • creative artists and craftspeople, such as painters, graphic designers, writers, potters…
  • business oriented creative people, such as architects, fashion designers, art galleries…
  • performing artists, such as dancers, actors, musicians, TV & radio…
  • arts enterprises (for-profit and non-profit), such as advertising, publishers, orchestras, galleries, theaters…
  • entertainment, such as animation, toys & games, video games, new media…
  • technologists such as, R&D scientists, software developers, product designers…

The creative economy includes some arts enterprises that are also social enterprises. The social entrepreneur looks to make a social contribution, which can as much be through the arts as through, say, the alleviation of poverty or setting up an inner city boxing club to keep delinquency-prone kids off the street.

Bringing entrepreneurial skills to the arts—whether plastic, performance, visual, language, or physical—requires a special kind of business sensitivity. A similar sensitivity has to be shown by industry and regional local government towards the unique and mutually beneficial opportunity that the creative economy offers.

Professor Richard Florida has been very influential in highlighting the economic and social importance of the Creative Economy. His 2009 book, Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life is a rich source of data and telling arguments. Just take a look at the figure below. It requires no comment.

The Creative Economy

Many of the predictions of Florida’s latest book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity are significantly coming to pass. He describes how the FIRE industries (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) are being eaten up and replaced through our excessive addiction to them. He sees enormous growth in creative industries that rely on our instinctive creativity.

Creativity, Competence and Community

The creative economy creates shared value. Who can say just how much value an artist or other creator produces for the community beyond the simple transaction of selling a piece or art or other creation. Business will only survive when it meets the needs of the triple bottom line—Profits, People and the Planet. Business is itself learning how to move from solely maximizing shareholder return, to the fulfillment of its wider responsibilities to all its publics.

Culture also has to meet needs of its own triple bottom line—Creativity, Competence and Community, or it too, withers. Culture is faced with learning how to move from total reliance on the quality of its art to be more than an end in itself. It needs to orchestrate all three.

Creativity: Creativity is the life blood of the arts, just as profit is the life blood of business. Creativity, though is not just in the art or craft itself, but applies to the way in which it is communicated and made available for others to enjoy. The advantage that artists and craftspeople have is that creativity ‘goes with the territory’. Once they appreciate that they can apply the same creative energy to making their work available to others, they can very often come up with innovative ways of commercializing.

A wonderful example of the creative economy is the Music Paradigm that uses a symphony orchestra as a metaphor for any dynamic organization, particularly one dealing with a period of exceptional challenge or change: a merger, a restructuring, new leadership, change initiatives, stretch performance goals, and many more. Roger Nirenberg, the conductor leads the musicians through a series of carefully crafted exercises that help illustrate key qualities, reactions, and practices of high performing business teams—strategically designed to be in line with the needs and challenges of the executives and their organizations.

Competence: Each branch of the arts practices entrepreneurial skills to a lesser or greater extent. The practice of the skills of entrepreneurship may be conducted with or without intent.

The entrepreneurial competences needed in the creative economy are:

  1. accessing the impulsion to express the art;
  2. articulating a sense of purpose and clarity of vision;
  3. identifying the steps and resources necessary for getting there;
  4. qualifying and quantifying the audience who will enjoy the results;
  5. knowing what the people who pay you will want from the transaction;
  6. understanding how the audience/clients will access the work;
  7. having an idea of other people needed for the project to succeed;
  8. planning the process of creation and delivery;
  9. setting up milestones to monitor progress;
  10. defining financial needs and goals.

In short, they are the functional competences in

  • planning and organizing;
  • marketing and selling;
  • finance and administration.

There is another competence, special to arts organizations (as opposed to artists as individuals): managing the interface and role definition between Boards (generally unpaid volunteers) and paid executive staff. My experience as Vice-Chairman of a community radio station was painful until we worked out role clarity. This dynamic is quite unlike a ‘normal’ business, since there are mutual expectations clashing and very frequently management is muddled.

Community: In arts entrepreneurship the question of community is a key consideration, whether it concerns an individual artist, a group of artists or an arts organization. No community, no art.

Interaction is inevitable in the arts. Does art exist if it remains unseen or unheard? The arts entrepreneur is well aware of the need for mutual support and collaboration. Examples include:

  • the arts and community building (see Americans for the Arts)
  • healing through the arts
  • the arts and activism
  • community arts and education
  • restoration and understanding by the arts
  • the arts as collaboration
  • arts-based civic engagement
  • social and public arts
  • the arts in medicine and aging
  • arts and community partnerships.

Entrepreneur The Arts® offers a diverse offering of entrepreneurial training workshops, classes, coaching services and presentations to teach artists, corporations and universities how to utilize imagination, through the development of whole brain thinking, to create new productive opportunities. It’s run by Lisa Canning and you may want to look at her blog mentioned below.

An excellent resource is the Community Arts Network, a portal to the field of community arts and supports the belief that the arts are an integral part of a healthy culture, providing both intellectual nourishment and social benefit, and that community-based arts provide significant value both to communities and artists.

The Center for Creative Community Development serves as a national focal point for research, education and training on the role of the arts in community re-development.

The Center for the Study of Art & Community is an association of creative leaders from business, government and the arts who have succeeded in building bridges between the arts and a wide range of community, public and private sector interests.

Creative Startups, based in Sante Fe, NM, reaches a global audience with workshops, seminars, and the Creative Startups Accelerator.  A 501c3 nonprofit organization, Creative Startups receives support from national foundations, cities and regional governments, and individuals committed to building thriving creative economies.

Creative Capital is a national nonprofit organization that supports artists pursuing adventurous and imaginative work in the performing and visual arts, film/video, innovative literature, and emerging fields.

Entrepreneur The Arts Blog is an excellent place to start and make sure you download a free copy of Lisa Canning’s Innovative Business Strategies. The creative economy is a powerful and positive global force. Together, artists, cultural nonprofits, and creative businesses produce and distribute cultural goods and services that impact the economy by generating jobs, revenue, and quality of life.

You may well want to take a look at the website of the New England Foundation for the Arts that focuses on the creative economy.

For an inspiring view of what the arts can offer leadership and management, take a look at The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander (she is an artist and he is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic).