Monday, October 17, 2011

Is There Value in a National Definition of Creative Economy/Industries?

Over the past several years, more and more communities have begun to research, profile and develop their 'creative economy/industries'. This impetus is coming from a couple of stimuli. First, the arts community is struggling with having sustainable business models and so it is no surprise that they might resonate with a rationale that positions them under the umbrella of all of the community's creative assets, particularly linking the nonprofit arts world to the forprofit creative businesses. (That said, there is serious resistance from many in the arts community to truly connecting with the forprofit creative world, but that is another conversation!).

Second, the creative economy, at its heart, is about economic development - and believing that this economic development leads to healthy community development. And, what community is not prioritizing economic development - jobs and new businesses - these days? So, the creative organizations within the community have seen the profiling of 'creative industries' as an avenue to the economic development table - and they are right. Likely, that is the only way they will get to that table these days.

All of this to say that with more and more communities defining and profiling their creative economies, should we be looking at what the common threads are linking us all together? Is there value in finding in all of this a common verbal definition of 'creative industries/economy', as well as a common dataset protocol for these industries? Right now, every community looks at it with a slightly different perspective, which means that we can't do economic comparisons, nor benchmark our findings and growth, nor speak with a unified voice at any national economic development conversation. It also means that the NEA and Americans for the Arts are not congruent in their view of our creative economy, and whatever research is available is not really comparable nor compatible. Hardly a recipe for the development of a successful creative economic cluster.

On behalf of a consortium of community creative alliances around the country - Center for Creative Economy, North Carolina; Creative Albuquerque, NM ; Maine Center for Creativity; Creative Oklahoma; Creative Alliance Milwaukee; Berkshire Creative; Creative Ohio - we are putting together an application for an NEA research grant to inventory how our communities are defining and measuring their creative economies, reviewing and comparing the approaches, looking for common threads, and making a recommendation as to the viability and credibility of a national creative industries definition.

We'd like your thoughts and input on this work. If you would like to chat or request a copy of the research proposal we are working on, please contact me at

Our thinking is if we don't develop a national definition and perspective, we will perhaps lose a terrific opportunity to have a nationally unified voice in support of our creative communities at the tables where national conversations about investment in our future are taking place. I am worried that if we don't get our feet in the door to drive the future of our society's priorities now, I am afraid much of the creative underpinning and expression of our communities today (much less our history) will be lost forever.

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