Monday, November 12, 2007
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"Creative economy" or one of its closely-related concepts—creative community, cultural economy, creative class, creative workforce—is a topic in almost every conversation I have with a state arts agency leader. The message that artistic processes and products contribute to the public benefits of community improvement and economic development is one that artists and arts organizations believe in, civic and business leaders have interest in and state arts agency leaders would like to translate into public and private support. Integrating a creative economy approach into the strategic agenda of a state arts agency, however, can be challenging conceptually, administratively and politically. Talking in practical terms with NASAA members, I am finding it useful to discuss this integration as having three components.
When a creative economy idea—in whatever variation—enters the thinking of a state arts agency leader, one of the first challenges is to explore that idea and come to consensus with others within the agency—both staff and council members—on what exactly it is going to mean and not mean for that agency. Economic development is not the same as community development, and not the same as work force preparation. A good test of shared understanding is whether the agency leadership can agree on goals and indicators of success. Program designs intended to measure success in terms of jobs created, businesses making profits and tax revenues being generated, may be quite distinct from grants and activities intended to improve social capital, civic engagement and perceived quality of life, or the employability of students in a global, high tech work environment. This task can be strenuous and time-consuming. It may involve common readings, conference speakers and sessions, consultants, networking, professional development, forums and a wide variety of leadership development activities.
If this process proceeds well, agency leaders then turn to the task of unifying and rallying the appropriate field to support the chosen approach. One of the most important conceptual challenges at this point is to determine the characteristics of the organizations and individuals who must participate and advocate in order for the approach to affect the indicators as intended. The array of allies for a creative economy initiative might be very different than the grantees and partners with whom the agency has worked previously. With traditional partners, the new work might require a new relationship. It should be expected during this stage that traditional partners and advocates of the agency will raise challenging questions about how the new approach might affect their participation in agency grant and service programs compared with established or alternative approaches.
Assuming the crafting of an approach that promises the results desired and the revenues needed to test it, program implementation is the next stage. A key decision is what aspects of the new thrust can be accomplished with current and reallocated resources, and what aspects will only be undertaken with new resources. Budget development, advocacy for resources, staff allocation and training, guideline crafting, communication planning and evaluation design are all part of this stage.
Any successful innovation, whether administrative or programmatic, raises the question of how it should be balanced with other agency operations, how integrated it should be in other activities, how transformative it should be in terms of mission and agency identity. This is true of development, communication and marketing initiatives. It is true of education and community development initiatives. It can be true of creative economy initiatives. State arts agency leaders seeking to maximize the public value of their agencies are keenly aware of the need to manage systemically any adjustment of vision and goals, operations and relationships with partners, and communication with authorizers. If it is determined to maintain or increase the scope of a creative economy initiative, does that affect the agency mission? Should the arts education program be positioned as a "creative mind" program? Should the entire state be mapped in terms of creative industry clusters to help identify the most effective kind of program development?
As I mentioned in my previous column, I think the question of how to broaden and deepen participation with the right mix for a particular state of strategies that leverages the capacities of the not-for-profit arts community, the commercial arts world, and amateur artists will be a defining challenge for state arts agency leaders in the foreseeable future. Many state arts agencies will fully engage in this larger challenge in the course of shaping their creative economy approach.
Differences in leadership style will affect whether the above components for a creative economy approach evolve serially or together. Different priorities from state to state and the variety of cultural assets available in a given state will also affect how an approach is developed. I suspect, though, that the three general components I've outlined will be recognizable in almost any circumstance and will be addressed best by purposeful planning and management.
Please know that NASAA is prepared to provide useful information to advise and assist member agencies every step of the way. NASAA's Creative Economy Resource Center is one resource. There, and in conversation with NASAA staff, state arts agency leaders can be learn about plans, programs and communication strategies others have adopted, and can benchmark the achievement of whatever approach they choose. We welcome these conversations and appreciate your feedback on the ideas and tools we provide.
Excitement is building for Assembly 2007 in Baltimore, MD, December 6-8! We are heartened by the groups of staff and groups of council members registering because we know it means our collective assessment of the first 40 years of the state arts agency movement, and our look ahead at the challenges we face, will have substantial impact Our Maryland Arts Council hosts are going all out to make this conference unforgettable. If you have any questions or need any assistance, please do not hesitate to call NASAA staff at 202.347.6352. We look forward to seeing you there.