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Creative Economy- It’s Real But It’s Not Enough

An exchange of articles got me wondering whether the lens of creative economy that is applied to highlight the benefits of increased focus on creativity, arts, and culture gets us off on the wrong foot. Creative economy (a term popularized by Richard Florida) refers to a broad and disparate agglomeration of industry sectors that employ workers in creative jobs. An amorphous concept as you can imagine, it’s defined variously in different communities. The creative class is composed partly of the traditional fine and performing arts crowd-actors, painters, dancers, and writers-but depending on the definition, can also include architects, software designers, chefs, and many, many others.

In a recent Salon.com article called “The Creative Class is a Lie,” Scott Timberg argues that the economic downturn has taken a significant toll on creative workers. He says that while some creatives are flying high, “…for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level – the working- or middle-classes within the creative class – things are less cheery…. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold.” In effect, the collapse of print media and the transformation of the music industry, among other upheavals, suggest to him that the “creative class” is no longer an engine of economic revitalization (if it ever was).

For those who have been focused on the creative economy as a strategy for revitalizing our cities and may be distraught to hear Timberg’s analysis, Richard Florida has offered a response: “The Creative Class is Alive” (on the very interesting theAtlanticCities.com). He points out that despite the distress Timberg describes, the creative sector has statistically fared better than many other parts of the economy.

It seems to me this tempest in a (hand-crafted?) tea pot obscures the point. The term “creative class” isn’t a lie, even though its use as a tool of advocacy may occasionally overstate its impact. But we arts advocates do ourselves and the cultural sector a disservice by focusing solely on economics-unquestionably important, but its attention should not be to the virtual exclusion of all the other areas in which creativity is important: teaching 21st Century skills to our youth, building more cohesive neighborhoods, or bridging the differences between people of different ethnic, racial, or class backgrounds. We need to broaden our focus so that we acknowledge all the benefits that attention to our creative and expressive lives can provide. Some of these benefits are intrinsic to experiencing art, and those are perhaps harder to measure but no less important. A good place to start is IntrinsicImpact.org, which offers a rationale for exploring the impact of the arts experience beyond the economic dimension.

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One Response to Creative Economy- It’s Real But It’s Not Enough

  1. Christine Harris says:

    Interesting commentary, Marc. You and I have had this conversation before , and it is fascinating to see the ping pong between Florida and Timberg, along with your observations. I don’t think this is an either/or. The creative economy is a both/and when it comes to the economic value of producing creative goods and services, as well as illuminating the value of creativity throughout our society. I think the bottom line is that we are increasingly dependent on optimizing our innovation capacity and in order to do that we need to maximize our creative capital. There may be blips here and there, or new business models developed but those who focus on expanding their creative skills and delivering higher and higher creative value will do just fine (within the context of a generally lousy economy).

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