Why does this work matter?

Major shifts in economies have long defined periods of economic growth. As with the industrial revolution and much later the age of information, we are currently experiencing a broad change in how people earn income via individual and creative pursuits. Technology plays a major factor in this ability to earn income and establish new careers that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

“People are finding jobs and income in this work and they need infrastructure and systems to support those jobs. The [creative economy] work matters because the jobs are there. The systems that have been in place to support the primary economies don’t support the creative and gig economies. If we don’t care, they get left behind. We have to find a way to turn policy conversations into ways that impact real people.” – Maryann Lombardi

Creative economy work centers the creatives, artists and entrepreneurs, and with their inclusion addresses broad community issues with innovative solutions. By bringing people together, building relationships across sectors, building trust, getting creative industry leaders to be a voice for the arts community, and through advocacy and peer-pressure to other businesses to support the arts, the work drives economic returns and enlivens communities. We know from our Business Contributions to the Arts survey in 2017 that, “Businesses are looking to engage their employees through the arts, helping fuel attraction and retention. Employee engagement remains a priority for the business community…Companies consider the arts to be important in building quality of life, stimulating creative thinking and problem solving, and offering networking opportunities and the potential to develop new business and build market share. These positive impacts help companies attract and retain employees, particularly as the war for talent intensifies.”1

In addition to engaging employees in the private sector, creative economy work provides an opening to conversations with lawmakers. By weaving the power of creative industries and the creatives, this work helps make the case for public funding that can bridge an often-present disconnect between public, private and nonprofit entities. Policies such as the CREATE Act on a federal level support and promote workforce development and growth of creative businesses. Local policies and strategies targeted at engaging the creative economy can direct resources that offer new and more equitable investment opportunities to a broader intersection of the population.

How do we define the creative economy?

Definitions of the creative economy will invariably change from community to community. As such Americans for the Arts serves to aggregate research, data and examples on how this work manifests itself across the country. These definitions are by no means conclusive and should be seen as foundational tools to exploring the creative economy. Below are some examples of how other communities have defined the creative economy. 

“…Across the documents there seems to be reasonably strong congruence around the idea that the creative economy involves both individuals and entities who engage in activities that add value to society in one or more ways through the provision of goods and/or services that are inextricably linked to human creativity manifesting itself in one or more dimensions throughout the process of ideation, creation, production, distribution, and use.”2

“The enterprises and people involved in the production and distribution of goods and services in which the aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional engagement of the consumer gives the product value in the marketplace.” – State of Massachusetts

“Those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. – UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport

“The Orange [Creative] Economy is the group of linked activities through which ideas are transformed into cultural goods and services whose value is determined by intellectual property.”3   

What elements make up the creative economy?

Although the terminology of ‘creative economy’ and ‘creative industries’ has been used interchangeably, Americans for the Arts asserts that the creative industries are one part of the overall creative economy.

The creative economy is defined as being made of up of the five following elements:

  • The Creative Industries
  • The Creatives
  • The Talent Developers
  • The Participants
  • The Resource Managers

Read below in each tab to learn more about each of these elements.

The Creative Industries

As defined in our Creative Industries Toolkit, “The creative industries are composed of arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, and design companies. Arts businesses and the creative people they employ stimulate innovation, strengthen America's competitiveness in the global marketplace, and play an important role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy.”

The creative industries represent the businesses and organizations that are involved in the development and/or distribution of creative products and services, and/or require the work product of the creative workforce to produce their products and services. Each community has an opportunity to define the makeup of the creative industries in their area.

For example, Washington DC defines the creative industries as those organizations in TV, Film, Media, Music, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Fashion, Maker, Culinary, Cosmetology, and Technology. In DC, these practices made their list by virtue of having already received some form of government representation; be it funding, tax incentives, dedicated programming or other resources. Additionally, because the City of Washington DC already had investments in these areas, they also had data related to the economic impact of those industries. Identifying each of the practices in their portfolio of creative industries allowed the City to further identify what practices might be missing.

The Creatives

We must remember that the creative economy centers around artists and creatives. So who are the people who are doing the making? The creatives represent artists, cultural workers, producers, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers who, “develop, create and sustain the work product of the creative industries.4 Who in your community drives the development of creative works? What data does your community have that supports your assumptions about who is in this group?  In some communities its photographers. In others, performing artists, makers, writers, arts administrators etc.

The Talent Developers

Where in your community do people develop creative and artistic skills? What organizations and spaces foster artistic growth and education, and allow for creative exploration? Can your community provide data on institutions and/or organizations that develop talent?

Serving again as an example, Washington DC defined these as, “The educators, administrators, faith leaders, human resource managers, etc. who support and sustain the development and expansion of the creative workforce.5 This is not an exhaustive list, however. By engaging these talent developers, Washington D.C. has been able to continue to identify more organizations and service providers that develop talent. By recognizing these initial talent developers, the City has been able to build relationships across communities and continually strengthen networks across sectors.

The Participants

Any industry needs consumers and the creative economy is no different. According to our Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 research the nonprofit arts and culture sector alone generates $102.5 in event-related expenditures by its audiences.  This spending alone supports 2.3 million jobs, provides $46.6 billion in household income, and generates $15.7 billion in total government revenue. 

The Participants are “the patrons, audience members, community members, etc. who support – with their attendance, their consumption, and their encouragement – all of the other four elements.6

Who in your community does this represent? How can you leverage their participation? How can building connections across talent developers and the creative industries increase participation across the board?

The Resource Managers

Policy makers play a significant role in directing resources that can support The Creatives, The Talent Developers and the Creative Industries. They can be government agencies, private foundations, public/private entities, investors and businesses. The Resource managers are, “the governments, developers, funders all who maintain and develop the physical and financial resources that support the other four elements.7

Creative economy work is deeply tied to economic development issues and by approaching this work from a broad lens of incorporating creatives into it can diminish barriers across sectors and between urban planning and development, preservation, arts and culture, and business. In addition to public funding, what private and community foundations support the different elements of the creative economy? Are there private investors in your area doing this work (often called impact investment)? Who are the real estate developers managing spaces that can be used to cultivate creativity-based work? 

Success Story: Made in Arlington

Made in Arlington. It was a simple declaration that was the genesis of how an urban municipality could create a program that supports the artisans, entrepreneurs and makers in its midst. Startups and small businesses in many industries have benefitted from business tools, investments and accelerators, so why not creatives?

A few years ago, when the County was facing a high commercial vacany rate, activating a vacant retail space in a brand new County community center provided a platform for bringing these creatives together in a vibrant marketplace setting; while simultaneously addressing the vacancy issue. Raw space, beautiful street side windows and track lighting were the backdrop for a curated pop-up.  Once the program was repeated enough times, and with enough success, officials started paying attention. Soon, a long-term tenant came forward, the efforts of the Creative Economy Initiative paid off and the community gained more than a filled space. But while it was mission accomplished for the leasing of the retail space, the Made in Arlington program needed a new home.

Leveraging its new found visibility, the Made in Arlington program was well positioned to approach the Arlington Public Library with interest in a new partnership. The Plaza branch of the library has a retail shop that had been largely a place to buy t-shirts, hats and water bottles decaled with the County logo so the idea to dedicate space for Made in Arlington products was welcomed as a way to support local artisans and show off the talents of its citizens.

With ancillary seasonal pop-ups in the lobby outside the shop and a rotation of new products, the vendors are getting known and their products are now showing up in corporate gifts that give the County recognition. Earned media was not far behind. Nearby hotels help promote Made in Arlington to give visitors the opportunity to take home a unique reminder of the place they stayed. In addition, the continuous influx of visitors to pop up shops in vacant spaces is the equivilant of regular open houses for commercial spaces.

Arlington is not the place where creative activities are used for revitalization. It’s the place that continues to attract consideration from business behemoths like Amazon. But to stand out in a crowd, keep companies like Lidl, Deloitte, Boeing and retain its place as a top place for digital companies, fostering a creative sector is the best differentiating factor by far.


How can my community engage in this work? (A practical guide)

Understanding your community’s creative ecology is essential to developing or strengthening creative economy work in your area. These steps below are a basic outline to help you begin a self-assessment. These steps are designed to help you see both your assets, gaps in service, and possible assumptions about who is doing what in your community. This is not a conclusive process. Please download this series of mapping worksheets as an aid to outline each of the five creative economy elements in your community. 

  1. Using the worksheets, map out who is in each of the five categories. Who are the key players and how are you identifying them. What is the criteria you are using to include them or not?
  2. If you have research on different industries, use that to gauge your assumptions against empirical data.
  3. Identify who you have relationships with in each sector and who you don’t. How can you connect each of the five areas together?
  4. Identify success stories already present in your community. Collect and record information about them that you can share later with others. Promote their success through your channels.
  5. Think about broader issues specific to your community beyond arts and culture. For example, Arlington is working to combat vacant storefronts by engaging makers, creatives and real estate developers to produce pop-up shops. What is your community struggling with and how can you bring your artists and creatives to the table to solve them?
  6. Engage members of each category in conversation. Learn what their specific goals are, what challenges they face, and what they care about in the community. Share with them your desire to connect them to others in meaningful ways.

    1. Whenever possible, research your community members before engaging with them. If there’s information available to you online about their work, read it before contacting them. This will ensure that your time is spent gathering information that isn’t otherwise available to you, and it will also demonstrate to them that you are invested in their work.
    2. Express your gratitude for their time. Especially when starting new relationships, gestures like follow-up emails or notes thanking others for their time go a long way in encouraging them to continue to engage with you.

Resources to measure the creative economy in your area:

Americans for the Arts Creative Industries Reports
Americans for the Arts Economic & Prosperity Report V
Business Contributions to the Arts
*Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the Conference Board, now offers localized studies of business contributions to the arts. Please contact the Private Sector Initatives team to learn more about measuring business support of the arts specific to your area.

National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) Creative Economy Data by State
ReCreate Coalition: Unlocking the Gates: America’s New Creative Economy
Upstart Co-Lab

1Parkinson, A., Kahn, G., & Peck, E. (n.d.). Business Contributions to the Arts: 2017 Edition (Research Brief). Retrieved October, 2017, from Americans for the Arts website: https://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/legislat...

2Harris, C., Collins, M., & Cheek, D. (2013). America's Creative Economy (p. 16, Rep.). Oklahoma City, OK: Creative Economy Coalition.

3Restrepo, F. B., & Marquez, I. D. (2013). The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity (Publication). Retrieved http://www.creativemany.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BID_The_Orange_Ec...

4-7Government of the District of Columbia, Office of Cable, TV, Film, Music and Entertainment