Five Roles for Arts, Culture, and Design in Economic Development


Research Abstract
Five Roles for Arts, Culture, and Design in Economic Development

Although economic recovery is beginning to take hold, governors and mayors remain focused on finding better policy and strategies to drive job creation and economic growth. They seem to be gravitating toward five areas:

  1. Identifying and supporting high-growth, entrepreneurial firms and globally-oriented industry clusters.
  2. Creating new growth opportunities for mature industries.
  3. Building places that will attract and foster innovation and businesses.
  4. Finding new uses for old properties, functions for declining districts, and new economic opportunities for growing cities and regions.
  5. Constantly updating workforce skills.

Many are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach as they call on state and city agencies—and not only the obvious economic and workforce development agencies—to create better strategies for long-term economic growth. They are asking energy offices, budget offices, transportation, health, and procurement offices to be more attuned to the success or failure of a local business, technology venture, or job training program.

Some governors and mayors are including arts and cultural agencies in their approaches. The 2012 National Governors Association (NGA) report, “New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design,” outlines how arts, culture, and design can compel economic solutions in five ways:2

  1. Create a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster.
  2. Help mature industries become more competitive.
  3. Provide the critical ingredients for innovative places.
  4. Catalyze community revitalization.
  5. Deliver a better-prepared workforce.

I review each of these roles here. [ p. 1]

The benefit of an all-hands-on-deck approach to confronting economic challenges and opportunities becomes readily apparent when considering the case of arts, culture, and design. Not traditionally present in the domain of economic development, this trio has many potential benefits for boosting the economy. They touch the economy at crucial leverage points, including innovation, entrepreneurship, employment, and revitalization. An arts, culture, and design strategy is not the only requirement for promoting prosperity. However, coupled with other strategies, the three can provide a competitive edge for cities and states.


Mary Jo Watts
Community Development Investment Review
December 1, 2014

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