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In my January 3rd article, Fueling the Creative Economy I wrote about the appointment of Joe Bookchin to the position of director of the Office of the Creative Economy in Vermont, as well as creative economy initiatives in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and their importance to our industry’s continued health and development.

Subsequently, I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by Jean Maginnis, Founder & Executive Director, Maine Center for Creativity and Christine Harris, CEO Christine Harris Connections and Executive Advisor Creative Alliance Milwaukee who informed me of their respective creative alliances as well as others, and the newly formed National Creativity Network, an organization that believes in fostering creativity as being key to innovation and economic success in America right now.

They, along with Margaret Collins, Executive Director, Center for Creative Economy Piedmont Triad, North Carolina Susan McCalmont, President, Creative Oklahoma, Elizabeth Murphy, Consulting Director, Creative New Jersey, Dave Baldwin, President, Aquarian Technology Systems, Ltd, Creative Ohio and George Tzougros, National Creativity Network Chairperson and Executive Director, Wisconsin Arts Board were gracious enough to grant me an interview where they responded to four questions about their ongoing initiatives:

1. What are your top/high priority initiatives for stimulating creative economy in your region?

2. What would you say are the biggest challenges regionally or otherwise for creative industries right now? Across the board the answer to this question was current economic conditions and education.

3. How can graphic designers be more involved in supporting industry growth and health?

4. There seems to be a commoditization and devaluing trend in creative services. Part of this can probably be attributed to economic pressures. What advice would you give graphic designers to counter this?

Jean Maginnis, Maine Center for Creativity: Definitely Art All Around®, a major public art project that paired Sprague Energy corporation with the arts community “to transform 16 oil storage tanks on Portland harbor into an integrated ‘canvas’ of color and design…” with the added dimension of being visible from a Google Earth perspective. Part of the project was a blind International Design Competition, with a panel of nine jurors from Maine and countries including Spain, Germany and Canada, which received 560 proposals from 80 countries. Five semi-finalists received a $10,000 cash prize and the finalist; Jaime Gili received an additional $20,000. Maginnis described experiencing an “aha moment” when biking with her husband in Bug Light park in South Portland thinking about the concept of “think tanks” and wondering how to “capture the public imagination with a large arts & industry collaboration” and suddenly seeing the oil tanks as potential canvasses.

So far they have raised $950,000 towards their 1.3 million dollar goal and are in the final phase of painting eight oil tanks and tops. There is an additional $350,000 to raise in order to paint the additional tanks. Maginnis also spoke about the importance of building infrastructure programs and their well-attended “Creative Toolbox” series of presentations in partnership with the University of Southern Maine designed to provide creatives with skills, resources and information to succeed economically and Pecha Kucha nights where designers and creative people can meet, network and share their work.

Margaret Collins, Center for Creative Economy, North Carolina: For Collins, what started as a Piedmont Triad workforce development grant, after four years has evolved into the Center for Creative Economy. Based in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad encompassing Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, in the middle of the state, the Center for Creative Economy’s focus is on creating a “catalyst for innovation” by getting business and creatives working together, connecting creatives to business networks and vice versa. Collins’ defines her role as “being an advocate for creatives here [North Carolina].”

To that end, some of the Center’s high priority projects are their Innovation Summits, designed to bring creative and business people together, Triad Design Leadershop, customized creative workshops exploring design thinking, “Creatini” themed networking events that aggregate creative community, feature guest speakers and create a space for idea sharing and the Idea Index “a fully interactive online creative directory featuring artists, designers, and other creative professionals in the Piedmont Triad who want to showcase their portfolios, videos, and creative work.” One of the more unique features of the Idea Index differentiating it from other creative directories is the ability to submit and respond to RFPs online as well as Panels, the community component encouraging dialogue and exchange between business and creative users. The Idea Index actualizes Collins’ intention to provide “robust infrastructure” and “bridge communities by putting them in dialogue so that people can understand the value creatives can bring.”

Elizabeth Murphy, Creative New Jersey: Murphy, representing the youngest organization of the group, related how last June the founding members of Creative New Jersey held a statewide open-space Call To Collaboration where 150 leaders from a wide range of sectors assembled to answer the central question: “How can creativity and innovation revitalize New Jersey?” The success of this event has set in motion the development of a statewide series of Community Creativity Convenings.

These self-directed conferences include a broad multi-generational and sector demographic of “arts leaders, educators, business leaders, mayors, philanthropists, sustainability folks, students, and tech” and are designed to stimulate a “ground up” movement to “…foster creativity, innovation and sustainability and to exploit how the creative industries can have a transformative effect on the economy and people’s lives.” As well as encourage connections between nonprofits, governments, businesses and philanthropic organizations. “When we meet at the intersection of seemingly disparate disciplines, we have the opportunity for our own ideas to clash and combine with others, thereby encouraging an explosion of potentially groundbreaking, new ideas.”

Christine Harris, Creative Alliance Milwaukee:
Harris articulated Creative Milwaukee’s high priority as connecting on a government level to address recognition that this [creative economy] is a cluster and to promote self-identification [within the creative community] as a cluster. As well as, working closely with state economic development corporation to get recognition as a cluster worthy of investment. George Tzougros further underscored Harris’ point by stating that “since government had been built for the industrial age [the value of creative economy] tended to appear less substantial. David Baldwin commented at this point as well, referencing the World Future Society, the Center for Communities of the Future and describing the overall shift away from the industrial economy toward a “transformation of all systems and the emergence of a new Creative Molecular Economy.”

Susan McCalmont, Creative Oklahoma: Echoing Baldwin’s sentiments, McCalmont cited education, commerce and culture and how to build a pipeline to creative economy in Oklahoma as being among Creative Oklahoma’s top priorities. Some of the guiding questions for her were “What are barriers to economic growth?, What are the barriers to quality of life?, What are our strengths in Oklahoma?” She described her work with marketers, graphic designers and public television to establish Oklahoma as a creative center in the minds of local businesses, who traditionally may have looked outside the state for their creative resources through major events such as the Oklahoma Creativity Forum.

She also talked about initiatives to retain talent in film and music, areas of particular strength in Oklahoma by creating jobs around those industries. She described a creativity ambassador initiative, a group of prominent creative professionals who through “public service announcements, performances, speaking engagements, and sharing of their knowledge in their respective fields” help change perceptions of Oklahoma both within and outside the state. On the workforce development side McCalmont talked about modular learning units offered to businesses and job fairs connecting university students with businesses as well as grants and awards programs.

David Baldwin, Creative Ohio: Creative Ohio is just forming as a result of Baldwin’s attendance at the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma City in 2010. Baldwin describes Creative Ohio as self-organizing and not honing in on any one aspect of the arts or focusing solely on the economic benefit, but the transformational benefit of building a [creative] network and celebrating [creative] activity.

Whereas responses regarding individual organizational goals and initiatives varied, responses to the other three questions of challenges for the creative industries, how designers can be more involved in supporting industry growth and health, and how designers can counter the trend toward the commoditization of their services were relatively similar.

Poor economic conditions causing companies to tighten their belts on creative spending, sluggish investment growth and lack of organizational structure were among the main challenges to creative industries cited, along with a lack of understanding of design and innovation having organizational value as opposed to being merely technical products, and the importance of client education regarding this added value.

Response to the question “How can graphic designers be more involved in supporting industry growth and health?” was practically unilateral—get involved in the creative community, advocate for creative services, speak or write on creativity and an often overlooked but equally important part of the equation—communicate training and education needs back to academic institutions.

Lastly, in response to the question of how to counter the commoditization of the creative industry the answer was overwhelmingly “build your brand,” “build relationships,” and be able to present the business case to support your value. Dave Baldwin, in particular, suggested that the transformation being felt in graphic design might be an opportunity for those designers who are willing to “cross silos” and take an entrepreneurial approach.

If you’re interested in getting involved or learning more here is a list of organizations working to support and encourage creative economy. By no means is it exhaustive so please feel free to post any I may have left out.

Berkshire Creative www.berkshirecreative.org
Center for Creative Economy Winston-Salem/Greensboro, North Carolina
www.centerforcreativeeconomy.com
http://www.facebook.com/Center-for-Creative-Economy
Creative Albuquerque www.creativeabq.org
Creative Alliance Milwaukee http://www.creativealliancemke.org
Creative New Jersey www.creativenj.org
Creative Oklahoma www.stateofcreativity.com
Maine Center for Creativity www.mainecenterforcreativity.org
Oregon Creative Industries http://oregoncreative.wordpress.com/
Mt. Auburn Associates has been profiling the creative economy since 2000. Reports from all of their work is on their website, www.mtauburnassociates.com
RTS, Inc, has been doing creative economy research since 2000. Reports are on their website, www.rtsinc.org