How the Creative Economy Boosts the Life of a Town
by Judith Wrend
How does the “creative economy” affect us and benefit our town?
The basic element of the creative economy is the so-called cultural workforce, which is composed of the many creative people who live among us: painters, craft artists, performers, writers and poets, filmmakers and photographers, designers, musicians,architects—and sculptors, like me. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Vermont ranks #3 in the nation for artists, is #2 for fine artists and writers, and is #8 for musicians and photographers as a percentage of the total workforce. We are what help give Vermont a high ranking in the national census.
Members of this creative workforce directly contribute to the economy of the region. Many of them are self-employed. They pay income tax and sales tax, and they purchase supplies and services, thus supporting other local businesses. They buy paints and canvas, steel and aluminum, craft materials, equipment and other supplies. They use the services of tax preparers, welders, auto painters, art framers, movers, photographers and many others. Arts and cultural enterprises total nearly 5 percent of all businesses in Vermont, according to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. These businesses employ more than 7000 Green Mountain State residents.
A second element of the creative economy is the non-profit sector: community organizations that provide cultural opportunities and services for all ages in the area. The Morrisville Centennial Library links the public to the literary arts. River Arts brings opportunities in the visual arts, offering exhibitions and classes for adults and children. These centers are focal points in the community where the public can access the arts and, very importantly, have contact with other people who share their interests. Connecting community members to each other through the arts is a vital function of these non-profit centers.
A third element of the creative economy is the for-profit sector: businesses that sell or exhibit creative products. A restaurant or a gallery that exhibits the works of local artists would be in this category. A shop that sells crafts, photography and handmade gifts, such as Haymaker Press, is a part of the creative economy.
Individuals who offer music lessons can also be included here. A commercial designer who helps create presentation materials for a local company is in this sector.
State and local governments have realized how important a vibrant creative sector is to the overall wellbeing of a region. The New England Foundation for the Arts collects data supporting the idea that a state or town with a relatively higher concentration of creative enterprises and creative workers gives that area a competitive edge by raising its quality of life and ability to attract economic activity. In 2016 the Vermont Legislature established the Vermont Creative Network, in partnership with the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Downtown Program, Common Good Vermont, the Emergent Media Center of Champlain College, the Regional Development Corporation, and the Vermont Department of Libraries. The Network divides the state into six organizational zones. The zone that includes Morrisville is called the Four-County Creative Zone, encompassing Franklin, Grand Isle, Washington and Lamoille Counties. Morrisville’s representative for this Network is Tricia Follert, who will help to connect our town into the statewide creative initiative. As they coordinate with other sectors of the Vermont economy, such as tourism and skiing, both locally and statewide, they will help the creative enterprises here to flourish and to be an asset to our town.
Having a thriving creative economy is one of the ways we make a community as attractive as possible. A town with a healthy creative community is likely to also have good schools and profitable businesses. Realtors report that their buyers are drawn to communities that have these features. People want to live in such towns. As the arts community grows, tourists are attracted to these towns and come to visit. A creative town also draws in people from surrounding communities. The town becomes a destination.
Many of the economic benefits of the creative economy are quantifiable. We can measure them and print out reports, but there are other benefits that are not so easily measurable. What can we look for? There may be a group of elders who make art together and as a result feel connected and energized. There could be a business that gives a new look to its façade and makes the downtown more attractive and lively looking. A new sculpture installed in the town may provoke opinions and conversation and a desire to take a closer look. Signs that educate about the history of the town and link with a walking pathway enhance the sense of place. Children in an arts-focused class gain confidence in their own ideas and creative ability in a place that is safe for their explorations. People who gather for a regular book club discuss ideas and feel connected to each other and to the town. An exhibit of poetry written by a local group of poets graces a wall of the post office. People come in to pick up their mail and then stop to read a poem or two. The town gets a new logo emblem, designed by a local artist. We see it on the town website, town trucks and t-shirts worn by town workers. All of these, and more, give the impression that things are happening here, that people care about their town, and that people are engaged with the life of the town. All of these make the town inviting and indicate a high quality of life.
Judith is a sculptor who maintains her studio in Morrisville. She was a member of the founding board of River Arts and continues to support River Arts programs. www.judithwrend.com