Wednesday, May 16, 2012

National Governors Association Presents New Engines of Growth: Part 1, The Industry Cluster

Kind of a long winded title there. But what I'm referring to is a study released in May 2012 by the National Governors Association titled "New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design"

As I read these things, I try to distill them down to the meat and potatoes. I always try to remember to link to the actual studies, so you can read them in depth for yourselves. Click the link above for the Full Monty. From the report:

This report focuses on the role that arts, culture, and design can play in assisting states as they seek to create jobs and boost their economies in the short run and transition to an innovation- based economy in the long run.

The report makes the argument that arts, culture, and design can assist states with economic growth because they can:

1. Provide 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; and
5. Deliver a better-prepared workforce.

I'm going to focus in this blog post with #1, and say that an "industry cluster" is exactly what was my motivation behind forming the Ashland Arts Alliance. I had not heard the term "industry cluster" a month ago when I launched the Alliance, but there is a certain amount of stuff that is just intuitive. Here's a little gem from the report:

Because creating a new cluster can take decades, states must try to speed up the process by identifying existing and emerging clusters in the econo- my and helping them improve their competitive strengths. One way to help clusters with competitive advantage is to figure out which of the ingredients necessary for success are missing locally and how they can be supplied. Another way is to help all the potential participants in a cluster connect with one another.

Personally, I think I've found a pretty good solution to speeding up the process by figuring out how to help the participants connect with one another. I did it using The Ashland Arts Alliance isn't even a month old, and we have 61 members. The talent pool consists of (but is not limited to) photographers, videographers, digital effects people, producers, writers, directors, recording artists, craftsmen, instrument makers (drums and a luthier) a hair stylist, music teachers, performers, jewelers, dancers, sound technicians, web site designers, graphic designers, SEO experts, and energy healers. I call that a pretty good cluster! Any two members can communicate with each other instantly, and collaborations can bloom overnight.

Again from the report:

Providing a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster:

The creative economy does not consist only of artists. It includes a broad cluster of creative activities—arts, culture, design, entertainment, publishing, fashion, and other components. Existing economic development strategies can be used to focus on creative clusters within a state for competitive advantage. State leaders can:

  • Identify creative enterprises—both commercial and nonprofit—in analyses of state industry clusters
  • Include creative enterprises and arts, design, and cultural development experts in economic task forces, meetings, and other leadership activities
  • Examine eligibility criteria for state assistance (incentives, training, technical assistance) to make sure that creative enterprises, artists, arts, and cultural organizations are eligible to participate
  • Integrate entrepreneurial curriculum modules into art and design programs and into other education programs in community colleges and four-year institutions; and
  • Pilot small business development center training courses for artists and entrepreneurs in creative fields.

Again, I'll toot my own horn by saying that when I created the "Arts Alliance", I went out of my way to say that it is not "elitist", and that anyone who considers themselves to be creative should join. We are indeed a "broad cluster of creative activities".

If state (or county or town) leaders want to identify creative enterprises in our cluster, all they have to do is go to the link for the Alliance. We are all there for everyone to see.

As for as being included in economic task forces, meetings, and other leadership activities, I'm doing my best. I've been emailing the board of directors of the local Main Street Association, some town council members, and the Economic Development Co-ordinator, whom I have a meeting with tomorrow. I attended the Town Council Candidates Forum, and lobbed one of the few challenging questions of the evening in regards to balancing preserving community standards vs. an artist's freedom of expression in terms of censorship. I've critiqued the town's Comprehensive Plan on this blog, as well as raised questions about the newly declared Arts and Culture District. I even commented on the town's observation of the National Day of Prayer, as faith is a huge part of "culture" in the "arts and culture" picture.

My wife is meeting with John Bryan, president of Culture Works, next week to discuss financial assistance for the arts.

I have contacted the county school board to express my interest in being involved in bringing more arts programs into the public schools. I'd love to get involved with our local private college, Randolph-Macon.

I love the idea of small business development center training courses.

None of this is rocket science. I didn't have to read a governors report to figure out what direction things need to move. But it is nice to get official backing for my efforts, as sometimes I feel like a lonely voice in a the wind.

Each of us has the power to get an "industry cluster" on the fast track. It takes a bit of time and effort, and being shameless in self promotion doesn't hurt. (I have the advantage of having produced numerous seasonal events which have attracted thousands of people). Nor does having members who do their own share in promoting the group. There should be an article on the Alliance coming out next week in the Richmond Arts and Culture magazine, Style Weekly, written by one of the members of our "broad cluster."

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