Art Works Blog

Cultivating Creativity

by Malcolm White, Executive Director, Mississippi Arts Commission

Mississippi Arts Commission Executive Director Malcolm White. Photo by Susan Dobbs

Fall in Mississippi brings to mind many things: the waning days of heat and humidity, another year of SEC rivalries, harvest season in the Delta soil and, this year, creativity, innovation, and opportunity. Mississippi’s creative economy study, Realizing the Economic Potential of Creativity in Mississippi, and its accompanying vignette case studies, “Red Hots and Deep Blues: Stories of Mississippi's Creative Economy" were released to a standing room only summit that brought together the worlds of government, economic development, and the arts. The event was held to celebrate and present the study of Mississippi’s creative economy, brought to fruition by an unprecedented partnership between the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Mississippi Development Authority. For the first time in state history, Mississippi's creative and economic development agencies partnered in an informative and cohesive study that takes a pioneering look at the state’s nonprofit organizations side by side with for profit entities to assess the potential of our creative assets. The study outlines and explores what the creative economy is, what portion of Mississippi's overall economy is in the creative sector, and how we can support, encourage, and grow this emerging culture.

The study revealed that nearly 61,000 Mississippians are employed in the creative sector, representing about three percent of the state’s economy. The crossroads of our people, places, and products have already made an important mark on our state that is showing us an even bigger opportunity for the future. The snapshot of the creative economy shown in the study is totally organic. Can you imagine the results if we watered, tended, and fertilized it? This new economy is evergreen, authentic, and local. New ideas, not money or machinery, are the source of success today.

Every community has a story, and we think it is time we tell those stories, invite the guests to visit, and build civic pride around the process. Creativity and innovation are the new currency in this global economy, and Mississippi has a rich and diverse inventory of assets, entrepreneurs, and storytellers. Every day we write the book: through music, literature, architecture, food, the Civil War, Civil Rights, our sacred spaces, and the arts. The creative economy is revitalizing manufacturing, service, retailing, and entertainment industries. It is changing where people want to live, work, and learn; and where they think, invent, and produce.

To quote John Howkins, “Creativity is not new, and neither is economics, but what is new is the nature and extent of the relationship between them and how they combine to create extraordinary value and wealth.” Communities of every size can take part and benefit from nurturing this aspect of economic development.

If you want to know how art works, and more importantly how government and art can work together, in Mississippi, visit our creative economy website to see our latest projects and programs as we find new ways to reap the benefits of our fertile cultural landscape. As our governor, Haley Barbour, put it so succinctly, “We can’t sit on our assets”…and what amazing and wondrous assets the arts and creativity are.

As this movement picks up steam, we see opportunity abound through new partners and initiatives. Our state chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council, recently revealed that the creative economy is a crucial component of Blueprint Mississippi 2011, a program created to move the state forward in economic and educational issues.

The creative landscape and its abundant opportunities are available to any city, town, or crossroad that wishes to tap into its unique character and creativity. Our creative economy gives us the opportunity to tell our story through our people, places, and products. It is ours alone and will never be able to be outsourced. We have allowed others, for far too long, to define who we are; we now have an artful and thoughtful opportunity to set that story straight. The crossroad is before us, and we can choose to take a bold and innovative direction that will lead us into a new era of creativity and prosperity.

No matter if the dialogue is local, at the state level, or national, this conversation has never been more important than in today’s environment. If ever there was a need for innovation and the ability to look beyond trite and clichéd responses, it is now. We have a responsibility to bring arts to the table as a viable, educated, and thoughtful answer to our current economic landscape.

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