Creative economy projects capitalize on the power of art to inspire and delight,and focus on creative business growth as strategies to help bring economic development to a multitude of places.
By building up the local economy, whether it is through creating pop-ups shops in Mount Rainer, MD, creating an artist training incubator in Fort Collins, fostering the tourist economy in Reedsburg, WI, creating a new culture of innovative business signage in Covington, KY, connecting the design community to the innovation economy efforts of a city in Boston, or connecting artists and farmers to jointly grow a local economy in Montgomery, NY, Our Town creative economy projects emerge from strategic alliances between the arts and design and business communities. As hybrid projects, leaders often approached the subject of community engagement and project communications through the lens of a business perspective.
In Boston, the project managers worked to get the local design community to connect to other business development sectors, especially the entrepreneural support systems that were focusing their energy on the city's new Innovation District. “I think we've brought new attention to the design community as separate from the arts community. Both are important — design can play a role is improving the urban landscape…. Also…. I think we were successful in bringing together the arts, design, business, tech, and entrepreneurial communities, for the benefit of the area. We also were able to convince the City of Boston that design should be part of their thinking when it comes to the Innovation District. I think the biggest success was uniting the design community with other major industries and public sector entities, you can see the results in other initiative popping up from within city government and from private entities — I think we kickstarted something here.”
As Brooke Kid explained in Mount Rainier, “our communications strategy was organized in terms of a larger marketing scheme and took into consideration items such as: direct mail, print and web based ads; press releases; monthly e-news letters; social media posts; and video creation; docent lead tours. We also considered branding as well, and even produced a style guide, logo, and a well-branded blog.” Such projects also recognized the value of in-depth stakeholder involvement as an investment into understanding the overall market, the needs of each of its constituents, and as a way to develop the overall market strategy. In Mount Rainier, “there were many presentations and program discussions for each partner constituency or program delivery partner, and any small group meetings yield the program scope.”
In Montgomery, project managers worked intently to make sure that each stakeholder group was engaged and part of the process. “We had to chase down farmers in person and set charrette times/places where they could participate. Elected officials were pursued by other elected officials, and high-ranking county government agents. Artists were offered opportunities to exhibit, and participated because they had a stake in it.”
Funding for some of the Our Town creative economy projects came in the form of in-kind support (Fitchburg and Montgomery), and other received funding directly from the local government (Boston). It was also common for projects, such as Mount Rainier, to receive numerous smaller contributions from their project partners. Ultimately all project looked to increase the earned revenue of businesses and artists or designers that their projects touched upon, while at the same time recognizing that additional public and private dollars would be needed in order to get the larger project on its feet and in stable condition.
In Fort Collins, where a partnership between the city and a local arts organization looked to create an arts-based business incubator that could help serve both the artistic and the business communities through residencies and classes. Though they were able to raise enough funds through the Our Town grant to get through the initial start-up phase they quickly came to understand that in business formation there was a predictable period between the start-up time of a business and the time when it was running at full speed and could raise additional funds based on its on-going success. In the business world they call it “death valley” and prepare for it in advance, but for the project partners they had to learn as they went along. “We got ahead of ourselves. We knew what the end result was but not what the transition plan was. How long does it take you to hit the ground? Business folks call it ’death valley.’ You start with funding – you hit death valley -- and then you build out. Be aware that there will be funding upfront but then there will be a gap – and you have to prepare yourself – there is seed money, and there are people who want to fund success, but there’s not a lot out there for supporting that middle phase.”
Just as the range of Our Town creative economy project spans from rural to urban, or from the idea of implementing small pop-ups to ideas for creating large scale regional alliances, the range of partners varies just as widely: planning commissions, transit authorities, university partners, museums, municipal government, business associations, art schools, non-profit arts organizations, and community development corporations all had roles.
However, while the types of partnerships varied, most creative economy projects were also characterized by having a strong project lead directing the overall vision. This person would often make sure that the other project partners took on leadership roles as well, but they were well defined and coordinated with the larger project process. In Mount Rainer, Brook Kid said, “I designed the overall programs and contracted other creative professionals to execute the programs. I also hired a project coordinator who worked for our organization. We met frequently as a team during the planning phase and then around production logistics. The Mount Rainier city manager was a key leader for city logistics, but involved only as necessary.”
Businesses thrive on data and frequently evaluate the impact of their decisions in terms of overall performance.
This model was used in Stone Mountain where the, “staff of ARTStation developed several evaluation tools. The Artistic Director, the Gallery Manager, the Education Director formally evaluated each artists each month with an evaluation system that included quality of the work, sales, team player, participation in educational activities, serving as an ambassador to the community etc.” Evaluation however didn’t just go one way, each artist also evaluated the program quarterly as well, making for a more comprehensive feedback cycle. The idea of measuring the larger impacts on the local economy however wasn’t always as easy as evaluating internal performance. In Montgomery, project mangers report that they, “were looking to create an increase in local economic activity but none found an easy way to measure those effects.” Many projects found similar challenges and relied on observations of foot traffic and anecdotal stories from merchants to confirm the degree of increase in area businesses.
More information about evaulation is available on the "Project Process - Measuring Project Results" page.