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2011 Retreat ~ Friday Booking & Farewells

Hannah Jacobson

Delight or die; this is the new paradigm set forth by Steve Denning to adapt to the new creative economy.

In a particularly fickle consumer-centric universe, the increased focus on services as opposed to goods, he says, creates a need for “continuous innovation” and what he terms “radical management.”

This new economy will be David versus the Goliath of the outgoing manufacturing economy, and we all know who ultimately wins that battle—but it will require smarts, innovation, flexibility, a great survival instinct, and a lot of new energy.

Yet for the arts, how “radical” is it really to be focused on services, to continuously innovate to survive, and, perhaps most importantly, to delight audiences? If nothing else, the arts community provides a masterful example of survival in any economy—creative or otherwise.

So the idea of the “creative economy,” a concept that has more disparate definitions than can realistically be explored here—think about the spectrum of understandings that would arise from places as distinct as the United States, Norway, England, Australia, and far beyond—might be relatively new, but creativity in the economy and even creativity as a driver of the economy are functions that the arts have long recognized.

One of the major fights for the arts has been to present the sector as an investment, not a handout.

In FY 2010, the National Endowment for the Arts gave out $139 million to organizations that directly contributed $2.1 billion to their communities. Dollar for dollar, the arts have always been an amazingly productive investment—and, to be frank, pretty cheap, too, for the economic and social benefits they provide.

In an economy that sees industries struggling to radicalize their operations and learn to compete in an increasingly digital world, the arts remain surprisingly steady—and it’s not exactly because everyone has jumped on board with increasing funding.

No, it’s because the arts are fundamentally attuned to engaging audiences in any fiscal climate, and because they are, at their core, tied to that ability far more than they are dependent on specific dollar amounts.

Does money help? Undoubtedly.

Should the arts—which employ 2.99 million people in 756,007 businesses in the country, representing 2.17 percent of all employees and 4.14 percent of all businesses respectively—be seen as a real economic investment? Absolutely.

But for all the talk about a “creative economy,” there is surprisingly little discussion of the ways in which connectivity and engagement can become commodities, wealth that we can trade and in which we can invest.

The arts provide an excellent example, if we let them, of a service industry that has always survived, and sometimes in the face of incredible backlash.

The kind of radical management here cannot be found in a step-by-step manual, but rather in the value added by the services rendered.

It’s true that people can find a great deal more on the internet than they could before, and to compete in that environment will take ingenuity and, in some cases, entirely new ways of providing goods.

The arts are way ahead of us, in that they saw the writing on the wall and began to capitalize on their natural assets of audience engagement and connectivity as successful financial tools: in Ireland, there’s :fund:it; in Sweden, artistically-minded innovators can try FundedByMe; in France, KissKissBankBank, and the evocative Mutuzz; fansnextdoor is for all of Europe, and came from a collective of groups from France, India, and the Philippines; and of course, there is the now nearly-ubiquitous Kickstarter from the US, which inspired many of these crowdsourcing projects.

The list could go on almost ad infinitum, but the essential point here is that the arts, never the darling of tough economic times, have always found ways to utilize the best of what they have to offer to generate the kind of support they so desperately need.

Is it finally the time for the arts to shine, if this is truly “The Age of the Creative Economy?”

My inclination is to enthusiastically assert—sort of.

If the basic premise of this new economy is that survival is based on the ability to delight and engage audiences, well, we’ll be hard pressed to find a more apt industry. Yet I would be careful not to conflate “creative” with the arts per se, and instead see an incredible opportunity for the arts to finally prove the shrewd economic acumen they possess, a skill that many dismiss in “creative types.”

In this new paradigm, it might still be a fight to survive, but the arts are already pros at felling Goliath with every rock they can lay a hand on—and in the creative economy, it will be up to everyone else to catch up.

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