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The Intersection of Creativity & Commerce Gives Us the Cultural Economy (from Arts Watch)

Nina Ozlu Tunceli

Culture equals jobs. This was the theme of the 2012 World Cultural Economic Forum hosted by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is one of the most enlightened and empowered elected leaders that this nation has ever seen regarding strategically investing in his city’s cultural economy in order to move it forward.

As chief counsel of government and public affairs at Americans for the Arts, I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing it was to be at a two-day conference filled with elected officials and diplomats from around the world, focused exclusively on how these leaders are incorporating public policies to showcase the arts and culture for both its social and economic powers.

Mayor Landrieu did an amazing job of showcasing New Orleans’ investment in arts education to develop the next generation of culture workers; its investment in building local film and recording studios, performance centers, and clubs to attract current culture workers; its investment in tax credits for both film production and post-production editing, marketing, gaming, and software to attract culture businesses; and its investment in tourism marketing and branding initiatives, such as JazzFest, to attract out-of-town visitors, especially from abroad, in order to grower larger audiences for its cultural industries. You can catch up on more news about the forum on Twitter by searching #WCEF.

Below is an excerpt of Mayor Landrieu’s opening address at the 2012 World Cultural Economic Forum:

“Recently, the world has seen dramatic changes in political, social, and cultural landscapes. These changes have been fueled not only by political and economic factors, but also by social and cultural issues.

New civil societies have formed in nations that were once lacking in social networks, institutions, and civic participation. Creative workers that were once under heavy censorship now have more freedom to create cultural products that express multiple viewpoints. Natural disasters have changed not only the physical landscape of nations, but affected the cultural landscape as well.

All of these developments illustrate how culture is integral to success in our lives, our economies, and our governments. 

During my time with the state, I realized that the first step to harnessing the power of the cultural economy is to define it and to count it. Here in New Orleans, we define the cultural economy as the people, enterprises, and communities that transform cultural skills, knowledge, and ideas into economically productive activities and goods.

In other words—Culture Means Jobs.

Cities around the world have begun to define their cultural economies and realize that creative workers and businesses are an engine for economic growth. They are adding value to raw talent, raw materials, and intellectual capital to grow this important and underutilized economic sector. They are paying attention to what happens in the front of the house and at the back of the house. The framer becomes as important as the painter—the carpenter as important as the architect. 

Culture and creativity are tools cities should use to create a defined sense of place and an enhanced quality of life. The cultural economy is sustained by municipal planning that enhances already vibrant and creative neighborhoods and promotes place-based development. When used to its fullest potential culture becomes a priority, alongside, not subordinate to, transportation, housing, and infrastructure

Studies has shown that cities who utilize culture in the broadest way benefit in other ways as well. They are healthier, safer, smarter, more diverse, and more civically engaged. During this Forum, we are going to explore how culture affects these larger issues of civic life.

While there is much talk about the role of culture in urban planning, culture can enhance other government programs and policies as well. 

Here in New Orleans, we use knowledge of our cultural economy on multiple fronts to combat seemingly insurmountable problems. We collaborate with nonprofit organizations and the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission to offer arts and cultural programming to youth that develops their talents, and inspires them to use artistic self-expression as a vehicle for success. 

We work with health providers to screen cultural workers, such as musicians, culinary workers, and artists for chronic diseases, so that these often uninsured members of our cultural workforce get the preventative care they need. We partner with our job placement program JOB 1 and cultural organizations to provide training in the growing film and video industry here in the city. 

Crime, education, health, and workforce development can be a city’s most pressing issues, and they can all be aided by culture. 

Culture is a force that moves us forward, changing the game. 

This is the purpose of the Forum—to explore the various ways that culture can contribute solutions to multiple issues. In the face of global economic crises, devastating natural disasters, and political turmoil, harnessing culture as a policy tool is an effective response. 

The places that culture builds, protects, and nurtures are those which can recover, preserve, and develop our identities as cities. 

The intersection of creativity and commerce gives us the cultural economy.”

Can the cultural economy work that Mayor Landrieu is undertaking in New Orleans be replicated in your community? Has it already happened?

Share your story in the comments below.

(Arts Watch is the twice monthly published cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts, covering news in a variety of categories. Subscribe to Arts Watch or follow @artswatch on Twitter to receive up-to-the-minute news.)

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