Thursday, September 13, 2007
The ripple of a new idea can create a sea of change. Decades ago, John Naisbitt’s Megatrends took a deep look at business and social systems worldwide in a simple, evocative book that had a tsunami of impact on government policies, corporate boardrooms and management schools. Its influence surged all the way down to the water-cooler middle managers who talked about the Japanese business model and a “high tech, high touch” marketing approach.
Such a new wave of thinking is behind “Creative Monterey County: An Action Plan,” the county’s first-ever arts and culture plan, which will be launched Friday, Sept. 14.
Based on international data and local research, the plan is the outcome of months of discussion and analysis by almost 100 representatives from all sectors of the community. The Arts Council for Monterey County and the Community Foundation for Monterey County led the process, which was funded by the James Irvine Foundation.
The plan recognizes that this county, more than most, has a wealth of individual artists, arts organizations and institutions. This abundance creates a stimulating environment and an undisputed enhancement to our quality of life: Artists and arts institutions are good for their own sake.
It also looks at this rich artistic resource as part of what worldwide economists, policymakers and academicians are recognizing as the fastest-growing sector of the world economy, the “creative economy.” In this newly-defined environment, the arts are important for a whole new set of reasons.
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At the cusp of the century, Business Week declared the 21st century the “creative era.” Shortly after, policymakers in Britain adopted a new economic development definition: “creative clusters,” which became the mantra for attracting relatively high paying, low-impact design and development industries to replace lost manufacturing jobs in urban, suburban and rural counties. Using a similar term, Bill Gates opened the World Economic Forum of 2006 (themed “The Creative Imperative”) by talking about how Microsoft targets its products to support “the creative economy.”
Later this year Fairfax County, Va., hosts the first international Creative Economy conference in the United States, convening economists, planners, artists, policymakers and academicians from four continents to discuss “creative industries” which, the plan explains, “rely on intellectual property, individual skills and creative talents.”
“Creativity is increasingly at the heart of ‘competitive advantage’ in all sectors of our economy,” says Paulette Lynch, executive director of the Arts Council. “Whatever the product or service may be, for any business to be successful it needs creative people in all aspects of design, development and management. Creativity in the workplace is not limited to design, although that is increasingly important, but means the ability to see things differently, to see new opportunities and to solve problems that seem intractable.”
A large part of the plan aims to strengthen and build the county’s creative industries as a whole. Much of that strength will come from collaborations. “In fact,” Lynch says, “during the process many ideas like cooperative marketing made such sense that they’re already being implemented.”
Some figures cited in the plan are familiar: nearly 100 nonprofit arts organizations, thousands of individual artists and arts businesses and the extended systems that support them exist here, along with dozens of historic sites and cultural institutions.
Other figures are more surprising. According to the feds, the creative industries in Monterey County account for 9,743 jobs – more than 4 percent of county employment or “twice the number… of jobs as in hotels and motels, more than residential, commercial and industrial construction combined.”
The Action Plan seeks to strengthen these creative industries by identifying them officially as one of Monterey County’s economic development clusters, a responsibility of the Monterey County Business Council. This official designation would lead to research, networking and incubation support. As a “new” economic development engine, creative economies – including the fine arts – would benefit from modified land use policies like zoning modifications that encourage development of live/work housing and establish creative districts such as Arts Habitat currently underway on the former Fort Ord.
“Our existing creative industries provide a strong base which can be helped to grow,” says Kira Corser, the Community Foundation’s arts project manager. “We need to strengthen and support the arts and other creative industries already here, reinvest in our existing assets and programs, protect and promote them, then identify and fill in the gaps in order to move forward.”
Tourism is another local industry that stands to benefit economically from a strong arts and cultural presence. The plan points to the opportunity “for arts and culture groups to partner with the hospitality industry” to attract the cultural tourist – who spends more and stays longer than other tourists. It calls for a new cultural tourism image or brand that would be marketed by the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Monterey County Business Council.
The plan also considers how arts and culture can help address powerful demographic changes. For instance, Salinas Valley now houses 35 percent of the county’s residents. Many residents are monolingual Spanish, but most local cultural programs are English-only. Monterey County’s population is less educated than most statewide; local industries pay less, and homes cost more than in other California counties. To address these inequities, the plan proposes “to make effective use of arts, culture and creative opportunities to promote vibrant and healthy communities, including education and workforce development.”
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Nowadays there is plentiful research to prove that arts are important in education; they help kids learn every other subject by stimulating problem-solving skills. In therapy and in mediation arts provide safe places for self-expression. Arts are regularly used as a venue for cross-cultural understanding and for bringing communities together.
Arts can be a great workhorse for community improvement. Yet arts have been considered dispensable in public education, and have long held second-tier status in civic funding priorities.
The plan advocates support for the arts by embedding the traditional fine and creative arts within the context of a needed industry, showing its role in the economic, cultural and social life of the county. It’s a perspective that doesn’t cheapen or distract from the value of art as a pure expressive force but that attracts a new level of support for artists and arts organizations.
Rep. Sam Farr participated directly in the development of the plan. He’s also quoted in the document. “The arts and culture of our region are unparalleled,” he says. “We just have to come together as never before to celebrate and promote that.”
TO VIEW THE PLAN VISIT CFMCO.ORG OR CULTURALMONTEREY.ORG.