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A rotating panel of experts will provide commentary on topics related to the creative economy. We encourage readers to respond and share their thoughts.

Cora Mirikitani, President and CEO, Center for Cultural Innovation

Artists, Creativity and Innovation – Are we connecting the dots?

An interesting report issued by The Conference Board in 2008 found that the majority of U.S. corporate employers ranked creativity at the top of the skill set most desired among their employees because creativity is necessary for innovation, and innovation is critical to being competitive.

The study also found that educators - school superintendents, in this case – thought that creativity was an increasingly important factor in the workplace, which should have been a big “thumbs-up” for all of the resources connected to getting individuals to become more creative – like arts education in the schools and involving artists directly to make new work, use their skills in the workplace and help spread the word.

In Los Angeles, the idea of connecting artists to the creative economy seems like an even more powerful, if not obvious, fit given the fact that L.A. is home to more working artists than any other major metropolis in the U.S., including New York, according to a recent report by research economist Ann Markusen.  With so much creative human capital already in place, L.A.’s economic advantage seems like a slam dunk.  Or, maybe not.

My work at the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) – a nonprofit funder and incubator working with  artists –  reveals on a daily basis that artists, while abundant in L.A., aren’t really considered, or encouraged, to be part of that creative workforce that is necessary for businesses to innovate, and for Los Angeles to be globally competitive.  They’re under the radar, and even worse, unaccounted for as public and private sector policymakers devise ways to build the region’s creative economy.  Clearly we’re not connecting the dots.  What’s going on?

Research guru Ann Markusen, in a recent study for CCI on artists in Los Angeles, summarizes it this way

Artists differ markedly from all other professionals. Their work lives generally begin with strenuous years of specialized education, followed by a daunting search for jobs or contract work or an entrepreneurial effort to set up a business.  At very high self-employment rates – six times the workforce average – artists’ incomes fall short of workers with comparable educational backgrounds.  In Los Angeles more than other cultural cities, artists build careers by moving across commercial, non-profit and community spheres, and by cobbling together diverse streams of earnings.

But there are things we can do to change that.

Artists can be tapped to nourish creativity of children and youth in the schools.  Job training can be offered to move young people with creative talent into the workforce.  Art schools can play a more active role in preparing artists for the business of art, in addition to teaching them how to make art.  Local government can treat artists like other small business segments they would like to successfully attract and retain. And artists, themselves, can become better advocates for their needs, and contributions.  We can begin to connect the dots, and there’s no better time than now.

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