G-Sync: State of the (Creative) Union

What would happen if your gut instinct proved to be right? You would want to shout it from the top of the Calder and that is exactly what Rapid Growth's Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen aims to do after reading ArtServe's new 2014 Creative State Michigan reports. (Yes, "reports" plural!)
If you look at just about any social platform feed these days, there seems to be no shortage of events or offers of advancement for those looking to change the way they work. This is seen in places like LinkedIn, where people advance new projects as a result of an open platform discussion, and within online groups. Rapid Growth's former managing photographer, Brian Kelly, is now offering photo assistant classes to those seeking to advance in the ever-evolving photography sector. It seems like opportunities to find work in the creative sector are growing every day.

If you are like me, and I know many of you are, you may have sensed that something has shifted drastically over the years in how we work as a state. But we have worked off of our gut instinct with little data to quantify this feeling…until now.

The creative sector's positive impact on our state's economy has finally been quantified through the leadership, vision, and reporting from ArtServe Michigan - a nonprofit serving the arts, culture, arts education, and creative economy. As an advocate for the arts, ArtServe continues to look at our state's changing landscape, thanks to unprecedented access to big data and its ability to finally be tamed via advances in technology. ArtServe has unearthed a positive economic narrative – and everyone from elected officials to community leaders is beginning to witness the transformative power and impact of the creative sector on Michigan's citizens.

If you think I am talking about just the artists, then sit up and listen, because last week's 2014 Creative State Michigan report from ArtServe Michigan has not only made a nice leap from their 2012 report, but they have brought on new partners since the earlier one was released.

By adding the Detroit Creative Corridor Center and Data Driven Detroit to this project, something truly remarkable has emerged. The collaboration has brought a positive new element to this year's report: confidence.

"For starters, the Creative State Michigan report that we released in 2012 focused on strictly the nonprofit sector's data. It confirmed what we knew only as a hunch: Michigan's creative sector contributes in a remarkable way to the vitality but also to the local economy," says ArtServe's President and CEO Jennifer H. Goulet. "Now as we release our 2014 report, it becomes even clearer that the creative sector of Michigan's economy has not just impacted people's lives at home for the better, but that the report illustrates how its impact is boosting everything from tourism to attracting and retaining talent to our state."

This is a big deal for a state that is looking to hit so many of these points.

In 2011, the Michigan Cultural Data Project (CDP) surveyed 424 nonprofit organizations who collectively reported total expenditures of $565 million – but, of this number, nearly $196 million went back to support 26,054 jobs here in Michigan.

When you factor in that many of our nonprofits host events and attractions that lure people from outside our state, then we get to also deal with another important number of $2 billion generated from tourism revenues.  

Goulet also highlights that nonprofit organizations are responsible for providing cultural learning experiences to over three million schoolchildren and provided 68% of over 22 million visits free to the public – thus benefiting the citizens of our state of all ages.

Last week, MLive reported that the in-your-face-too-hard-to-ignore downtown event ArtPrize 2013, which literally takes over the center city, resulted in 389,400 visitors, creating a $22 million economic impact for the city of Grand Rapids. And while this may be just one event, understand that this city has become a flurry of activity each weekend after decades of steady and slow growth. The year-round events being hosted in West Michigan serve not just the locals but the visitors as well.  

And yet in spite of these positive, eventful moments in our state, Goulet reminds me that when Lansing gets to a crunch time, the creative sector is more often than not (and at an astonishing level) the first to see their funding eliminated. She is hopeful now, armed with her latest 2014 report, that this "first to cut" status will become a thing of the past as the state's leaders see the return on their investment continue to grow.

ArtServe's second study of their two-tier Creative State Michigan report also focuses for the very first time on the creative industries of our state.

In 2011, Michigan's creative private job sector, which includes work performed in places like advertising, architecture, design, film/media and broadcasting, and the publishing and printing industry, was able to put 75,000 people to work in 9,758 businesses. Those numbers not only add to our bank accounts, but we were also able to -- and forgive me, new Apple iPad commercial -- "contribute a verse" in the changing narrative of a state looking to diversify. 

"We have in our hands, as a result of the harnessing of big data, a clear vision of where we are as a state, but can also narrow it down for the first time to a county and metropolitan focus, too," says Goulet. "With this second report on creative industry coupled with the nonprofit one, we have not only been able to determine the collective impact of the creative sector on our state's overall economic health but we now hold proof to take to Lansing of our value."

This flexing of economic muscle is a key position of ArtServe's advocacy work in Lansing as the state sets their annual budgets. ArtServe is working with Governor Synder and the legislature to secure $8.15 million in state arts and cultural funding for fiscal year 2014 – a $2 million increase that is truly an investment, considering the return they will receive.

"These reports, including the addition of codes commonly used by our federal government to classify those individual creative-focused businesses, like publishing houses, architectural services, and commercial printing, were all factored into our report," says Goulet, who quickly adds what is missing. "Presently, while the report classifies creative businesses, we do not yet have the data on the firms that might be seen as manufacturing in their classification but have a robust design presence in their employ."

In this case, we can expect an even more expanded view of her numbers in future ArtServe reports when design offices within large firms like Steelcase or Herman Miller are added. Both firms are devoted to producing jobs as well as a product but based in the arena of design when you consider product impact and lasting legacy on our world.  

As our state looks to our future and the emerging opportunities in our world, ArtServe is poised with critical data that supports not only the creative sectors' contribution but also gives direction on how we are able to provide a base on which many of our state's other industries rely.  

"It's time for a more comprehensive understanding of the economic strength of the creative industries in Michigan. Our partnership with ArtServe and Data Driven Detroit is the beginning of such, and the results are impressive," says Detroit Creative Corridor Center's Director Matthew Clayson. "We're talking raw government data. No multipliers. And targeted, narrow definitions of the creative industries based on international best practices."

I am confident on behalf of the state and our residents, based on the power of the 2012 and 2014 reports. When we couple these findings with the promise from Goulet of even more reports to emerge, including a new report coming this summer, our 2014 Creative State Michigan report offers hope. These quantifiable outcomes inspire confidence in many, from those seeking to enter the field to our elected leaders. The reports are proof that the creative sector is one worth fighting for -- as well as worth celebrating for its ability to flow into almost every area of our lives and affect every demographic.

Clayson and others know it comes down to competition, as that's the game we are engaged in, and he thinks we may have a leg up now.

"We are now able to benchmark within Michigan and, more importantly, with our peers from around the country," says Clayson. "More importantly, we're able to quantify our impact and make a compelling, numbers-based case to those in Lansing regarding the significance of Michigan's creative economy."

The creative sector has long played against stereotypes, but these are beginning to shift -- and it is time that they do, in light of our emerging future.

"You can't tell a story of any place, person, or people. The single story creates stereotypes," says the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. "The problem with stereotypes is not that they're untrue, it's that they are incomplete."

So while the past stories about the state's creative sector may have been partially true, a new, more complete narrative is emerging. When we begin to shine a light on these stories, we begin to complete the picture. As a result, we'll begin to see an invigorated Michigan powered by the factor of "you" that we can contribute and celebrate together.

This is just the first part of a new series of dialogues G-Sync will engage in with ArtServe as they take their case to Lansing and to the people of our state.

The Future Needs All of Us

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

What good is sitting alone in your room? Come, hear the music play.... G-Sync Events: Let’s Do This!

All Photography: Courtesy of the ArtServe Michigan except Model D Media's Marvin Shaouni image of Matthew Clayson

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