Tapping into the Creative Economy

The arts helps redefine a former manufacturing region

NCArts1

Performances at the National Black Theatre Festival helped generate more than $13 million for the local economy. (Source: Bruce Chapman)

Some 60,000 patrons of the theater arts descend upon Winston-Salem, North Carolina biennially to attend the National Black Theatre Festival. And while the throngs eagerly purchase tickets for the many performances on tap, they’re also helping a region redefine itself as one of the cultural meccas in the U.S.

While having a thriving arts community is desirable for making a city more attractive to potential residents, it’s also a viable contributor to the local economy. The NBTF for example has a direct impact on Winston-Salem and its Piedmont Triad Region in the neighborhood of $13.4 million. The Piedmont Triad Region is comprised of 12 counties in central North Carolina. Once the heart of tobacco country and one of the manufacturing hubs of the United States, the region realizes there’s money to be made here and shifted its focus to becoming a center for things creative — thereby tapping into the creative economy.

The creative economy is the impact of revenues generated intellectual property products such as music, books, film, games, theater, art and culture (and some definitions include aspects of tourism and sport). While there are no concrete estimates to its contribution to gross domestic product, its impact is significant. “It’s usually one of America’s leading exports, along with aircraft. So it’s considered economically important,” says Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University. “And Hollywood has a lobby with a lot of influence in Washington with regards to trade copyright law.”

While manufacturing jobs continue to migrate overseas, the Piedmont Triad Region is realizing that the arts are fitting in with its plan to diversify its economic base. Twenty years ago, 37% of the jobs in Winston-Salem were in the now beleaguered manufacturing space. Today, that number is closer to 18%. As a result, the unemployment rate for the city is roughly a percentage point below the national average.

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