Tapping into the Creative Economy

The arts helps redefine a former manufacturing region

Those jobs go beyond those in the spotlight. “I think people have a very limited idea of what a job in the arts looks like. They think an actor,” points out Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, Chief Advancement Officer at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “We have students that do lighting design, we have trained electricians. Working in the arts is much broader than people think. You can be a finance person at a conservatory or a performing arts center or ballet company. These are life skills that are applicable.”

The nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year according to Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. Included in that number are 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs, $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues, and $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues and $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues.

In addition to creating jobs and generating tax revenue, tapping into the creative economy can also help build a diverse, young workforce – for any industry. “Young people can live any place as well so they’re looking for places that embrace diversity, has entertainment opportunities and are sensitive to the environment and things of that nature,” says Allen Joines, mayor of Winston-Salem. “By showing them that we have an active arts and culture climate, it helps us recruit young people and therefore be able to recruit the knowledge-based companies as well.”

That’s not to say that the creative economy is recession-proof. In fact, the National Black Theatre Festival, whose supporters include R. J. Reynolds, Sara Lee Corp., Wachovia Bank & Trust, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, American Express, have seen sponsorship slide about 10%, according to H. Geraldine (Gerry) Patton, who serves as the event’s executive director.

For Forsyth County (in which Winston-Salem is located), arts and cultural spending is a significant part of its income, totaling $103.8 million in 2005 (the most recent numbers available). “The festival is another embodiment of what the city of the arts is all about,” says Stephan Dragisic, director of marketing and communications at Visit Winston Salem, the visitors bureau. “It’s a community where the arts are part of our business model.”

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