Cultural Currents: Creatives and cultural entrepreneurs build community

Investing time and resources to cultivate artists, creatives and cultural nonprofits will reap economic benefits and result in enlivened community spaces and destinations.

Early in 2000, authors Richard Florida, Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson identified a new ‘class’ of people important to society – creatives and cultural entrepreneurs. They identified artful work and performances as products and a presence that brought economic benefit and ‘destination’ to communities.

Historically, arts and culture were a part of and expressive of community itself. This is how we know about cultures of the past – from the cave paintings of France to the pyramids of Egypt. In the settlement of America, agriculture was thought to be as much a science as an art. As the industrial age segmented society, however, the arts were viewed as less important of an accomplishment. Today, with the recognition of the economic contribution of creatives – businesses, entrepreneurs and cultural nonprofits – this is changing. Michigan State University Extension provides programs and expertise to explore and utilize arts and cultural tools for community and economic development and tourism.


Planners are actively cultivating artists, crafts and culinary traditions with businesses, ensuring they will grow-in and enliven communities. Economic studies nationwide validate the economic contributions of creative businesses, individual artists and cultural nonprofits. Money is spent within the community to purchase goods and services. People from outside buy arts products and participate as audience members. Tourists and residents are attracted by vibrant communities.

University of Minnesota researchers are studying this ‘artistic dividend.’ Ann Markunsen notes that “productivity and earnings of regional economy rise with the number of artists in the region.” Across the country, universities and agencies are tabulating this economic contribution through jobs, sales, purchases, etc. ArtServe Michigan is documenting the artist entrepreneurs’ contribution and their needs in order to assist communities in growing their local artists. A national project investigating the scope of the arts and cultural sector is gathering data on cultural nonprofits to understand their contribution and needs. These efforts are legitimizing artists and cultural institutions as important and valuable to our communities and regions.


Creatives and cultural entrepreneurs have:

  • Expanded a stained glass hobby into a national supplies and education center
  • Moved from the art-fair circuit to a thriving main-street crafts and instrument business
  • Grown from producing marketing flyers to designing books and museum exhibits
  • Transformed a theatre club into a regional theatre destination in a restored facility
  • Advanced from promoting area artists to leading a regional cultural economic plan
  • Established an artist-in-residence program from a folk-arts workshop
  • Expanded her vision as an art educator to rehabbing storefronts into an arts center
  • Revitalized a historic farmstead into a regional museum and community center
  • Developed a regional gallery mentoring and representing more than 90 artists
  • Established an artist relocation program providing live/work space, restoring historic properties
  • Revitalized a neighborhood into an artist community and destination


Become aware of and cultivate your artists, creative entrepreneurs and cultural nonprofits. They will contribute economically and to your communities’ character attracting residents and tourists alike.

Your challenge then is to know and understand creatives and cultural entrepreneurs and cultivate their businesses and contributions because:

  • Visual and performing arts are products.
  • Arts and culture engage people
  • Heritage and culture are yours to define, claim and utilize for your community
  • Creativity and innovation enhance design, production and marketing of the products and services of all sectors.

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