Culture and Community Revitalization: A Collaboration

"From Creative Economy to Creative Society"
- Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert
"Distressed Places and Creativity"
- Jeremy Nowak

Between 2006 and 2008, the Social Impact of the Arts Project, a research group at the University of Pennsylvania (SIAP), collaborated with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a community development financial institution, on an investigation of the creative sector's potential contribution to neighborhood economic and community development. With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, the staff of TRF challenged SIAP to identify how its research findings on the role of arts and culture in urban communities could be applied to the practice of place-making and revitalization, while SIAP challenged TRF to redefine how they think about the creative sector.

In addition to arriving at a shared perspective on the emerging field of culture-based neighborhood revitalization, the collaboration produced a critical review of the literature on culture and revitalization, a set of policy briefs, and a prospectus for community investment. (See Resources)

The two articles that follow shed light on the work of the principal partners in this collaboration.

From Creative Economy to Creative Society
A neighborhood-based strategy to increase urban vitality and
promote social inclusion

Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert
Can a creative economy ameliorate urban poverty? The contemporary U.S. city is witness to an increasing proportion of its residents being denied active participation in the local economy, social institutions, and broader civil society. While many a metropolis has weathered the transition from an industrial to an information-based economy, most urban neighborhoods bear the persistent physical and social manifestations of economic inequality and social exclusion.

Urban policy-makers generally agree that regional economic development and job growth are the solution to urban poverty and its associated blight and pathology. Many cities have latched onto Richard Florida's argument that attracting the “creative class” to the region will generate jobs and tax revenue, a trickle down of benefits to all citizens. Unfortunately, it appears that growth of the creative economy can spark inequality and exclusion. Is the creative economy a bargain with the devil? Does a city have to accept increased economic inequality to reap the prosperity of the creative economy?

In this article, we recap current research and policy on culture and revitalization and propose a new model—a neighborhood-based creative economy—that has the potential to move the twenty-first century city toward shared prosperity and social integration.

The Creative Sector And Urban Policy
A focus on the creative economy represents the latest wave of interest in culture as a post-industrial urban revitalization strategy. Beginning with the 1983 landmark study by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, economic impact studies have quantified the contribution of the nonprofit cultural sector to a regional economy based on the multiplier effect of organizational and audience expenditures. In time, policy-makers realized that economic impact is magnified when bounded spatially. So the planned cultural district came into vogue, along with the development of major cultural facilities like museums or performing arts centers, as catalysts for downtown revival.

The creative economy is more than just nonprofit arts and culture. Studies by the Rand Corporation of the performing and media arts took the lead in treating nonprofit and commercial cultural firms as a single sector. Richard Florida's work—with its claims about the role of the “creative class” in global competitive advantage—encouraged the trend to treat nonprofit and for-profit firms as a single sector and expanded definitions of culture to include design and related fields as part of the creative economy.

The excitement among public and corporate executives about the creative class has overshadowed a growing literature on the community benefits of the arts and culture. Researchers studying community-building seek to integrate their findings on grassroots cultural practices and informal arts with their understanding of contemporary urban community. Economic geographers have developed a third stream of literature, which explores production-driven “cultural clusters” and the social networks underpinning productivity. It is this cultural cluster perspective that has the greatest potential to meet the dual policy goals of economic growth and social inclusion.

Social Costs of the Creative Economy
Neither the literature on the creative economy nor that on community building has focused on possible negative effects of culture-based revitalization. Gentrification remains the most common fear. A less commonly discussed drawback of culture-based revitalization, but one for which there is more evidence, is the expansion of inequality. Economic inequality—attributed to structural changes including globalization, the decline in unions, and deindustrialization—has exploded in the United States over the past thirty years.

Of particular relevance to the arts is the emergence of “winner-take-all” labor markets. Robert Frank and Philip Cook, who developed the concept, show that changes in the U.S. labor market have expanded the number of job categories in which the most skilled members reap a disproportionate share of rewards. Frank and Cook suggest that what used to be a relatively rare feature is now common in a great number of occupations and serves to accelerate economic inequality.

Within the creative economy, artists are especially vulnerable to the winner-take-all dynamic. The handful of opera singers, concert pianists, dancers, and authors seen as the best in the world garner incomes that dwarf those of gifted practitioners who are seen as less extraordinary. Indeed, the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP),* in a 2005 study of artists in six U.S. metropolitan areas between 1980 and 2000, found artists consistently among the occupations with the highest degree of income inequality.

Empirical research indicates that as culture increases its share of the metropolitan economy, increased inequality is a much more significant downside than gentrification. In his 2005 work, Richard Florida acknowledged that the growth of the creative class has contributed to the rise in economic inequality and its social and political repercussions. “Perhaps the most salient of... the externalities of the creative age,” Florida noted, “has to do with rising social and economic inequality.”

Still, since its publication in 2002, Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class has been used by city officials from New York to Spokane as a how-to manual for stimulating economic growth. The realization that pursuing creative class strategies will actually exacerbate the divisions between rich and poor has been slow to sink in.

The job mix within the creative economy poses concern as well as promise for its role in promoting economic revitalization. Overall, the creative industries are dominated by jobs with high educational requirements. The expansion of both arts occupations specifically and the creative economy overall will create more opportunities for highly skilled workers than for urban residents with modest educational qualifications.

Social Benefits of Community Culture
Research conducted over the past decade across the U.S. has reshaped our understanding of the role culture plays in urban communities. We now understand that culture includes nonprofit, public, and commercial organizations as well as independent artists. In addition, we have learned that even the “informal arts” play a critical role in building social networks and connections across communities.

Much work on community culture is concerned with the inclusion of historically marginalized populations. The Urban Institute has developed a broad framework for tracking community cultural vitality—which it defines as “evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities.” The informal arts sector, in particular—characterized by participatory, hands-on cultural and creative activities in non-chartered groups and informal settings—is associated with people of color, immigrants, and other out-of-the-mainstream communities.

Ethnographers in Chicago and the Silicon Valley have documented the community building potential of the informal arts. A recent study, for example, found that Mexican immigrants in Chicago “use artistic and cultural practices to break down social isolation, create new social networking relationships, strengthen... bonds among group members, and ... create local and transnational ties with [outside] institutions...”

The literature, however, avoids drawing parallels between informal arts and the informal economy. The informal arts sector is not only an indicator of community cultural vitality but a symptom of the social costs of the creative economy. Many artists, particularly those operating in the informal sector, labor under difficult conditions for low wages—stringing together several jobs to make ends meet. The vitality of informal culture, therefore, derives in part from the animating force of poverty.

Cultural engagement across the spectrum contributes to the quality of community life by reflecting and reinforcing social diversity. Urban neighborhoods that are diverse ethnically, economically, and/or by household or family structure are more likely than homogeneous communities to house cultural programs, cultural participants, and artists. Likewise, culturally active neighborhoods are more likely to maintain demographic diversity over time.

SIAP's research on Philadelphia neighborhoods has documented links between cultural engagement, social diversity, and community capacity-building. Residents who participate in the arts and culture also tend to engage in other types of community activities. Moreover, the presence of cultural organizations in a neighborhood stimulates local community participation overall. This kind of community cross-participation helps stabilize heterogeneous communities as well as enhance overall community capacity.

SIAP has documented a connection between community culture and child welfare: low-income neighborhoods with high cultural participation rates were more than twice as likely as comparable low-participation neighborhoods to have very low truancy and delinquency. These child welfare indicators reflected not the number of kids in arts programs but rather the relationship of cultural engagement to “collective efficacy,” a term used by public health researcher Felton Earls to explain why some poor neighborhoods are safer than others—that is, “social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good.”

The Regeneration Potential of Cultural Clusters
Urban policy makers, using consumption-driven models, have focused on using culture to draw tourists, conventioneers, and suburbanites downtown. However, production-driven “cultural clusters,” which occur at both neighborhood and regional scales, may be the best fit between the needs of declining cities and the cultural sector.

Clusters are geographic concentrations of inter-connected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions in a particular field. According to Michael Porter, economic clusters increase productivity by driving the direction and pace of innovation. “A cluster allows each member to benefit as if it had greater scale,” according to Porter, “without requiring it to sacrifice its flexibility.”

In a study of the craft, fashion, and cultural products industries of Los Angeles, Allen Scott observed that clustering is a critical feature for cultural producers to improve the quality of work produced and benefit economically from the work. L.A.'s small-scale, labor-intensive crafts firms cluster in dense industrial districts throughout the inner city and region to reduce costs through “agglomeration economies.” Moreover, the spatial proximity of individuals and firms facilitates intense social networks that spur a cross-pollination of ideas and innovation. Manuel Castells calls this organizational structure a “network enterprise” and the location where proximity generates synergy a “milieu of innovation.”

Community arts researchers have found direct connections between culture and revitalization. In a study of ten Chicago neighborhoods, Diane Grams and Michael Warr identified social networks as a key mechanism by which community arts contribute to neighborhood improvement. By developing social networks, low-budget arts programs leverage local and non-local assets that result in direct economic benefits for the neighborhood—new markets, new uses of existing facilities, new jobs for local artists—as well as broader community engagement.

SIAP has developed empirical methods to measure the arts' impact on the broader socio-economic processes of urban neighborhoods. Indeed, SIAP's research on Philadelphia shows a strong and long-standing relationship between cultural assets and neighborhood regeneration. During the 1980s and 1990s, low-income neighborhoods with many cultural providers or participants were three to four times more likely to revitalize—that is, to gain population and reduce poverty—than other at-risk areas. Between 2001 and 2003, distressed neighborhoods rich in cultural assets were more likely to see a dramatic improvement in their housing markets.

How might we explain a connection between cultural engagement and the decline of poverty? SIAP's analyses of metropolitan Philadelphia demonstrate that cultural production and participation reinforce one another, both within communities and across the region. Cultural providers (nonprofit and for-profit), individual artists, and participants tend to locate in similar communities. Moreover, communities rich in cultural resources send participants to programs throughout the city as well as draw outsiders into their own neighborhoods. Even among small grassroots arts centers, nearly four-in-five participants come from other neighborhoods. Unlike most community activities, culture builds bridges across the divides of geography, ethnicity, and social class. By building social networks within and between neighborhoods, cultural engagement fosters collective capacity, especially in low-wealth communities.

SIAP's findings demonstrate a clear correlation between cultural engagement and community well-being, but several empirical holes remain. We have yet to:

  • measure directly the link between cultural partici-pation and neighborhood change—the “collective efficacy” hypothesis;

  • collect comparable data on other forms of community engagement to assess the relative effectiveness of culture in promoting neighborhood revitalization; or
  • sort out the temporal relationship between cultural engagement, civic vitality, and neighborhood regeneration.
In addition, it would be useful to do case studies of neighborhood cultural clusters—what SIAP calls “natural” cultural districts—to look at the social and spatial dynamics of cultural production and participation and their implications for neighborhood revitalization.

A New Model: a Neighborhood-Based Creative Economy
Can the creative economy expand economic opportunity and social inclusion without generating the inequality and displacement that its critics have noted? The answer, we suggest, lies in linking threads from the creative economy, community-building, and cultural cluster literature into an alternative model, which we call a neighborhood-based creative economy. The three perspectives share an interest in moving beyond traditional nonprofit models of the arts and focusing on a community's assets rather than its deficits. All view cultural organizations not in isolation but as “network enterprises” in which their connections to wider systems are more important than their internal organization.

The creative cluster literature highlights that creativity is a collective process. The productive and revitalization potential of the creative sector depends upon an infrastructure of social and spatial networks. A neighborhood-based creative economy would build the social and spatial networks of creativity from the bottom up.

At the core of the model is a view of the community cultural sector as an ecosystem. An ecosystem perspective highlights how the capacities and impacts of the sector as a whole are greater than the sum of its parts. The community cultural ecosystem includes many agents—nonprofits, commercial cultural firms, individual artists, and informal groups—that operate both within communities and across metropolitan areas. An ecosystem perspective views the connections and flows between agents and resources—their institutional and social networks—as more important than individual entities.

An effective revitalization strategy should be both place- and people-based; that is, it should be grounded in a given locale but have active connections with other neighborhoods and economies throughout the city and region. A neighborhood-based ecosystem approach to the creative economy is a way to integrate urban neighborhood residents with the regional economy and civil society.

From Creative Economy to Economic Opportunity
The concept of the community cultural ecosystem fits uneasily with current interest in the creative economy. At least in its American manifestations, the creative economy is thoroughly market-oriented. The profit motive is the change agent, and cultural and social arrangements are expected to respond accordingly.

Creative Class Myopia.
Florida's work is based on a reasonable and important insight—that the role of creativity has become a central element of a region's comparative economic advantage. But there is a dark side to the creative class argument. As Saskia Sassen noted years ago, the global economy tends to “valorize” particular jobs while it “devalorizes” others that are equally important to the overall functioning of the economy. In his enthusiasm for the role of the truly creative in stimulating economic growth, Florida places a high value on particular workers—typically high-wage, well-educated workers—which has the effect of devaluing those who make a less visible contribution. But if we make life better for the creative class, in a world of limited resources, we make life worse for the less “gifted.” In his latest book, Florida bemoans that creative places have high levels of social and economic inequality. Yet, it is difficult to see how his conceptualization of creativity could have any other consequence.

The unhappy denouement of the creative class raises a provocative implication that has been largely unexplored. In his seminal work, Art Worlds, sociologist Howard Becker challenged the image of the artist as a genius existing outside of any social organization. Individual creativity—even in its most idiosyncratic form—is tied to patterns of organization of social activity that allow the genius to play that role. “Works of art,” Becker explains, “are not the products of individual makers, ‘artists’ who possess a rare and special gift... [They] are, rather, joint products of all the people who cooperate via an art world's characteristic conventions to bring works like that into existence.” Artists are indispensable, but they are not the whole show.

Like Sassen, Becker is as likely to believe that the stagehand, the printer, or the violin string maker is as critical to art as the famed actor, author, or singer. Once we see creativity as a collective process, we need to pay attention to everyone who contributes to the process, not just the creative class.

Much recent work on the creative economy and creative class turns Becker's insight on its head. Where Becker showed that art requires the contribution of many people with different skills and aptitudes who coordinate their activities, creative class advocates take the classic idea of the artist—a genius with unique vision and skill—and generalize it to all creative workers. Where Becker sought to demystify creativity, many writers on the creative economy seek to generalize the artists' aura to encompass stockbrokers, lawyers, and even university professors!

A Creative Sector Workforce Development Strategy.
Could the creative economy have implications for an urban workforce development strategy? What if we turn Howard Becker's insight back on its feet and give the creative economy new legs? If the sector's success is based on the social organization of many people with different skills and aptitudes, the creative economy might provide the foundation for a variety of new jobs and skills not covered by current definitions of creative workers. Someone has to lay the fiber optic cable for the web designer, someone has to sew the costumes for the dancers, and someone has to create the drawings for the architect. From this perspective, the creative economy could provide opportunities for young adults who have not been successful in pursuing traditional academics.

In fact, using a narrow definition in valuing the creative class flies in the face of a profound reorganization of work life that emerges at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The organization of work during the twentieth century followed a trajectory that separated mental and manual work. During the course of industrialization, the restructuring of work was devoted to removing knowledge from the “hands” who did the work and giving it to the engineers and managers who oversaw and directed the process.

By the end of the century, however, the pendulum had begun to swing back. In sector after sector, information technologies permitted a reduction in the division of labor and a reintegration of manual and mental labor. Indeed, the reintegration of mental and manual work that is required for creative and cultural production provides a fertile ground for examining opportunities for an urban workforce. To do so we have to identify the range of skills that, while not creative in the conventional sense, are critical to the social organization of the creative industries. With the digitization of audio and video production, for example, it has become almost impossible to distinguish where the “technical” work stops and the “creative” work starts.

Digital media production presents only the most obvious illustration. Philadelphia's Charter High School for Architecture and Design has developed a curriculum that combines traditional academics with design skills and hands-on training in carpentry, building trades, and structural systems. Across the creative sector, we need a thorough inventory of the actual work involved and the paths for entering these occupations. (See this table)

From Economic Opportunity to Social Citizenship
Can a neighborhood-based creative economy contribute to both shared wealth and social inclusion? Can cultural engagement foster an open society? Can we tie a creative economy to a creative society? Yes, but not if we avoid the lessons of past experience.

The Limits of Trickle-down Prosperity.
Much of the literature on culture-based revitalization focuses on large-scale projects and districts as a means of reanimating downtowns. Significant public investment in culture is directed at high-income patrons and visitors—tourists, conventioneers, downtown residents, and suburbanites. The case for benefits to residents of modest means is typically the creation of service-sector employment and the trickle-down of economic advantages to the region.

The development potential of a regional creative economy is characterized more by intriguing possibilities than proven facts. By comparison, the social benefits of the arts are persuasive and relatively well-documented. Virtually all social impact studies find a consistent set of positive neighborhood effects associated with community arts and culture. They bridge long-term barriers of class and ethnicity as well as differences in age and gender. They foster social and institutional connections both within and between neighborhoods. They animate public spaces. They create value in the form of physical amenities and the quality of the built environment. SIAP's research provides evidence that the social benefits are connected to wider trends in community capacity-building and economic well-being.

Under the right circumstances, large-scale cultural projects can generate significant economic return, but the bulk of these benefits accrue to high-wealth populations. By contrast, small-scale projects entail modest investments and yield modest direct economic return. However, clusters of even low-budget arts and cultural resources generate significant spillover effects that contribute to the quality of community life, which in turn can trigger long-term economic benefits.

Creative Economy as Social Inclusion Strategy.
To succeed on social—and economic—justice grounds, a neighborhood-based creative economy must integrate economic opportunity and social inclusion. For the creative economy to become a creative society, we need to see people as more than cogs in the economy. We need to see them simultaneously as workers and citizens and to develop an approach that recognizes both.

The starting point would be a political ideology that acknowledges, rather than denies, the potential for exclusion. The British experience might be a guide to reassessing the social and economic value of culture-based development. The priority given to social inclusion, by Creative London, for example, is an attempt to combine market principles with social purposes.

If a successful creative economy is based on social organization, as Howard Becker suggests, then a strategy of social inclusion should identify opportunities for social mobility and wealth-creation across the economy, not just at its top. Such a strategy would have implications for education and training and would create a virtuous cycle of orienting urban kids toward jobs that really exist and re-valuing those jobs within the creative economy.

A social inclusion strategy would support urban neighborhood-based creative businesses and sole proprietors. For the Los Angeles craft industries, Scott and Rigby recommended a policy framework that would “not involve ‘picking winners’ [but rather would be] based on a bottom-up and industry-wide approach directed toward improving localized external economies [by] stimulating the entrepreneurial and creative capacities of all local firms.” We should invest in collaborative networks of producers and providers to enhance their institutional infrastructure and social capital. Scott and Rigby “envisage the creation of communities of firms, workers, and public agencies engaged together in reconstructing the collective competitive advantages of the region's craft industries.”

In any case, we need a hardheaded strategy that takes both market realities and the very real human, social, and cultural impacts of the arts into consideration. Such a strategy would likely be characterized by smaller investments, smaller risks, and more gradual change than what's found in the strategies that drive most cultural facility and district plans. As importantly, however, a social inclusion strategy must also have a bigger vision and commitment to the integration of all local residents with the regional economy and civil society.

“Natural” Cultural Districts as Anchors of Neighborhood-based Creative Economy
The picture of a community cultural ecosystem described above suggests a neighborhood-based approach to the use of culture to stimulate both community revitalization and regional economic development. The model illustrates the interdependencies of cultural producers, providers, and participants and the way networks are woven between community and regional entities.

UK cultural planner Chris Murray recognizes neighborhoods as cultural entities that are both sustained by and sustaining of the contemporary urban economy. He writes:

Provision for cultural needs helps to develop and sustain communities, but local communities also have a function in sustaining and developing the culture of societies as a whole. It is at the margins that innovation often occurs: the blending of culture, the expression of individual identity, alternative lifestyles.
All urban neighborhoods have the potential to become “cultural hubs,” says Murray, but not without coordinated action. He advocates an approach that engages both artists and citizens in planning and design processes and that provides for community appropriation and ownership of space. “Artists tend toward flexible, open-minded approaches; innovation; critical and questioning methods; and people-centered solutions.”

While all urban neighborhoods have the potential to become cultural hubs, some have the potential to become “natural” cultural districts. Many low-wealth neighborhoods possess a critical mass of cultural assets—cultural firms and organizations, workers and participants, artists and creative entrepreneurs. As an alternative to top-down planned cultural districts or as a complement to local community development, planners and developers could identify these grassroots nodes as leverage points for public, private, and philanthropic investment. In this model, “natural” cultural districts would be centers of social and economic development and would serve as neighborhood anchors for the creative economy.

Artists' centers, in particular, appear to be generative in terms of stimulating creative work and careers as well as neighborhood and regional economies. Regional economist Ann Markusen, based in Minnesota, found that dedicated spaces for artists to work and convene “help to maximize artistic spillover” within a local community. Artists' centers enable residents to interact with artists and participate in the creative process; contribute to the social, cultural and commercial lives of local neighborhoods; and “pay economic dividends for the region.”

A neighborhood-based creative economy, anchored by a network of “natural” cultural districts, provides an inclusive vision of an expanding urban economy. The concept addresses three types of market failure that are intrinsic to the creative economy and contribute directly to inequality and exclusion: one, growth of winner-take-all artist and creative-class labor markets; two, proliferation of informal arts (although a source of energy and innovation, they are also a symptom of a low-wage and insecure economy); and, three, neighborhood displacement of residents and entrepreneurs who have initiated revitalization.

Ultimately, we have no choice. If we don't work on economic equality and social inclusion, the creative economy unabated will accelerate inequality and exclusion. Florida highlights the pressures “hindering the rise of a more fully creative society,” including increased inequality, declines in housing affordability, uneven regional development, sprawl, and ecological decay. Ironically, policy-makers cite Florida in promoting the creative economy as a strategy for urban regeneration and regional competitive advantage. Given their narrow focus, these policies, if successful, will feed broader social dislocation.

Economics alone won't get us to inclusion. If we see the creative sector only as a market, the logical result will be an increase in inequality and exclusion. We need a vision that possesses a social and political, as well as an economic, rationale.

Culture can foster social inclusion, but it isn't automatic. With political will and coordinated action, we can channel the promise and prosperity of the creative economy toward innovative economies, remunerative employment, social citizenship, and dynamic communities—toward a creative society.

Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert are principals in the
Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania.

*   The Social Impact of the Arts Project is a research group at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy & Practice. Since 1994 SIAP has conducted research on the role of the arts and culture in U.S. cities with a particular interest in strategies for culture-based community revitalization. SIAP is a recognized innovator in the development of empirical methods to study links between cultural engagement and community well-being. Links to SIAP's research are available on its web site. Also, see the Resources section for a list of references that accompany this article. 

To develop a creative industry urban workforce development strategy, we can look to the UK and Canada.   Several U.S. cities, however, are beginning to catch on.
In the UK workforce development plans are part of the national education agenda. All industrial sectors, reorganized into 25 Sector Skills Councils, develop a framework of common interests, issues, and interventions needed to close skills gaps. Creative & Cultural Skills, operative since June 2005, is the skills council for advertising, crafts, cultural heritage, design, music, performing, literary and visual arts.

The Music Industry Workforce Development Plan, completed in December 2004, set the tone for the creative industries. The plan specified professional development, organizational, and “entry-to-the-workforce” objectives that included “a structured dialogue” between industry and education and workforce diversity that reflects the demographics of the country.

The Museums Libraries and Archives Council and MLA London published workforce development strategies. Priorities are to improve access to training and development and diversify the workforce so that museums, archives and libraries reflect the communities they serve.

London's Innovation for Success is a workforce development program for creative, cultural and media professionals and companies to develop networks and build technical, management, and leadership skills. The accredited program is free or subsidized for creative professionals from 10 inner London boroughs. “We are particularly keen to work with Black, minority ethnic and disabled-led businesses, freelancers or employees.” Funding is by London Development Agency, European Union, and Ravenscourt Media.

The British Columbia Cultural Sector Development Council focuses on issues of human capital and the infrastructure workers navigate to earn a living. Its goal is to build long-term creative and economic sustainability for individuals, cultural organizations, and industries by working with existing networks and resources and, where gaps are identified, coordinating stakeholders to achieve effective solutions.

The City of Vancouver Office of Cultural Affairs documents the local creative sector by occupation and industry (cultural and information industries & arts, entertainment, and recreation). The City tracks changes in its culture labor force, demographic and minority characteristics of culture workers, and creative industry employment by neighborhood.

The Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association completed a workforce development plan for the province's growing film and video industry, which benefits from a Film Employment Tax Credit. The plan has several components: training and employment programs for women and aborigines, so that the workforce represents the diversity of the populace; an occupational survey to determine the number of entry- and upper-level jobs and their training needs in film, television, and new media; and a skills data base of individuals working or wanting to work in the industry.

Oregon Creative Services Alliance, a public-private partnership with the Portland Development Commission and City of Portland, is working to foster a network infrastructure among Portland's creative service groups and to address workforce quality by developing partnerships with local colleges and universities, art schools, and workforce development agencies.

The Santa Fe Arts and Culture website, a project of New Mexico CultureNet, is designed primarily for residents and visitors. The portal uses three parts for workforce development: Classifieds — a listing of employment opportunities and individuals looking for work; Arts Directory — a listing of businesses and individuals doing business in Santa Fe; and Google Search — a unique URL for each Arts Directory listing.

Creative New York, a December 2005 report by the Center for an Urban Future, recommends that New York City begin to address its creative core's workforce development needs. “City leaders and industry stakeholders … [should] align workforce organizations, industry leaders, trade associations and unions to coordinate the skills development needed for creative industries [… and …] collaborate with the city's network of workforce training providers and educational institutions to develop programs to meet these multiple needs.”


Distressed Places and Creativity
Eight Propositions about the Creative Sector and Neighborhood Revitalization
Jeremy Nowak
The following is based on a public lecture presented at the Penn Institute for Urban Research, University of Pennsylvania, September 25, 2007.

First, let me explain how I came to be interested in the creative sector and neighborhood revitalization. The Reinvestment Fund, TRF, provides financing and high-quality information in support of a wealth-building mission; we pursue strategies based both on people and on place. People-based strategies seek to increase opportunities for families throughout the regional market-place where they live, work, and learn; and place-based strategies seek to restore the vitality of places that for historical and contemporary reasons under-perform and thus limit prospects for mobility and wealth creation.

After more than two decades, the direct investment of nearly $700 million, and participation in development projects that total more than $3 billion, we would be hard pressed to make an easy analytical distinction between people-based and place-based pursuits; in practical terms each feeds off the other. High performing places function as attractors and incubators for individuals and families. In the absence of appropriate economic skills and social supports, individuals and families have limited choices including the choice of place.

When we were approached by Mark Stern and Susan Seifert of the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) to think more systematically about the creative sector in neighborhood revitalization, we jumped at the opportunity. We are an organization that has spent a great deal of time thinking about policy related to housing, supermarkets, charter schools, and the like but we had spent no time thinking about the creative sector—where, in fact, more than 5 percent of our portfolio exists. Despite the fact that we have financed a number of arts and cultural activities—performance spaces, artist housing units, public art, nonprofit cultural facilities, charter schools with art and design themes, and more—we had not thought about the meaning of the creative sector for our wealth-building and place-making mission, nor had we tried to measure the extent of its demand for financing.

Among the results of the collaboration, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, is the publication of Creativity and Neighborhood Development: Strategies for Community Investment. The monograph can be read as a kind of prospectus more than a research report: it is our attempt to organize the potential of the creative sector for neighborhood change and to say something about how public, private, and civic investors can maximize their investment impact. It is not an evaluation document although it makes a few points about evaluation. It is a framework for community investment that focuses on the central role of community-based arts and culture.

To give you a sense of how we thought about our approach to this work, I want to offer eight brief propositions:

1)   Activities in the creative sector are content-rich.  Creative sector literature describes the economic importance of this expressive content. The myriad activities that constitute the creative sector—museums, theater, media, crafts, marketing, architecture and design, and many others—are tied together by the fact that they are content-rich in contrast to commodities that are more mass produced. Boutique industries not driven by low-cost labor are attractive to cities in search of content-rich production whether this is found in the design of a financial product, the design of a bio-medical device, the design of a piece of furniture, or the design of a digital media program.

2)   Cities are well suited to creative sector activity.  There appear to be three reasons why this is so: a) the existence of institutions, including universities, that facilitate creative content and attract content-oriented professionals; b) the dense ecosystem of organizations that require creative workers, from small firms and nonprofit arts groups to major cultural institutions and departments of large corporations that utilize marketing and design talent; and c) a cultural diversity that aids in the marketing and sales of global commodities. These three attributes of cities have been analyzed in various ways and each deserves more attention as we try to grapple with the challenges and possibilities of post-industrial cities.

3)   There is a gap in the literature and research about the creative sector and distressed communities.  While there is a great deal of literature on the creative sector and urban development, very little of it has to do with the impact of arts and culture on distressed places. Most of the literature fits into one of two genres—studies about the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture on a regional economy (public investment justification) and literature that looks at how post-industrial cities ought to pursue creative industries or, better yet, the creative class (regional competitiveness). Literature on place-making of the kind I am interested in is less available. Where it is available it is found scattered through a variety of urban planning, design, and ethnographic studies. More systematic research would have to examine community-based arts and cultural activity through the full breadth of its activity.

4)   Community-based arts and cultural activity is a sub-set of the larger creative sector.  This sub-sector includes the following: local enterprises that provide training and materials for arts and culture, communal practices such as festivals and concerts, and public art; community centers and arts organizations that offer performances and educational experiences; the transformation of residential and commercial space to accommodate artists and creative sector activities; and artists' intentional engagement with community spaces, stories, and residents as the medium and inspiration for their creative work. This activity is multi-structured in its boundaries and representation; it is formal and informal, for-profit and not-for-profit.

5)   Artists have unusual place-making skills.  Place-making is a creative process that manages a range of practical tensions: between market and civic capacities and roles, between physical design and social utility, and around the need to integrate the old and the new. Community-based arts and cultural activity has place-making value that is related in large part to these very tensions. Artists are expert at uncovering, expressing, and re-purposing the assets of a place—from its buildings and public spaces to its organizations and communal stories. They are natural place-makers who, in the course of making a living, assume a range of civic and entrepreneurial roles that require both collaboration and self-reliance. And they are often steeped in a creative dialogue between the past and the future.

6)   The impact of community-based arts and culture is diffused throughout the architecture of place.  To understand the importance of arts and culture to place-making we need to identify its impact through the full architecture of place, and we use four distinct categories: a) the economic assets or market exchange of a place, b) its civic institutions and social capital; c) its public infrastructure, and d) the connections or flows between places through exchanges of people, capital, and information. Our monograph goes into detail—using largely Philadelphia examples—of all four aspects of this architecture. The details are however, descriptive and not quantitative.

7)   Direct economic outcomes are only one of many measurements of impact.  Because the impact is diffused through the various aspects of the architecture of place, we have to use different evaluation methods for each of the four categories. In category one, we can identify clear economic indicators related to the demand for both residential and commercial space. Category two—the social capital dimension—is more complex but not impossible to measure. Here in Philadelphia we have some very suggestive literature by SIAP that shows high correlations between indicators for neighborhood improvement and the density of cultural participation. Category three requires novel forms of evaluation that might be pursued by going beyond measuring the economic importance of high-quality public infrastructure and by recognizing, in addition, the ways in which arts-related investments in the public sphere add to that quality (e.g. parks, murals, boulevards). The fourth category can be measured to some extent by the flow of consumer spending and the flow of people in and out of place. However, a major consideration here has to do with the fact that we see cultural institutions, by nature, to be what we've termed network enterprises, that is, institutions that naturally connect in multiple and horizontal ways across geography and constituency. We do not know of any systematic attempt to evaluate impact in this way.

8)   Support for this community-based sector requires investments in three areas: creativity, development, and knowledge.  We view this support as constituting an interactive web of civic, public, and private investment that would, among other things, do the following: offer flexible, demand-oriented grants that build on existing efforts but that also expand the portfolio of possibilities; b) take seriously the commercial and residential demand of community-based arts and cultural activity and adapt for this world some of what we already know how to do in community development finance; c) build the data and planning infrastructure for arts and culture so that appropriate forms of both evaluation and transaction-based data are available; and d) come to terms more fully with the broader meaning of creativity for workforce development.

Then, I offer this final observation: It seems to me that a significant potential lies in tying together the post-industrial opportunities of what has come to be termed the creative sector with the movement to rebuild opportunity and value in some of our most distressed communities. Together these two worlds could create a market-oriented, self-organizing field populated by ever-changing relationships between civic groups, entrepreneurs, artists, and the public sector. There is a broad group of practices out there that fit this bill. These practices appear to be stranded between fields and forms of social and private support. By connecting the two concerns—distressed places and creativity—in a thoughtful way we offer an important avenue (one of many) for change.

Jeremy Nowak is president and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund. The Reinvestment Fund is a national leader in the financing of neighborhood revitalization. A development financial corporation with a wealth-building agenda for low- and moderate-income people and places, TRF uses its assets to finance housing, community facilities, commercial real estate, and business and policy research across the Mid-Atlantic region. It works with a diverse network of investors and business partners to galvanize private initiative and capital for the public good. It also conducts research and analysis on related policy questions.


The collaboration between The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania produced a series of valuable documents: a critical review of the literature, policy briefs, and a prospectus for community development. Descriptions follow here.

A session at the 2008 GIA conference, “Creativity Levers: A Framework for Investment in Neighborhood Change,” will demonstrate how the social, economic, and cultural benefits of the arts can combine to create new vitality for the redevelopment of urban neighborhoods. The panel, organized by Joan Shigekawa (Rockefeller Foundation), includes Jeremy Nowak (TRF), Michael Johnson (Em Johnson Interest), and Maria Rosario-Jackson (the Urban Institute). Brief descriptions of two relevant reports from the Urban Institute are also included below.

Cultural and Urban Revitalization
A Harvest Document
Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert
2007, 99 pages. School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, 215-573-7270,
This report from SIAP serves as the foundation study for the collaboration between SIAP and TRF. It provides an overview of the state-of-the-art research on culture and revitalization and a critical review of two relatively independent streams of literature on culture-based development: economic revitalization and community building. It concludes by proposing an ecological model that recognizes the interdependency of the social and economic benefits of the arts as a guide to research, policy, and practice in the emerging field of culture-based revitalization.

Cultivating “Natural” Cultural Districts
Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert
2007, 16 pages. School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, 215-573-7270,
This brief uses research on urban culture and community arts to make a case for culture-based revitalization from the bottom up. The brief highlights a particular kind of social network—the geographically defined networks made possible by a density of cultural assets in particular neighborhoods. Because “natural” cultural districts evolve through the self-organized efforts of local players, the challenge for policy-makers is how to nurture these enterprises in a way that maximizes community benefits.

Migrants, Communities, and Culture
Mark J. Stern, Susan C. Seifert, and Domenic Vitiello
2008, 12 pages. School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, 215-573-7270,
This brief looks at the role of migrant cultural expression in urban neighborhoods, existing institutional barriers, and how migrants' adaptation to their social marginality is changing “mainstream” culture. For newcomers and other groups, culture can be an important vehicle for social integration. A century ago, the settlement house movement used culture to link immigrants to opportunities in education, employment, and health care. Can the arts play a similar role today?

Creativity and Neighborhood Development
Strategies for Community Investment
Jeremy Nowak
2007, 31 pages. The Reinvestment Fund, 718 Arch Street, Suite 300 North, Philadelphia, PA, 19106, 212-574-5800,
In this publication, Jeremy Nowak examines the role of community-based arts and cultural activity in neighborhood development and points towards strategies for building an integrated vision of creativity and development. It focuses on the ways cultural activity and neighborhood development have complementary and intertwined missions, and offers a framework for flexible investment and funding that supports this synthesis and contributes to imaginative and substantive urban revitalization. Nowak recommends that investment focus on three areas: creativity, development, and knowledge.

The Power of Place-making
Jeremy Nowak
2007, 8 pages. The Reinvestment Fund, 718 Arch Street, Suite 300 North, Philadelphia, PA, 19106, 212-574-5800,
This document presents a summary of Creativity and Neighborhood Development: Strategies for Community Investment.

Crane Arts: Financing Artists' Workspace
The Reinvestment Fund
2007, 4 pages. The Reinvestment Fund, 718 Arch Street, Suite 300 North, Philadelphia, PA, 19106, 212-574-5800,
One surprise outcome of the SIAP collaboration was TRF's realization that it already had been investing in the cultural sector. In fact, around 8 percent of its total portfolio consists of creative sector projects. This brief discusses the conversion of an old factory into artist workspace and examines the project's impact on the neighborhood and the arts community.

Culture Counts in Communities
A Framework for Measurement
Maria-Rosario Jackson and Joaquín Herranz, Jr.
2002, 68 pages. The Urban Institute, 2100 M Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20037, 202-833-7200,
This report presents the guiding principles and conceptual framework developed by, and underlying the work of, the Urban Institute's Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project (ACIP). The report also reviews the current state of data and research on integrating arts, culture, and creativity into quality of life measures and suggests prospects for future developments. It is the first in a series of publications of the Institute's Culture, Creativity, and Communities program. The report finds numerous examples of how arts and cultural participation are important elements of community life and essential components of the community-building process. However, except for some research on economic impacts of the arts and arts impacts on education outcomes, it finds little theoretical or empirical research that speaks to how arts and cultural participation contribute to social dynamics.

Cultural Vitality in Communities
Interpretation and Indicators
Maria-Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, and Joaquín Herranz, Jr.
2006, 104 pages. The Urban Institute, 2100 M Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20037, 202-833-7200,
This monograph, part of a series presenting the work of the Urban Institute's Arts and Culture Indicators Project (ACIP), discusses three major advances in their ongoing work. First, a definition of cultural vitality is introduced that includes the range of cultural assets and activity people around the country register as significant. Specifically defined is cultural vitality as evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities. Second, the report uses this definition as a lens through which to clarify an understanding of what data is necessary, as well as the more limited data available, in order to adequately document and include arts and culture in more general quality of life indicators. Third, it develops and recommends an initial set of arts and culture indicators derived from nationally available data, and compares selected metropolitan statistical areas based on the measures developed.


For a full literature review, see “Culture and Urban Revitalization: A Harvest Document” (SIAP, January 2007).

Alvarez, Maribel with Lisa van Diggelen. There's nothing informal about it: Participatory arts within the cultural ecology of Silicon Valley. San Jose, CA: Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley. 2005.

Americans for the Arts. Arts and economic prosperity III: The economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences. Washington DC: Americans for the Arts. 2007.

Becker, Howard S. Art worlds. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1982.

British Columbia Cultural Sector Development Council. 2007.

Castells, Manuel. The information age, economy, society, and culture: Volume I, the rise of the network society. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc. 1996.

Community Action Programme on Social Exclusion. The role of culture in preventing and reducing poverty and social exclusion. Brussels: European Communities. 2005.

Creative & Cultural Skills. uk. 2007.

Creative London. 2007.

Evans, Graeme. Measure for measure: Evaluating the evidence of culture's contribution to regeneration. Urban Studies 42: 5/6 (May). 2005.

Florida, Richard. The rise of the creative class: And how it's transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Perseus Books. 2002.

_________, Cities and the creative class. New York: Routledge. 2005.

_________, The flight of the creative class: The new global competition for talent. New York: HarperCollins. 2005.

Frank, Robert H. and Philip J. Cook. The winner- take-all society: Why the few at the top get so much more than the rest of us. New York: The Free Press. 1995.

Grams, Diane and Michael Warr. Leveraging assets: How small budget arts activities benefit neighborhoods. Chicago: Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 2003.

Innovation for Success. 2007.

Jackson, Maria-Rosario, Joaquin Herranz, Jr., and Florence Kabwasa-Green. Cultural vitality in communities: Interpretation and indicators. Washington DC: Urban Institute. 2006.

Jacobs, Jane. The death and life of great American cities. New York: Random House, Inc. 1993 (1961).

Katz, Michael B. and Mark J. Stern. One nation divisible: What America was and what it is becoming. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press. 2006.

Keegan, Robin and Neil Kleiman. Creative New York. New York: Center for an Urban Future. 2005.

Kennedy, Maureen and Paul Leonard. Dealing with neighborhood change: A primer on gentrification and policy choices. Washington DC: Brookings Institution. 2001.

Kleiman, Neil Scott with Robin Keegan, et al. The creative engine: How arts and culture is fueling economic growth in New York City neighborhoods. New York: Center for an Urban Future. 2002.

Laing, Dave, compiler. Music industry workforce development plan. London, UK: National Music Council for Sector Skills Council and Music Industry Research. 2004.

McCarthy, Kevin F., Arthur Brooks, Julia F. Lowell, and Laura Zakaras. The performing arts in a new era. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp. 2001.

McCarthy, Kevin F. and Elizabeth Heneghan Ondaatje. From celluloid to cyberspace: The media arts and the changing arts world. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp. 2002.

Markusen, Ann, Amanda Johnson, et al. Artists’ Centers: Evolution and impact on careers, neighborhoods and economies. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. 2006.

Moriarty, Pia. Immigrant participatory arts: An insight into community-building in Silicon Valley. San Jose, CA: Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley. 2004.

Murray, Chris. “Rethinking neighbourhoods: From urban villages to cultural hubs.” In David Bell and Mark Jayne, eds. City of quarters: Urban villages in the contemporary city. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co. 2004.

Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. and 2007.

Nick Wates Associates. Community Planning Website. 2007.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The arts as an industry: Their economic importance to the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. New York: PANYNJ. 1983.

Porter, Michael E. “Clusters and the new economics of competition.” Harvard Business Review (Nov/Dec). 1998.

Portland Development Commission and the Oregon Creative Services Alliance. 2007.

Sampson, Robert J., Stephen W. Raudenbush, and Felton Earls. 1997. Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277: 5328 (Aug 15). 2007.

Sassen, Saskia. Cities in a world economy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. 2006 (Third edition).

Scott, Allen J. and David L. Rigby. The craft industries of Los Angeles: Prospects for economic growth and development. Los Angeles: University of California. 1996.

Seifert, Susan C. and Mark J. Stern. “Natural” cultural districts: Arts agglomerations in metropolitan Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Social Impact of the Arts Project. 2005.

Stern, Mark J. “Performing miracles.” City Limits, New York's Urban Affairs News Magazine (Nov). 2002.

_________, Artists in the winner-take-all economy: Artists' inequality in six U.S. metropolitan areas, 1980-2000. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Social Impact of the Arts Project. 2005.

Sterngold, Arthur. “Do economic impact studies misrepresent the benefits of arts and cultural organizations?” Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 34: 3 (Fall). 2004.

Wali, Alaka, Noshir Contractor, and Rebecca Severson, et al. Creative networks: Mexican immigrant assets in Chicago. Chicago: The Field Museum. 2007.

Wali, Alaka, Rebecca Severson, and Mario Longoni. Informal arts: Finding cohesion, capacity and other cultural benefits in unexpected places. Chicago: Columbia College Chicago. 2002.