The Arts and the Creative Economy: 21st Century Growth in Wisconsin

 “Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children.”
~ Chief Sitting Bull

 Creativity.  Innovation.  Imagination.  Entrepreneurship.  Now, more than ever, investment in the arts, arts education and creative economy is not separate from the overall priorities of the state—it’s vital to the overall health and well-being of the people of Wisconsin and all of the state’s communities. 

Wisconsin is seeking ways to expand its horizons beyond the state’s historic economy to target talent, increase high paying job creation and retention, and provide the public and private leadership necessary to insure the resources for a sustainable 21st Century economy.   The shift from a traditional commodity-based, mass production economy to a knowledge-based, creative economy demands strategic focus on productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Wisconsin must intentionally strategize and invest in 21st century infrastructure that leads us forward instead of chasing an old economy, prepares our workforce for the jobs that will stay, and drives traditional sectors onto new ground. The Council on Competitiveness recognized this back in 2005:   “from an economic development perspective, many communities are still pursuing the old, incentive-based strategies. These don’t work in a world in which firm success depends ever more on the quality of ideas and talent, and ever less on traditional infrastructure.”

What kind of future is in store for Wisconsin?    No one can predict the future, but we can help shape it.  To make a positive future for our children, our communities and our state, we need partnerships, energy, action, resourcefulness, and creativity.  That’s where the arts come in.  If there ever was a time that we needed the arts, it’s now.  The times call for the qualities inherent in the arts – to move our state and our nation out of the economic downturn and forward, to:

  • revive and stimulate the economy locally and statewide
  • create locally-based, sustainable jobs
  • educate our children for the 21st century workforce
  • enliven our communities large and small and bring diverse communities together
  • enhance and strengthen Wisconsin’s competitive edge and international reputation.

This 21st century infrastructure goes beyond traditional definitions – roads, bridges, dams and air traffic control – to include a healthy arts and culture industry which animates community development on all levels.   Our creative economy assets are significant and cover the state.  Creativity is not limited to one cluster, but is essential to all Wisconsin industries and clusters.

In the past fifteen years – while economic changes have proven the great need for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship to keep people working; while Wisconsin communities large and small have achieved exciting economic and downtown revitalization programs based on arts centers and programs; while cultural tourism has become a growing and vital component of the state’s tourism economy; while global research has proven that the arts and creativity in education prepares students for the 21st century world and workforce; while interest and participation in the arts by Wisconsin citizens has increased dramatically; while the need for pro-active state investment in the state’s cultural assets has become imperative – the state of Wisconsin has decreased its investment in the arts, arts education and creative economy.

It is time for Wisconsin to pro-actively invest in creativity at the local and state levels, and use our state’s abundant arts, culture, and creative assets for economic, educational, and civic vitality and stability.  To achieve these goals, Wisconsin’s decision-makers and citizens should:

  • Invest in Wisconsin’s economic development and community revitalization by using the state’s diverse artistic, cultural, historical and creative resources.
  • Assist in the creation and retention of high-paying jobs based in the creative economy.
  • Support a consistently high-quality educational system that uses creativity in the acquisition of local and global knowledge and understanding, and prepares students for the 21st century workforce.
  • Strengthen artistic and cultural infrastructure locally and statewide, for vibrant, livable communities of all sizes.