So how do you DO the creative economy, anyway?  (Hint:  it’s a process)

Go to to learn more about creative economy development in Wisconsin.  And click here for links to creative economy resources.

So how do you DO the creative economy, anyway?   (Hint:  it’s a process) – a blogpost by Anne Katz, Executive Director, Arts Wisconsin
updated 11-13-18

Right now, pretty much everyone concerned about their community’s future – which means pretty much everyone – are partners in the effort to ensure access to the arts and creativity and promote investment in creativity as integral to economic, educational and civic success.

Local government and economic leaders understand that creativity, innovation, imagination, and entrepreneurship are what’s needed to grow the economy; create locally-based, sustainable jobs; educate our children for the 21st century world and workforce; enliven our communities large and small and bring diverse communities together; enhance and strengthen a community’s competitive edge.

Arts Wisconsin is strategically and proactively integrating assistance and advocacy with local governments and economic development organizations.  We’re focusing on community cultural development and civic policy and planning at the intersection of the creative workforce, creative industries and creative communities.   We’re collaborating with organizations such as the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Wisconsin Economic Development Association, Wisconsin Main Street Program, UW Extension, and the Wisconsin Downtown Action Council, to name just a few.  Those partnerships make sense, because all of those organizations, like ours, are concerned with Wisconsin’s future.

Right now is a very exciting time, because with great change comes great opportunity, and the arts and creativity are needed now more than ever.

There’s a lot of education needed on all sides, and advocacy is key.  As I work with local elected leaders and economic development professionals around the state, I often get this question:   “We want to do some creative economy stuff in our city/town/village, so can you tell us how to do it?” (And the subtext often is, “How do we do it quickly, without spending any money, and without having to change anything?”)

Oh, if only it were that simple.  If only every local official and economic development leader had a magic wand to wave across their community so that voila! – it would instantly become a creative place.    But because the 21st century world demands new ways of thinking and doing, creative economy development isn’t quick, easy, cheap or painless – but it’s the direction my state and the entire country needs to succeed now and in the future.

We’ve come to a moment in history where we know the old economy is ending (we’re not in a recession any more, we’re in a new economy), we can see the new economy ahead of us, and we are all trying to define how to proceed.   Our systems and mindsets must change to stay ahead of the times.  Wisconsin will continue to be a manufacturing state, and agriculture is still critical.   But even those established industries must innovate to keep moving forward.  There’s no quick solution to the issues facing Wisconsin. In fact, there’s no one “solution,” because change is constant and the work on the ground doesn’t stop.

The arts – bringing creativity, imagination, innovation, and entrepreneurship – are what we are all looking for, from the small town mayor to the school superintendent to the self-employed artist.  All of us should be working together as advocates for investment in the arts and creativity as critical to economic, educational and civic success.

Here’s the good news:  there’s already a whole lot of new economy development going on around Wisconsin.  What’s happening on the local level in arts and cultural development throughout Wisconsin, with myriad possibilities on the state level, shows us a path for new ideas and new methods to stay ahead of the change around us.

Programs, facilities, and initiatives like the Waunakee Creative Economy Initiative (small town investment in creative economy programs and policies), the Pablo Center at the Confluence in Eau Claire (major downtown development centered around the arts, creativity, education and civic infrastructure), and the Creational Trails in Milwaukee (community development through arts, culture and recreation, in the urban core), and a plethora of arts centers, creative entrepreneur hubs, and revitalization projects all over the state, are just a few of the ways Wisconsin is moving forward in the creative economy realm.

Like any development strategy, creative economy development requires a set of common goals, focus, energy, time, and resources, expands over time, and requires a flexible, can-do attitude with consistent attention paid to big and small issues.     What’s needed – and what Arts Wisconsin advocates for and assists in developing – are coordinated, pro-active strategies at all levels that capitalize on and invest in community assets to provide pathways to growth and stability:

  1. Focus on a community’s assets – human, financial, social, economic, educational – while addressing issues and challenges. Support an asset-based community development strategy and process.  Every community has unique assets – people, places, environment, history.  Those are resources to nurture, attract, and retain residents and visitors.
  2. Support a mindset and programs that welcome a multi-cultural, diverse mix of creative people. A rich and ever-evolving mix of income levels, backgrounds, and perspectives enlivens the city.   A really creative city must recognize and take action on the idea that diversity is what the 21st century is all about. Everyone in a community, regardless of income level, background, or perspective, can bring their creativity to the table and should be able to participate in the creative economy and all that the community has to offer.
  3. Prioritize access to the arts – and everything else – for all. Any place can and should be recognized for its creative economy if creative opportunities are available for everyone in the community. There must be a diversity of programs and projects in the community so that everyone can participate in some way, not just those who can afford the price of a ticket.
  4. Arts integrated into education for all students in the public schools is key. All kids deserve and need the arts in the learning process, to help them express themselves and gain the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century world and workforce. It’s especially important to include the arts and creativity in education in public schools, since school is often the only place many kids get to participate in the arts.  Global research and practice show that students with high levels of arts participation outperform other students on virtually every measure from standardized tests to community participation, and that learning through the arts has a significant effect on learning in other areas, particularly in the early years.   Wisconsin’s 21st century education must be all about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).
  5. The arts are not separate from everything else going on in a community. It’s not like only some people are artists and others are not. There’s creativity everywhere and in every person, whether they call themselves (or are called) an artist or not.  Creative collaborations, imaginative processes, innovative, thinking and entrepreneurship, connecting arts/business, arts/education, arts/environment, arts/recreation, arts/food, arts/civic issues…the arts and creativity can and should be part of every project, program, organization and effort happening locally and beyond.  Partnerships do take work – but community involvement and engagement is the only way to move forward.
  6. Creative economy growth needs local elected officials and civic leaders who are visible, pro-active, enthusiastic champions of the arts, providing leadership that encourages big picture thinking and is open to new ideas and ways of doing. By the way, if you really want to make change, run for office on the local level.  City councils or village boards, county boards, and school boards are THE entities that make THE decisions in any community.
  7. Support investment in arts infrastructure – sure, we need investment in buildings, but what we really need is investment in organizational and leadership infrastructure. Creative people in all sectors will always do a lot with a little, but ongoing human, organizational and financial resources must be available to make things happen.
  8. A creative place is built, nurtured and sustained through a great quality of life – a vibrant street life, arts, food, libraries, parks and other public spaces, local radio stations, museums, bikeways that everyone can enjoy.

We’re living in a time full of opportunity. Although change is hard, our country has all the assets it needs to succeed in the 21st century economy.  Increasing our focus on creative economy development will help communities compete in the global economy, educate our children, engage residents, and to develop, attract and retain entrepreneurs and a high skilled work force through healthy, vibrant communities where people want to live, work, learn, and play.

Google “creative economy” and “creative industries” and there will be more links than you can imagine.   Here are a few to check out:

Learn more!  Contact Arts Wisconsin | 608 255 8316 | |


Anne is Executive Director of Arts Wisconsin, Wisconsin’s non-profit statewide community arts action, service, and development organization.  Arts Wisconsin’s mission is to nurture, serve, promote and speak up for the arts in Wisconsin and all of its communities.  Under her leadership, Arts Wisconsin received the 2004 Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts from the Wisconsin Foundation for the Arts, and she received the Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award from Americans for the Arts in June 2010.  Anne was chosen as a member of National Arts Strategies’ 2014-2015 Chief Executive Program:  Community and Culture, and has worked with arts organizations in Madison and across the country.  She is a graduate of Brandeis University, with a B.A. degree in Theater Arts, and studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England.