Turning ideas into action
On Wednesday evening, 300 artists, filmmakers, journalists, designers and architects gathered at the Harley-Davidson Museum with a singular purpose: to learn how to translate Milwaukee’s creative capital into economic growth.
The event represented the fruits of Creativity Works!, an exhaustive, year-long research effort to define and map the creative and cultural assets in the Milwaukee 7 region and create a plan for economic development in the creative sector.
In his opening remarks at the event, Mayor Tom Barrett lauded Milwaukee’s tremendous wealth of creativity, and called on the audience to take that artistic sensibility and use it to boost growth and job creation.
“The creative assets of the M7 areas can be used to drive innovation, which can be used to create jobs,” he said, immediately after officially proclaiming January 19 as “Creativity Works Day” in the City of Milwaukee.
The research is a joint project between the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Committee. Upon its inception in 2009, the project was designed to identify and quantify a “creative industries” sector in Southeastern Wisconsin, made up of “organizations, individuals and companies whose products and services originate in artistic, cultural, creative and/or aesthetic content.”
Through research conducted and analyzed by Mt. Auburn Associates, Creativity Works! found that creative industries provide a significant economic cluster across all seven counties, with over 49,000 people employed in the project’s five defined creative enterprise segments: Design, divided into communications, built environment and product design; Culture and Heritage, i.e., museums, libraries and historic sites; Media and Film; Performing Arts; and Visual Arts and Crafts.
An additional 17,561 are individuals with a creative background (musicians, artists) working in other industries (say, a graphic designer or writer working for a healthcare company), for a total of 66,707 employed in creative industries. In Milwaukee, 4.2 % of workers are employed in one of these segments (higher than the national average), representing $2 billion in wages.
But what does that really mean, and why does it matter?
Creativity Works! Working Co-Chair Jill Morin pointed to a 2010 report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development for the answer.
“In 2008, despite a 12 percent overall decline in global trade, world trade of creative goods and services continued to expand, reaching $592 billion with an annual growth rate of 14 percent,” she said, quoting the report. “The creative industries have been one of the most dynamic sectors of the world economy throughout this decade.”
“I’ve never seen more potential to launch creative industry than in Milwaukee,” Kane said, and it’s worth noting that he’s worked on similar projects all over the country. “[Milwaukee] is primed to go from cutting edge to leading edge.”
Milwaukee has always been home to great talent, and more and more we see evidence of design thinking applied to business. The challenge, though, is connecting the dots and building up a large, interconnected network of creative minds.
In addition to unveiling the strengths and challenges for Milwaukee, Kane and Stuart Rosenfeld of Regional Technology Services, Inc., introduced four strategies to help turn all of these ideas into action. A full report can be found online, but key initiatives would work to better connect creative enterprise segments to business by establishing regional councils for Design, Culture and Film & Media, and through a searchable portal site, already under construction by Spreenkler and Fresh Coast Ventures, where creative workers, both companies and individuals, will be able to create profiles and make their work known to manufacturers and other businesses in need of creative services.
In March, Creativity Works! will launch a new website designed and built by Spreenkler and Fresh Coast Ventures that will serve as an online hub for creatives, where companies and individuals can create robust profiles, both making themselves and their work known to potential clients and employers region-wide, and to post their own positions, auditions and events. From the sound of it, it could serve as a launch pad for ideas, and a forum in which those ideas can turn into action.
Other strategies centered around better regional branding, networking, fostering collaborations and partnerships among individuals and companies, and working to attract and retain talent by focusing on education from K-12 and onward and promoting Milwaukee as a region for academic excellence.
Cultural Alliance Executive Director Christine Harris says that while the project is only just starting out, some of these initiatives are already in the works. Over the next three months, the Cultural Alliance will begin developing a Design Council (modeled somewhat after the Milwaukee Water Council) to establish a nationally-recognized center for design innovation and creativity.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg in turning a long-term strategic plan into an action plan,” Harris said. “Let’s move forward.” Before Harris could finish her closing remarks, the room was already abuzz with excited conversation.
Ed.note: Certain sections of this article have been edited after publication to reflect updated information and current numbers.
View a slideshow of the night’s events, by Photo Editor Brian Jacobson