Mark Williams: Let’s continue important conversation about creativity

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When you think of the engines that power Indiana’s economy, you might think first of manufacturing, agriculture and logistics. Maybe health care and technology will enter your mind.

How about creativity?

Granted, that’s not one of the sectors usually included in lists of Indiana industries and success stories, but a number of business and public-sector leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators believe it should be. That’s why they gathered in Indianapolis in late October for the inaugural Indiana Creative Economy Summit.

Hosted by “Pattern” magazine in conjunction with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the summit sought to launch a conversation about how the state can elevate its creative economy and fuel its ongoing growth.

As my opening question might suggest, one of the biggest challenges facing the creative economy is the simple recognition that it exists. A secondary challenge—and one that certainly feeds into the first—is defining the creative economy.

A technical, government definition is the collective output of the arts, design, film, advertising and software industries. That definition certainly would cover not-for-profit arts organizations—which many people consider to be the main drivers of the creative economy—but it would also include a range of other entities, such as advertising agencies, print and digital media, photography studios and tourism destinations, not to mention such individual creatives as visual artists, fashion designers, musicians and filmmakers.

But that still doesn’t capture every wellspring of the creative economy. What about architects? Business innovators? Physicians innovating novel treatments for disease? Engineers who solve problems? Certainly, they and others make their mark by being creative. Does that mean we should include their output in this economy?

Suddenly, the “creative economy” looks very different from what you might have expected. Would that mean Eli Lilly and Co. is part of our creative economy? Salesforce or High Alpha? Is there a way we can include parts of what such companies do? Or do we narrow our focus?

The summit didn’t answer such questions, and I won’t attempt to. What’s important is that we are finally starting to ask the questions. We’re beginning a conversation that doesn’t assume that economics and creativity live in separate worlds. On the contrary, any successful businessperson will tell you that creativity is essential to success, and any thriving creative will assure you that creating does not excuse you from the realities of the marketplace.

That need for definition and for a shared language factored heavily into conversations at the summit, in part because, without a concrete definition of what constitutes the creative economy, we can’t truly measure it or its impact on Hoosiers. In addition, participants discussed the need for collaboration across sectors, the importance of sustainable funding that would allow creatives to earn a livable income, and the necessity of a statewide vision that will feed from and feed initiatives that already are thriving in individual communities across Indiana.

I believe an essential component of this process will be increasing the value we put on arts education. After all, building a creative economy requires curiosity, innovative thinking and problem solving—skills that young people develop by being exposed to the arts.

The Indiana Creative Economy Summit started an important conversation, one that should not end simply because the summit is over. On the contrary, that conversation should expand across the state. I congratulate “Pattern” founder Paulina Osherov and the folks at the IEDC for an important event, and urge them to start now on scheduling the second summit.•

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Mark Williams is president of the Indianapolis Art Center.

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