Gibbons’ story is one of several examples of innovative people making use of existing resources to start their own ventures included in the pages of a new mid-Michigan Cultural Economic Development Plan, which aims to get more people turning their creativity into economic stimulus for the region.
This first phase of a collaborative effort to bolster arts and culture’s role in the local economy was unveiled Monday night with an overview of the new plan at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center.
The $65,000 project is a joint effort of Lansing, East Lansing, Michigan State University, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and the state History, Arts & Libraries Department. Consultants from Creative Community Builders, a Minneapolis-based firm, have worked on the plan with the partners and a steering committee representing several cultural institutions for the last six months. The consultants visited the area three times to conduct interviews and lead focus groups.
The plan, titled “Art Works: Creative Invention/Reinvention,” opens by reporting that the creative sector already makes up more than 9 percent of the Lansing metropolitan area’s workforce. It also states that as unemployment has climbed in the region, the number of creative jobs has grown. These creative jobs can range from gallery owner to video producer, graphic designer or Web designer. “Without even really working at it, what we’re finding is we have a growing creative sector, and a population of young professionals who want to start businesses,” Leslie Donaldson, director of the Arts Council, said.
The 69-page document lays out steps the partners should take to make the region “the Midwest’s most welcoming and supportive destination for creative innovators and entrepreneurs.”
It offers four long-term goals of leading and coordinating cultural economic development, supporting and investing in creative enterprises, attracting and assisting workers and businesses and enhancing the value of place.
Marchelle Smith, special projects coordinator for the Lansing Economic Development Corp., called the plan a twoprong approach to growing the economy. “In addition to building on this particular cultural sector, it’s going to also build our sense of place and quality of life here,” Smith said. “That will be a huge factor in bringing other high profile people into the region.”
One step toward making these goals is recognizing local innovators with a new R.E. Olds Entrepreneur Award. “In other states, creative entrepreneurs are seen as heroes.” Smith said.
Other steps include connecting artists and entrepreneurs with funding and other resources and the creation of a Web site to aid in this. The plan also calls for the creation of a Michigan Avenue Center for Creative Business and Arts, a centrally located facility offering business services, training and consulting.
Mixed in with the core strategies, action steps and key outcomes are small profiles of the kind of people, organizations and events the plan is aimed at fostering, from illustrator and entrepreneur Barbara Hranilovich to the Capital Area Transportation Authority.
The jargon can sometimes make for the kind of dialogue only a bureaucrat could love, but to Donaldson, that’s a good thing. “It starts to formalize that arts and culture is an important component to economic development,” Donaldson said.
Obstacles to overcome include a complacent middle class, lack of coordination between entities, a state ban on domestic partner benefits for public employees and geographic and perceived disconnects between the cities and college and university students, all of which push creative talent away from the region.
About 50 people attended Monday’s presentation, which was followed up with questions from audience members, most of whom sounded enthusiastic, yet curious.
Terry Terry, founder and president of Message Makers in Old Town, was adamant about advertising Lansing’s creativity. “We must shout out to the rest of the world what we have here,” said Terry, who also heads the Old Town Business & Art Development Association, sponsors of JazzFest and BluesFest. “If they know we exist and they bring their work to us, everything will come flowing in. Without that, it’s going to be very slow.”
Lansing artist Russell Bauer, 25, was impressed with the collaborative emphasis of the plan. “[Consultant Tom Borrup] told people to work together. That’s pretty cool."
Justin Caine, 26, of Lansing, talked about younger people getting involved with the arts in Lansing. “I think this is awesome — East Lansing and Lansing coming together to really promote arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Caine said. “Entrepreneur magazine just said that MSU was one of the best universities for entrepreneurship. We just have to ride that wave.”
(Gabi Moore contributed to this story)