Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Friday March 22nd, 2013, 4:10pm

Creative Economy Initiative Could Serve As Economic Boon For Illinois

With hopes of giving a boost to Illinois’ struggling economy, Gov. Pat Quinn rolled out a new initiative this week focused on investing in the arts and strengthening the state’s cultural offerings.

Illinois’ nonprofit arts organizations contribute $2.75 billion to the local economy through direct spending and revenue generation, according to a report by Arts Alliance Illinois and Americans For The Arts.

More than 78,000 full-time jobs are supported through art nonprofits throughout the state, as detailed in “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV.”

Prompted by these statistics, Quinn has launched the Creative Economy Initiative.

Arts Alliance Illinois, an art advocacy and research organization, has been charged with convening stakeholders and developing policies to leverage Illinois’ creative assets in the interest of creating jobs, improving innovation in the workforce and building a more vibrant community.

“Culture means business in Illinois,” Quinn said. “This initiative will strengthen our creative economy in Illinois, which will create more economic growth and make Illinois an even more vibrant place to live and raise a family.”

The Creative Economy Initiative has no price tag as of yet.

But through Quinn’s $29 billion Illinois Jobs Now! capital public works program, Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, home of the NBC TV series “Chicago Fire,” received a $5 million construction grant for the set. Quinn says Cinespace is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to Chicago and $30 million in local spending with the upcoming feature film production “Divergent.”

“A thriving arts sector is vital to the future competitiveness of Illinois,” said Ra Joy, executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois.

From a policy perspective, Joy said Arts Alliance Illinois will promote actions and solutions that can be taken to stimulate Illinois’ economy through creative endeavors.

He mentioned instituting a civic and artist corps to engage young artists in low-income schools and underserved communities.

The organization has looked at cultural tourism strategies for art districts and cultural enterprise zones. According to Joy, “there are a lot of policy actions that can be taken to grow jobs and creative enterprises in this state.”

The initiative is in its very preliminary phases, though. Joy said the next step is to bring together chief stakeholders from the public and private sector.

“Illinois is facing some significant fiscal challenges, but if we’re serious about getting the economy back on track, if we’re serious about creating jobs and supporting jobs in other industries, if we’re serious about attracting talent to encourage investment in the state, then we need to be serious about investing in the arts and creative economy,” he said.

The report also delves into the way in which cultural tourism boosts the state's economy and attracts new spending. The average tourist spends two-and-a-half more than the average Illinois resident on event-related expenses such as overnight lodging and souvenirs.

After surveying 2,726 event attendees during 2011, researchers found that more than 40 percent of Illinois’ non-resident event-goers reported the main reason for their trip was “specifically to attend this arts/cultural event.” More than 23 percent said they would spend at least one night away from home as a result of attending the cultural event.

“Tourism plays a huge factor in boosting the economy. Arts and culture draws people to communities,” explained Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy for Americans For The Arts.

Cohen added that Quinn was “making a bold move” by putting forth the effort to “double-down on an area that other countries are investing heavily in”, thereby making Illinois more competitive in the global economy.

He said other than investing in arts and culture, developing an innovative workforce should be an integral part of Quinn’s Creative Economy Initiative. In addition to arts organizations and cultural attractions, Cohen said bringing video gaming, film, architecture, publishing, technology and medical research, and automotive design industries to Illinois could all serve as job creators.

“The most successful economies have been the ones to make real investments in art and culture, and cultivate a creative workforce,” he said.

Image: wayfaring.info of Hyde Park Art Center

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