Creativity is hot, making it the right time to focus on the increasing prominence of the arts in economic development, our magazine’s theme this month. Writing about large investments, impressive new technologies or influential, straight-laced leaders is our usual fare because much business journalism is about following the money and folks who get stuff done. Over BNC’s 36 years, you won’t find many cover photos of wealthy executives dressed like Stephen Hill, this month’s featured leader.
But embracing creativity in all facets of life has gained enormous appeal and is quickly overcoming conformity, both in fast-growing cities and more tradition-bound smaller communities like Hill’s Kinston. It’s evident in the growing popularity of groups celebrating creative thinking; the soaring real estate values of warehouse-turned-arts districts that attract singles, young families and empty-nesters; corporate America’s relaxed dress code; and perhaps most trivially, in the increased prevalence of tattoos, ethnic foods and beer spiced with jalapenos, beets or whatever.
It’s no coincidence that fast-growing business centers — Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, Austin, Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville, Seattle — are among the cities most willing to embrace change. Tax and labor rates matter, but so do many other factors.
“Creativity is so hot because collaboration is the key for big breakthroughs in business,” says freelance copywriter Matt Olin, a leader of the Creative Mornings movement that draws hundreds of artists, bankers, techies and others to monthly breakfasts in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh. “The real shining creative moments — such as products that are innovative and capture people’s attention — usually come as a result of collaboration.”
Such talk can sound squishy and ironic given the fast-declining reputation of liberal-arts education, which promotes creativity and independence. For decades, economists and others have implored more students to focus on the trades and hard sciences, citing vast job vacancies in the service and tech sectors. Certainly most parents dropping kids off at college this fall are praying that Junior develops a love for coding, math and biology, which can almost certainly provide a bigger check and more security than degrees in social work or English or art.
There obviously is a lot of common ground, and artist Caitlyn Cary, who is quoted in our Raleigh story, may have it right: “People coalesce around art. It’s gonna feed the economy — even if it doesn’t feed the artist.”
I attended college near Chicago in the late ’70s when neo-Nazis won the right to march in nearby Skokie, a suburb known for its large Jewish population, including many Holocaust survivors. It was a sickening provocation. Fortunately, the march never materialized there, though the controversy inspired a 1980 movie scene with Blues Brothers’ Dan Akroyd and John Belushi running their car at Nazi sympathizers who avoided harm by jumping into a lake.
I never could have imagined that more than 35 years later, a similar bunch of ragtag racists could still arouse such hatred. Surely American society would have evolved. The Charlottesville, Va., tragedy showed my naiveté. I’m thankful so many courageous business and political leaders said “Enough,” after our president’s bumbling response to the violence. Perhaps those leaders — and you and I — will ensure that Charlottesville marks a turning point in the pursuit of a more tolerant society.