The Creative Industry

There seems to be a new way of thinking that is surfacing in the arts community. It may be something that’s been evolving quietly over time and just now bubbling up to the surface.

Here’s what seems to be emerging. As we try to Restart the Arts, we confront anew that arts and culture are more complicated as an industry than traditionally thought of. Over time, we have viewed this industry principally through the not- for-profit lens – museums and theaters, which make the arts af-fordable, accessible and available. They also create jobs both inside and outside of the community. With general operating support waning, many are casting about, looking for a new way of thinking about arts and culture – as “The Creative Industry.”

That may be a legitimate umbrella, considering that the sector embraces the growing number of individuals who self- identify as artists. They are painters and sculptors, dancers and actors, writers and photographers, screenwriters and directors, animators and editors, and the list goes on to include many in the technology fields. These change-makers and innovators are the heart and soul of arts and culture as we know it and though they may be self-employed or, due to COVID unemployed, their work is critical to The Creative Industry.

Then, there is the for-profit commercial wing of the industry that turns ideas into money. That’s the magic of Hollywood, Broadway and HBO. Those are the folks that spin the dreams of fame and for-tune. Here’s where the job growth goes off the charts.

Together, these three elements are an ecological mashup described by some as The Creative Industry. And these workers account for nearly five percent of Westchester’s workforce, according to a study by Americans for the Arts. These three sectors are reliant on one another and have more in common than their differences. The thing that they have most in common is that they all create jobs for people who spend money, buy goods and pay taxes. That seems to be the lens by which The Creative Indus-try can find support for salaries, utilities and rent, those items we call by the now-obsolete term “general operating.” While it may not be our preferred way of asking for support, for this lofty sort of work we do, it does seem to have its merits.

We owe thanks to leaders like Senator Chuck Schumer for the Shuttered Venue Program, which makes no distinction between theaters that are not-for-profits or commercial. They are all theaters, which have fixed seating and need to socially distance patrons by not filling every seat in the house. What was needed for the economy was simply, as we say in the theater, to “ put the butts back in seats.”

Of course, we can quibble about the rules because we know that all theaters do not have fixed seat-ing, and some adapt the seating to fit what’s on stage, or prefer an informal arrangement of seating. It won’t help those smaller venues, but for now, we won’t quibble since the program will do a lot to re-vive theater- going or, as some call it, “normalization.”

And one more thing: we need to thank all of our legislators for the Paycheck Protection Program for which not-for-profits were equally eligible. It single-handedly saved many an arts and culture venue, or as we now call them—Creative Industries.