The Creative Economy Drives Growth
When Easthampton’s leaders designated Easthampton City Arts+ as an official municipal committee in 2011, it recognized the work ECA had already been doing for several years to leverage the considerable local arts culture and connect it to broader economic development.
And by ‘considerable,’ ECA’s coordinator, Burns Maxey, points to some 240 artists and creative businesses among the group’s membership — and says that number only scratches the surface. Before ECA, she said, “Easthampton had a lot of storefronts that didn’t have businesses in them. This was a potential economy they could tap into.”
Those efforts have borne considerable fruit (see story, page 15), as evidenced by thriving arts districts like Cottage Street and former mills like Eastworks, where creative individuals are having a considerable impact on the city’s economy — with benefits that spill over into businesses of all kinds. “It’s economic development,” she said, “but a creative way of looking at it.”
Easthampton isn’t alone. Holyoke recently created the job of ‘creative economy coordinator’ and hired Jeffrey Bianchine, a photographer who lives and works on Main Street, to fill it. His roles will include connecting the various artists and cultural activities in Holyoke, forging links among creative businesses, and using the presence of arts-related enterprises to boost economic development.
“The state’s number-one issue is business development, and that’s what we’re starting with,” Bianchine told BusinessWest earlier this year. “We want this to be the region’s hub for creative industries. Art is too small a term for what’s going on here. It’s about exporting product — intellectual product, cultural product.”
Meanwhile, Westfield is working to cultivate its creative economy in an organized way as well. “We’re in the infant stages of this,” said Kate Phelon, executive director of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce, recently. “We applied for a grant to take inventory of the creative economy in the city. That can drive economic development, and the chamber is happy to be a part of that.”
These cities can look to nearby Northampton for inspiration; just 30 years ago, that city was beset by empty storefronts downtown, but dramatically transformed itself into an arts, retail, and dining destination that sent property values soaring, boosted economic development, and branded the city as a cultural mecca.
In this issue, BusinessWest delves into what municipal and business leaders often call the ‘creative economy,’ with an indepth look at what is happening in Easthampton, as well as a virtual tour of Indian Orchard Mills, a 12-building complex in Springfield that’s bustling with an eclectic mix of businesses, including more than 50 artists.
Cities recognize that success stories like Indian Orchard Mills, Eastworks, and Holyoke’s Open Square complex don’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — standalone success stories, but integral weaves in the overall tapestry of development. The actions of officials in Easthampton, Holyoke, Westfield, and elsewhere clearly show that they’re taking the potential of the arts seriously — not just as a quality-of-life measure, but as a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to building an economically thriving region.
Speaking of Easthampton, “the whole city has changed. The city has a different image, which attracts visitors, which attracts new businesses and even new residents,” said Jean-Pierre Pache, a local artist and business owner. “In 12 years, I’ve been able to witness a lot of changes. It was happening before I got here, and it’s still happening now, but there’s a lot of momentum now.”
Momentum. That’s not a word that was often used to describe the economy during the Great Recession and its aftermath, but it’s one increasingly associated with the growth potential of the arts — if city and business leaders choose to embrace it.