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Providing Direct Employment

In 2014, there were 2.27 million artists in the workforce, which is 1.47% of all workers aged 16 and older (Americans for the Arts, 2015). Artistic occupations are defined by the US Census Bureau to include the following 11 categories:

  • • actors;
  • • announcers;
  • • architects;
  • • fine artists, art directors and animators;
  • • dancers and choreographers;
  • • designers;
  • • musicians and singers;
  • • photographers;
  • • producers and directors;
  • • writers and authors; and
  • • other artists and entertainers. (National Endowment for the Arts, 2011)

Artists are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed than the total US workforce (National Endowment for the Arts, 2011). State and local agencies have recognized this trend and have been establishing artist incubator programmes to help creative entrepreneurs. According to Carmela Lanza-Weil, the recently appointed Executive Director of the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (GSFABA), Franklin County is one of the most rural and economically challenged counties in Massachusetts. In order to counteract that, the GSFABA is partnering with a local group known as The Art Garden to fund artists creating community-based art programmes through their Hilltown Arts & Thriving Community Happenings incubator project. Though this is a modest local effort, they are participating in a nationwide creative economy development strategy. This strategy is reflected in the rise of Arts Cooperative Extension programmes.

At the Community Development Society’s annual conference in 2015, Pamela Schallhorn of the University of Illinois Extension (Extension) presented a study demonstrating how creative entrepreneurs led to community cohesiveness, placemaking and poverty reduction in the city of Rockford, Illinois. Although Rockford is an urban setting, the principles apply for rural settings as well. According to Schallhorn, the city had a 21% unemployment rate in 2010 after losing thousands of manufacturing jobs and at least 40,000 people lived under the poverty level (Schallhorn, 2015). Extension began offering training for creative entrepreneurs, including artists, bakers and craftspeople. The participants were from all socio-economic classes, but the majority were low-income African American females (Schallhorn, 2015). Out of 82 participants who originally registered for the course, 42% either started or expanded business in the Rockford region. Several others are selling in art galleries, and five have started online shops with Etsy, an online marketplace where people buy and sell unique crafts.

University Cooperative Extension programmes across the USA have training programmes specifically for arts programming. Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri and Wisconsin have moved beyond the traditional model of engaging with agricultural and domestic life to foster rural arts work (Barrett, 2014). Extension programmes are ideal conduits for this type of training because community members are comfortable engaging with staff, they have the infrastructure to engage across wide geographic areas, and they can address large demographic and disciplinary diversities.

The creative marketplace is also moving towards a more decentralized, digital world where artists can independently live where they want, which is often in rural areas, where the quality of life can be attractive. A considerable proportion of Etsy’s 4000 sellers are rural (39%) and most are women (86%) (Etsy, 2015). Approximately one-sixth (17%) of its sellers have incomes of less than $25,000. This platform is what the company calls the new face of creative entrepreneurship. This trend towards independence and self-reliance is ideal for sellers who need flexibility, such as stay-at-home moms. For 30% of sellers, their creative business is their sole occupation (Etsy, 2015).

Etsy’s sellers are twice as likely to be young adults (under the age of 25) compared with other US business owners. Most (69%) want to manage just themselves as the only employee, and most (65%) do not want to take out a loan to expand their business (Etsy, 2015). Their ability to work independently has been enhanced by new technologies, such as 3D printing and computer-assisted design. New maker (do-it-yourself) work spaces make it easy to share these technologies among creatives.

These examples show how arts based strategies can help improve the economic lives of individuals. In addition to directly providing an independent, flexible job option in rural areas, the arts and artists have been credited with revitalizing whole communities.

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