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Karen Hitchcock: Growing the Creative Economy: A Strategy Well-Worth Pursuing

Across the country -   in Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Vermont, Massachusetts, and on and on -  economic development experts are paying increased attention to the creative organizations which add so much to the vibrancy, productivity and quality of life of their regions.  New York is no exception; and, a particularly strong initiative in this regard is ongoing right here in the Capital Region, embracing such industry segments as design, media, museums and preservation, performing arts, visual arts and hand-crafted products.  

Stakeholders have come together, led by the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region and the Center for Economic Growth, with funding from the Governor’s Regional Economic Development Council for the Capital Region, to assess the current status of the creative economy here in the Capital Region, as well as to develop approaches to maximize the impact of this sector on the overall health of our regional economy.  As stated in a progress report from the Center for Economic Growth, “At its core, the Capital Region Creative Economy Project is about engaging the individuals, businesses and organizations that comprise the creative sector, [as well as the] key business, education, civic, philanthropic, and political leaders who will be instrumental in the implementation of [a] strategic action plan … [to promote] creative enterprises as an economic engine for the region.”

This initiative has captured the imagination of a large and diverse group of stakeholders, collectively known as the Regional Alliance for a Creative Economy. All stakeholders see expanding and supporting the region’s already-rich creative sector as a powerful strategic approach to the future economic vitality of our region. The commitment to this strategy for economic development was clear at a recent Power Breakfast sponsored by the Albany Business Review. The topic of the Breakfast was The Creative Economy: What defines it? How does it drive growth?  It was, appropriately so, a “sold-out” house. The panelists addressing this topic were leaders of organizations in the creative economy; each brought new insights to the discussion of these important questions. Indeed, the wide range of creative activities represented by the panelists – from CEOs of performance venues, to video game design to craft brewing – demonstrates in a convincing way the rich diversity of our region’s creative sector. What is critical to note is that each speaker stressed the need to create – pun intended – an environment where creative enterprises are nurtured and supported. Indeed, I am delighted to see that the Creative Economy Project currently underway goes beyond a simple analysis of what comprises the creative sector here in the Capital Region; it also envisions the creation of an action plan to strengthen and support this critical element of our economy.

As such an action plan is developed, I urge that “partnerships” be at the heart of any strategy designed to enhance the creative sector. In areas such as the performing and visual arts, imaginative partnerships will create not only administrative and infrastructure efficiencies, but will also provide enhanced cultural opportunities for both residents of and visitors to our communities.

Second, I urge that any strategy developed be truly regional in character. Given the work of the Alliance, we have an opportunity to eschew the provincialism which has characterized our region for too long. Municipal and county lines should be invisible as we strive to develop the region-wide support which will be necessary to become a destination of choice for both participants and beneficiaries of a vibrant cultural environment. We need to leverage our collective strengths, not dilute them through needless and counter-productive competition within our region’s boundaries.

Finally, I applaud the early involvement of community leaders and organizations in this initiative – both as champions and as funders. One of the most articulate of these leaders is the new Mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan. As stated in a recent article in the Times Union: “her view of the arts and cultural scene in the capital city … is as broad as it is pragmatic. She sees the arts and cultural landscape as among the city’s greatest assets, a largely untapped source of pride and revenue that could benefit current residents and lure a few new ones in the process.” Mayor Sheehan is clearly aware of the myriad arts and cultural organizations in her city, and is vocal in support of their future growth as a competitive advantage in terms of tourism and overall economic health.

And Mayor Sheehan has acted on this conviction. She recently hosted a formal “welcome” in city hall for Dr. Jose Daniel Flores-Caraballo, the new artistic director of the premier choral organization in the region, Albany Pro Musica. To have the Mayor of the capital city of New York formally welcome an artistic leader to the city in this way speaks volumes to her commitment to be an advocate for the creative economy in her city and across the region. Such leadership will help to ensure a vibrant creative sector in our region for years to come.

Bravo to all involved in this capital region-wide initiative!

Dr. Karen Hitchcock, Special Advisor in the consulting firm, Park Strategies, LLC, was President of the University at Albany, State University of New York, from 1996-2004, after which she went on to lead Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Hitchcock has received honorary degrees from Albany Medical College and from her alma mater, St. Lawrence University. She has served on numerous regional and national committees and task forces dealing with issues in higher education, research and economic development. While at both the University at Albany and Queen’s University, she co-hosted the popular WAMC program, “The Best of our Knowledge”.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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