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Creative Global Network for the Visual Arts

On Saturday, San Jose hosted a town hall meeting for artists interested in learning more about the city’s new Creative Entrepreneur Program.

Kim Walesh, Chief Strategist for the city, began by expressing her optimism that today, more than ever, there is more opportunity for artists to be a part of the San Jose economy. Artist based business are growing faster than other segments and San Jose has a high rate of independent creative entrepreneurs.

The Silicon Valley companies that are really succeeding -- think Apple-- understand the intrinsic aesthetic value that creativity brings to their product. San Jose’s future plan now includes steps to honor both the the left brained technologists and the right brained artists, and recognize innovation in all their various aspects. Walesh suggested that city government was crafting a future plan where not only arts and cultural facilities were included, but now individual artists were encouraged to think together with them to build an artist friendly San Jose.

Keynote speaker Richard Chuang (founder Dreamworks/PDI) stressed the importance of creative people to the success of business. He spoke candidly about his start as an art student, and later switching to engineering so he could be more assured of earning a living. The teamwork approach used at Dreamworks to create a film strives to provide artists the support structure necessary to take risks, and engage in that critical thinking that makes them creative. Artist, by their own nature are risk takers and are less concerned about making mistakes. The challenges of traditional management are difficult to apply to creatives because they tend to stress NOT making mistakes. Richard stressed that art is a universal language and a powerful tool. San Jose has the opportunity to harness the business and artist communities and take a big step forward into the global community.

Mayor Chuck Reed stopped in for a few minutes to drive home the point that San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley and the innovation center of the world. In his talks with valley CEO’s they discuss how to keep the innovation here. One huge factor is that many creative, out-of-the-box, innovative, risk-taking, people live here. In order to create a city where creativity, technology, and innovation can thrive the city plans to strengthen culture and art in their overall economic development strategy.

I found the most interesting part of the town hall meeting to be when Cora Mirikitani, CEO of Center of Cultural Innovation, introduced Ann Markusen, a leading authority on art and economics from University of Minnesota, to explain the findings of the Artists’ Resource and Space Study conducted last spring. Their findings were sobering, and helped to highlight what the real challenges were to making San Jose a city and community where independent artists can thrive artistically and economically.

I left the town hall meeting applauding San Jose for embracing the arts as a way to enhance the city as an attractive place to live, work and visit. Let’s hope the Creative Entrepreneur Project can help to highlight and address the fundamental issues facing the artists who contribute directly to that rich fabric of society that San Jose is hoping to encourage. I think it will take some time, work and commitment to build the arts into the fabric of San Joses’ society as seamlessly as a Portland, Seattle or Santa Fe, but hats off to San Jose for exploring the possibilities.

I’ll leave you with a few data points from the survey and encourage you to explore the links provided to learn more. Feel free to leave your comments here.
“San Jose area artists report heavily subsidizing their own artwork — 63% of responding artists are not able to cover their creative work costs (materials, studio space, etc) from their artwork income, and 85% do not make a living from their artwork.” “47% of responding artists state that their San Jose areas housing is not affordable — a startling two-thirds are paying more than 30% of their income in total mortgage or rental costs.”

“Some 42% of responding artists confirm inadequate access to specialized tools and workspace needed to create, refine and produce their work.”

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