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Creative disconnect a hurdle

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jeffrey Mitchell is director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at University of New Mexico. He

MITCHELL: NM rife with sheer talent, creativity

MITCHELL: NM rife with sheer talent, creativity

and Gillian Joyce wrote “Building on the Past, Facing the Future: Renewing the Creative Economy in New Mexico,” based on research commissioned by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

Q: Your research found that arts and culture directly account for one in 18 jobs in New Mexico and a total of $1.37 billion in wages, but your report also indicates that we’re probably still far from reaching our creative economy’s ceiling. How much bigger could – or should – those figures be?

A: The principal finding of the analysis is that, while New Mexico has slightly more than its share of employment in arts and cultural industries as a whole (compared to other states), we are lagging in certain areas. Specifically, our research shows that the state has less than its share of employment in fields such as media, publishing, graphic design, software development and Internet publishing – the more commercial and applied aspects of the creative economy. Yet, the problem isn’t the current employment shortfall, but that these fields are among the highest-paying and most rapidly growing sectors of the creative economy. So, the challenge is to better position ourselves for the creative economy of the future.

Q: What surprised you most in the course of this research?

A: The numbers did not surprise us – we have a good sense of our strengths and weaknesses. Rather, the more interesting insights of the research were on a more personal level. Two points stand out. First, we were very impressed by strength of commitment among such a large share of artists and creative professionals to both their work and New Mexico. For so many, the two are inextricably connected – they could not conceive of their lives without their work and they could not conceive of their work except in New Mexico. The second pattern that we found was the depth of isolation and division. We may have expected that many would feel out of the mainstream of the global cultural economy – we are a small, rural state. But we were surprised by the sense of disconnect within the state – between artists and creative professionals of different ethnic identities, between those working in different areas of the state, and between those working in different subfields (for example, between writers, filmmakers, visual and performing artists, or between artists, designers, galleries and those in the media).

Q: What is New Mexico’s greatest asset in terms of building its creative economy?

A: Easy – the sheer talent and creativity of artists and creative professionals in the state, and their absolute commitment to their work and to doing their work in New Mexico.

Q: You lay out a number of steps the state should take to give the creative economy a boost. Are there one or two you think are paramount?

A: There are two aspects of growing the creative economy – promoting creativity and facilitating business success. To promote creativity, we have to create forums that bring people together – bring people in Santa Fe and Albuquerque in contact with those in rural areas, and promote interaction among Natives, Hispanics and Anglos. This can involve creating collaboratives, festivals and markets that cut across forms and genres, or creating stronger networks among the many thriving arts councils that exist across the state. We also need to renew the value that we place on creativity, in education but also in the marketplace. In the marketplace, this means giving individuals the tools necessary to succeed. This may involve creating incubators and learning programs that specifically target the needs of creative professionals. Just as important, we need to create programs that facilitate access to credit and capital, perhaps by providing loan guarantees or authorizing new forms of collateral. Importantly, all such initiatives should involve partnerships that bring together the business, nonprofit and governmental sectors. Finally, I want to note the encouraging signs that we’ve seen over the past year that suggest that leadership has begun to recognize the importance of the creative economy. Examples include ABQ Innovate, the establishment of numerous business incubators and nonprofits that support creative businesses, the renewed focus of the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs on communication and collaboration, and increased funding to bottom-up programs, such as MainStreet.