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WESST program stokes creative industry

The WESST Enterprise Center in Albuquerque has launched a new program to turn “starving artists” into thriving entrepreneurs.

bizO-RobinsonAvila_Kevin_BizOThe nonprofit, which runs a 37,000-square-foot business incubator Downtown, won an $85,000 grant last November through the Mayor’s Prize for entrepreneurship. The organization is now using those funds for a new Creative Practice, Innovation and Enterprise Program to help creative individuals develop the skills and resources they need to turn their endeavors into profitable and sustainable business activities, said Amy Lahti, program manager for the new “Creative PIE” initiative.

LAHTI: Program manager, Creative PIE initiative

LAHTI: Program manager, Creative PIE initiative

“We’ve found that many people involved in creative activities feel detached from traditional business education,” Lahti said. “They often feel it’s not really targeted at them. So we want to connect those creative entrepreneurs with tools and resources that they may not have had access to before, or that they thought was not appropriate for them.”

Many aspiring and talented individuals frequently focus on their artistic endeavors, while paying little attention to effectively marketing what they produce, said WESST Executive Director Agnes Noonan.

“Creatives often just want to focus on the creative side but, if they don’t focus on the business

NOONAN: Honing creatives' business skills

NOONAN: Honing creatives’ business skills

side as well, the chances are they won’t be able to build their work into a money-making endeavor,” Noonan said. “Like all entrepreneurs, they have to clearly define what they’re doing, who they’re doing it for, and how and where they can sell it. So we’ve launched a new, concerted effort to help anyone who wants to do something in the creative economy, or who is already doing it, to learn about the market and about how they can make money from what they do.”

That’s important for New Mexico’s budding startup community, given the huge role that creative businesses play in the local economy. Creative industries employ about 77,000 people in New Mexico, and contribute about $1.37 billion in wages and salaries, according to a study released last year by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Such businesses include everything from design, games, software and film to music, publishing, and performance and visual arts.

“Many think it’s all about artists and musicians, and so forth, but it includes so much more, like graphic artists or people involved in e-learning development, and building new software and apps,” Lahti said. “It even includes people who make baby clothing, or beer and food-artisan products.”

New Mexico is part of a growing national and international focus on creative industries. According to a report last year from the U.S. Commerce Department, the creative economy accounted for about $700 billion of the U.S. gross domestic product as of 2012, providing about 4.7 million jobs.

And those estimates may have been conservative as the Commerce Department is still

LOY: Helping redefine creative industries

LOY: Helping redefine creative industries

defining what falls under the rubric of creative industry, said Alice Loy, cofounder of Albuquerque’s Creative Startups business accelerator.

“The Commerce Department used a rather narrow definition for the report,” Loy said. “Among others, they didn’t include software engineers who work for music companies. Many people think big corporations like Disney or Adobe are technology firms, but those companies really fall much more within the creative industries.”

Worldwide, about 30 million people worked in the creative economy as of 2013, contributing about $2.25 trillion in revenue, or about 3 percent of global GDP, according to a new report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. For comparison, the global telecommunications industry contributed about $1.57 trillion in revenue in 2013.

“The creative industries are growing faster than many other sectors of industry,” Loy said. “It’s the next version of the knowledge economy with good-paying jobs. If you’re investing in programs to support creative entrepreneurs, then you’re investing in jobs of the future.”

Creative Startups, which launched in 2014, offers an “accelerator” program to help new companies in creative industries find the fastest, most efficient path to market.

WESST will, as well, work with new and existing companies, while also helping individuals, or “solopreneurs.”

Creative PIE will offer customized workshops, quarterly peer networking events, and individual mentoring and consultation to creative entrepreneurs. A four-part workshop, for example, will begin this month to help artists and craft makers launch online business through the Etsy global marketplace. An upcoming “legal clinic” – hosted by WESST in collaboration with New Mexico Lawyers for the Arts – will answer questions about copyrights, intellectual property and other issues while providing one-on-one consultations.

Some workshops and events are fee-based, and some are free. For more information, visit www.wesst.org or call 505-246-6900.

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