Fighting to include the arts is top priority for state leader
By Eileen Persike
The Northwoods has long been considered to have an active, if quiet, art presence. Art galleries, pottery studios, fiber artists are part of the fabric of life in this rural area. An initiative introduced recently in Madison aims to showcase the arts statewide in a way that weaves it into economic development.
“The idea of creativity being a resource that you can measure and quantify and tell stories about and have it be an industry is not new, but is extremely important,” according to Arts Wisconsin Executive Director, Anne Katz. “Especially in the Northwoods because there is so much going on; it’s a hotbed of creative economic development.”
In the Northwoods to talk about a bill called the Creative Economy Development Initiative, Katz explained that it would allot a small portion of the state’s economic development spending, about $500, 000, to support creative economic development projects. This project funding would, Katz said, kick off other public and private funding. But what is a creative economy, and why is it important?
Nationwide and locally, the economy is changing, moving away from traditional manufacturing and quantifiable jobs. An arts-driven economy, according to Katz, would create a new way to attract a new kind of resident to the Northwoods. Someone, for example, who can work from anywhere with a laptop. People, she said, want to live where there are things to do.
“I’ve been talking about the creative economy since the last century,” said Katz, referring to her two decades working with Arts Wisconsin. “Now that the world is really changing and people are kind of grasping that, now, because there is so much going on at the local level, now people are starting to pay attention.”
Other states, according to Katz are way ahead of Wisconsin in the creative development arena, which is why the initiative is critical.
“We’re making the case that Wisconsin is missing a great opportunity and needs to step up its game. All that’s needed is a little bit of investment funding to jumpstart other funding.”
Arts Wisconsin has outlined four areas that can be strategically improved through the proposed bill:
1. Grow, attract and retain a talented workforce.
2. Capitalize on local and regional distinctive assets and culture.
3. Deepen connections among residents, cities, regions to global communities and economies.
4. Foster innovation and entrepreneurial commercial activity to build sustainable economies.
“Who would have thought,” Katz said, “That there would be two art centers in Eagle River, that I would be in Phelps talking about art with a Vilas County deputy, and that Rhinelander – a working class town—would have a center like ArtStart. But it’s happening!”
Saying that, “Art is not political; everyone cares about their community’s well being,” Katz said the bill has been introduced in the senate and will soon be in the assembly. She’s talked with Northwoods Sen. Tom Tiffany and feels optimistic that the Creative Economy Development Initiative will be passed this legislative session.