Shift in opinions about art has impact beyond sector, says head of National Endowment of the Arts |

Shift in opinions about art has impact beyond sector, says head of National Endowment of the Arts

Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Jane Chu says arts and culture industries are thriving in Colorado and across the U.S. as she addresses the audience Thursday at the Colorado Creative Industries Summit at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge.
Eli Pace / |

On the air

What: The documentary “Cultivating Creativity in Colorado”

When: 7:30 p.m., June 2

Station: Rocky Mountain PBS

Info: Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Jane Chu visits Colorado communities and organizations that benefit from NEA partnerships as the film provides a glimpse into how public funding of the arts directly contributes to the rich culture of local communities. The documentary was filmed and produced by students and faculty from the Colorado Film School at the Community College of Aurora.

Amid a shifting climate in the arts and culture industries, companies, governments and everyday citizens are now beginning to realize the amazing power the arts have to affect positive changes in sectors that seemingly have little to do with being creative, said Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts.

Only the 11th person ever to head the organization that was created by Congress in 1965 and doles out tens of millions of dollars in government-funded grants every year, Chu served as the keynote speaker for a Thursday luncheon at the Colorado Creative Industries Summit in Breckenridge.

The two-day summit drew more than 350 people — the most so far in its six years in existence — and they came representing seven states and 59 Colorado cities and towns, according to organizers.

With workshops like “Guerilla Style Hacks for Making Low Cost Video Content” and “Learning the Basics: Sustainable Income for Artists,” the summit was geared toward community leaders, nonprofit groups and individual artists alike — all seeking, in one way or another, to capitalize on arts and culture initiatives in their areas.

Recently ranked No. 1 in the annual Arts Vibrancy Index for small communities with populations under 100,000 by Southern Methodist University, Breckenridge was a fitting venue for the summit, and local leaders couldn’t help but plug the top designation when introducing Chu, who came with a broad perspective on how perceptions of the arts are changing across the U.S.

In Boston, for example, the mayor created a cabinet-level position to integrate arts and culture activity with city government, a move that’s generated regular interactions between the city’s arts team and other governmental services like transportation, public safety and housing, she said.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a state that has ranked at or near the bottom in annual health reports for years, artists with IDEAS xLab are working with government agencies, insurance companies and communities to improve health outcomes in low-income communities through the arts.

In Minneapolis, local leaders have embarked on a project that embeds artists in city departments, such as long-range planning. This new approach has helped the city famous for its lakes solve community-outreach problems where otherwise solutions had been elusive, Chu said.

“Some of the mash-up between the arts and non-arts sectors is happening because artists are actively looking beyond just the arts sector so they can find work, employment,” Chu said, before describing just how big the sector is.

According to Chu, data show the arts and culture sector contributed $729.6 billion, or 4.2 percent of the U.S. economy, in 2014. That’s more than the travel and tourism, the transportation and warehousing, or the construction sectors, she said.

Furthermore, the arts and culture sector has experienced significant growth from 1998 to 2014, jumping by 35 percent, Chu explained, adding that figure is significantly greater than what was seen in any of the aforementioned industries.

“It’s growing as fast as it can go,” she noted, before citing figures specific to Colorado.

In many ways, Chu said, Colorado is at the forefront of an evolving arts and cultural scene, one where local officials see creative industries as one way to develop their workforces, raise more tax revenue and enhance livability.

In 2014, for example, Colorado ranked 16th in arts and culture employment and 17th in arts and culture employment growth.

“When it comes to arts and culture employment, Colorado is one of the leaders in the nation,” Chu said, later adding, “when it comes to growing a state’s creative economy, your creative districts, state of Colorado, you are a good model to follow.”

In Colorado, 96,000 people work in the arts and culture sector — or 3.7 percent of the state’s total employment. Altogether those workers earned $6.8 billion in compensation, which made up 4.1 percent of all worker compensation in Colorado. This means that arts and culture workers in Colorado actually earned more on average than non-arts and culture workers did, according to Chu.

Additionally, according to NEA research released last fall, Colorado ranked No. 1 for the percentage of the adults who preform and create artwork.

“It’s an astonishing 67.8 percent, how about that?” asked Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries. “So that’s why we have such great people here. We all get it. We all get it.”

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