Friday, January 11, 2013

Creatively Funding Creative Entrepreneurship

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate. 

If there is one thing that I am not, it is artistic. I learned that I was not artistic in elementary school when the only part of the student mural (a seascape) I was allowed to paint was the sea slug… that’s really just an oval. Though I was never destined to be an artist, I can appreciate art and its importance in making places interesting and visually vibrant. One of the greatest public art installations that I have visited isCloud Gate in Chicago (aka “the bean”). Not only is it cool to look at, but it is a central space that draws crowds. Creating these kinds of spaces is beneficial because it stimulates interaction of people with art. However, one of the more intriguing points of collision between art and the public is when it meets entrepreneurship. 

In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) began its Our Town grant program. The program provides funding (ranging from $25,000 to $200,000) for “creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core.” The program requires 1:1 non-federal matches and a partnership between a nonprofit and a local government entity. Since 2011, the program has invested more than $11 million in projects located in all 50 states. 

Better yet, the program has a funding category for creative entrepreneurship. Exactly $1 million has been awarded to creative entrepreneurship projects. These types of projects seek to integrate business principles with creative endeavors. Such projects are also taking place in the public eye, adding to the vibrancy of public spaces and streets. 

The following project descriptions, drawn from the grant program website, are great examples of the types of projects that are being funded and how they intend to make a difference. 


The City of Stone Mountain, Georgia, is a community of 12,000 about 16 miles from downtown Atlanta and located adjacent to a 3,200-acre state park, Stone Mountain Park, which receives seven million visitors annually. 

ART Station, a major arts not-for-profit in Stone Mountain for more than 25 years, is partnering with the City of Stone Mountain on the Stone Mountain Arts Incubator program (SMart, Inc.) to nurture the city's creativity and turn it into an arts destination. SMart, Inc. provides technical assistance, marketing training, and space for artists to create, exhibit, sell, and share their work with residents and visitors to the city. The program consists of eight artist studios and five art galleries refurbished by local building owners to bring economic development and creative activity to its struggling downtown district. Additional project partners include DeKalb County, Stone Mountain Park, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and the Stone Mountain Visitors Center. 


In 2010, the City of New Haven launched an innovative pilot program called Project Storefronts. In cooperation with business counselors and property owners, the program enables individual artists, not-for-profits, or teams of creative workers to set up 90-day businesses in vacant storefronts in New Haven's Ninth Square Historic District. 

Support from the Arts Endowment will help expand the award-winning Project Storefronts pilot, an initiative of the City of New Haven's Office of Economic Development, Department of Cultural Affairs, Artspace New Haven, and private property owners. Artists and arts organizations will receive financial and business counseling to help launch or expand a creative business in the retail-deprived Ninth Square. Meanwhile, artist programming and events will raise the profile of the creative businesses, continuing to attract new visitors to the Ninth Square Historic District. Project Storefronts will result in the opening of previously shuttered storefronts with creative businesses, increasing foot traffic, attracting new residents to the area, and growing the local creative economy that accounts for seven percent of New Haven's workforce. New Haven has a population of 129,700. 

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I provide these examples because they underscore a very important lesson about entrepreneurship: not all entrepreneurs are made in the mold of Mark Zuckerberg. Tailoring entrepreneurship programs and policies to different types of startups is important to not only stimulate diversification within the entrepreneur community, but also because a singular profile may deter someone who doesn’t “fit the profile” from pursuing their idea. Further, these types of project are the intersection of the public, art, and business, something that is a win-win-win for local communities.