Creative Economy AZ (My Take)

Based on the Gangplank Futurespective, one thing I promised myself to investigate was Creative Economy AZ.  This is an initiative to raise 1/10th of cent sales tax for the next 20 years to help fund the arts.  I spent a fair amount of time researching what they had online, but felt it was best to meet with those working hard on it before passing judgement.

A few weeks ago I met with Amy Heisler from Metro Phoenix Partnership for Arts and Culture and Sophie O’Keefe-Zelman from First Strategic to talk about the Creative Economy AZ Initiative.  Amy is extremely passionate about arts and culture in Arizona and it shows.   I didn’t learn too much new about the initiative as they do a great job outlining what they are about on their website, from the problem to the solution and on taking action.

I agree with the stated problem.  However, I don’t agree with the solution.  We are in one of the worst economic fiasco’s of this century, both federally and as a state.  With a state budget deficit of several billion and climbing I see little to no chance for this initiative to pass.  Beyond that, I think that it actually puts creatives in a bad light.  It makes creatives look like in the toughest time, that they are the first in line to look for a hand out.

Maybe, I am old fashioned, but this just doesn’t seem right.  I wish that the millions being put into PR, legal fees and lobbying for this initiative were instead being put into efforts to unite the creative class in metro Phoenix.  We are already seeing pockets of people working together to affect radical change in their area of influence.  Imagine if we were to put concentrated effort into getting people to support the arts that are already here and the movement that is already happening?

My Take: Our arts are severely underfunded, but raising taxes to support them in this economic climate is not the right approach.

That said, there is nearly always more than one path to reach an intended destination.


  1. I don’t think it’s ever fair to say “X isn’t the right approach” unless you can then offer at least one suggestion immediately afterward of what might BE the right approach.

    I realize you alluded to it immediately prior (“concentrated effort” line) but surely you have more ideas beyond that?

  2. I’m not sure I buy into the premise that you can make more (or better) art by throwing money at it. Artists will make art regardless of whether they have funding, and many great artists throughout history have done their work while holding down regular “day jobs” to pay the bills.

    I understand that doesn’t apply to all art forms, or to all artists, but I’d rather find ways to help artists figure out how to accomplish their vision through creative funding (or despite a lack of funding), rather than trying to squeeze more money out of taxpayers.

    (And I say that as someone who’s currently working on two large-scale creative projects in my spare time. I’m not waiting for funding so I can quit my job and do them; I’m just doing them anyway.)

  3. There are arts institutions and programs that can benefit here. What if all the museums could offer free admission? What if there was incentive to build a great children’s choir and supporting infrastructure around it to make it last…I think the visibility of arts and culture could be increased significantly. Visibility of arts and culture and access to high quality arts could be an attractive piece to corporate recruitment and relocation efforts of creative class executives and all-stars. The debate will come down to the value of that increased exposure and arts funding to the economy and the ability of Creative Economy AZ to make the case to the public.

  4. “I don’t think it’s ever fair to say “X isn’t the right approach” unless you can then offer at least one suggestion immediately afterward of what might BE the right approach.”

    I disagree. I think it’s valid to say, the building is on fire and staying in the burning building is the wrong approach. This is completely valid despite not saying the right way to get out of the building. I agree it’s not terribly constructive to the person in the building, but I don’t think it’s unfair.

    My ideas are not fully formulated. I just know that spending money on an initiative that has little to no chance of passing is not a good use of money. Investing in arts projects that need a little help to accelerate what they are doing would seem more prudent. I don’t have a full list of those organizations or their needs so it’s difficult for me to make recommendations.

  5. “I think the visibility of arts and culture could be increased significantly.”

    I would rather see them spend millions highlighting what is currently here and getting people to get out and support it. Often times it’s simply a matter of people not knowing it even exists. I have been trying to make an effort to highlight things as I discover them, but a concentrated PR campaign would go a long way.

  6. Yep, agree… visibility of what’s here…I think that can be done by supporting what we have now to the point that it’s seen (marketing) and admission is free.

  7. The thought of creative types organizing to do something – anything – to further creativity in our city is one of those warm, fuzzy feelings. At the same time, when we go about sourcing funding from the government, that can only lead to some sort of bureaucracy, which is likely a large part of why our current state budget is in so much trouble.

    Spending taxpayer money requires oversight and that oversight requires oversight and those who do the overseeing often have very special needs when it comes to pay and benefits and I think you’re right, Derek. It would make more sense to use whatever budget is funding this initiative to nurture the existing creative community. Surely there are ways that ultra-creative types could share the wealth and whatnot.

  8. Derek – thanks again for meeting with us last week and your interest in what we are trying to do. I appreciate you taking the time to learn more about it and to have a conversation – and for continuing the dialogue here.

    We agree that there are many ways to get to the same place and I’m glad we both want to see a strong and vibrant economy that features a thriving creative sector. What our research, and from other entities around the country, shows is that those cities and regions who have made an investment in their arts and culture have reaped economic benefits.

    Arts and culture is a proven economic driver. It makes a place more attractive to companies and most importantly – talented people.

    You mention that this is not the right time for a tax-increase to support arts and culture. This endeavor began when the Phoenix-area economy was going strong but on the back of one industry. Even then, the nonprofit arts and culture sector was severely underfunded at $12 per capita annually.

    This is a group that as a whole knows how to scrape by with little and still manage to survive. But just surviving isn’t going to cut it when we look at the big picture of competing for talent and developing economic diversity.

    The goal of this initiative is to move Arizona from the bottom of arts and culture funding to at least the middle. It can be transformational for our state. It can give our children more exposure to creative experiences to help them develop their whole brains. It can help our existing companies attract and retain talent – one of our local businesses had a hard time recruiting someone from Columbus, Ohio, because that person thought our town didn’t have enough cultural amenities.

    This is one way we can move ahead as a state and grow our economy instead of looking for ways to cut back.

    Thanks again for opening up the discussion!

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