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Building Entrepreneurial Communities

NGA report on "Rural Prosperity through the Arts & Creative Sector"

I have been working with communities and creative entrepreneurs across Illinois since 2010 to assist them in developing creative-based economies. During that time, economic impact data for the creative sector has been difficult to find for both urban and rural communities. Especially in Illinois, where tourism data was last published in 2014, due to the state budget impasse. Until now, information on the impact of the creative sector in rural communities has been almost non-existent. That is why I would like to share a new report, Rural Prosperity through the Arts & Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors' & States for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the impact creative-sector development can offer to rural communities and regions.

The report written in partnership by the National Governors' Association (NGA), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Assembly for State Arts Agencies was released by the NGA in January of 2019. The report is sixty-five pages long so I thought I would pull some highlights from the report for this blog post.

Please note that many of the following highlights are direct quotes from the report.

Now that there is an expanding body of research and practice showing the positive economic and quality-of-life outcomes associated with the rural creative sector, the National Governors' Association decided to create a Rural Action Guide, for states, that describes in detail the principles of arts-based rural development. The guide also provides high-profile examples of rural communities and regions that have become more economically resilient and sustainable through creative sector initiatives.

The rural systems change framework includes:

  • Provide leadership for the state's creative sector to benefit rural communities including public policies, grant funding and technical assistance that supports the creative sector
  • Capitalize on existing regional resources by embedding creative sector and placemaking initiatives into community development plans. Reinforce local branding to assist visitors, residents and businesspeople in reimagining their communities. Begin to promote a cultural heritage perspective on rural tourism.
  • Build state infrastructure for cultural and creative partnerships by convening stakeholders to learn what the creative sector can bring to the table. Engage community and family foundations in creative sector activities. Conduct inclusive artist outreach engagement.
  • Develop local talent and human capital with creative skills by enhancing an arts-based entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • Create an environment friendly to investment and innovation by subsidizing spaces such as studios, nonprofit galleries and theaters and establish tax measures to enhance the creative sector.

The creative sector's contribution:

  • In 2015, the direct value the arts & cultural sectors added to the gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded $763 billion or 4.2%
  • Together, these sectors employ nearly 5 million workers
  • In terms of value added to the U.S. economy, the arts and cultural sectors contribute a greater share than mining, agriculture, the energy/utilities sector or industries such as construction and transportation.
  • In 2015, arts and cultural production contributed $67.5 billion to the economies of states in which 30 percent or more of the population lives in rural areas. In those same states, 628,500 workers are employed in arts and cultural production.
  • In the researched based article, Design, innovation, and rural creative places: Are the arts the cherry on top, or the secret sauce? The Rural Establishment Innovation Survey (REIS) showed a positive relationship (rises proportionately) between rural communities with a performing arts organization and the number of innovative or design-integrated businesses.

The Who of the creative economy: Music groups, dance troupes, theaters, natural parks, zoos and museums of all sorts, interior design, graphic design and photography. Also, industries that support those activities such as broadcasting, publishing, filmmaking and manufacture of cameras and musical instruments. The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the NEA have developed a way to measure the economic impact of these creative sector activities in the future. This means that more economic impact data on the creative sector will be available for both urban areas and rural communities.

As I said, this is just a short overview of what the information in this report and the guide can offer state governments, local government officials, as well as, community and economic development professionals. I encourage you to read the full report.

Pam Schallhorn is a Community & Economic Development Educator with University of Illinois Extension. In 2015, she created a program called Developing the Creative Economy. The program provides a "how to" for community leaders interested in fostering a culture that appreciates and supports local creative talent, including those living in low-resource households. Addressing how a community can support business development from local talent as they create start-ups and informal grassroots, "micro-activities" that contribute to the local economy and position communities to attract youth. Accessing new markets and distribution channels allows creative entrepreneurs to test their markets while providing a unique shopping experience for consumers, increased opportunities for local tourism, and revenue generation for both the business and the community.

For more information about her programing, or if you have questions about this blog post, please contact her at

Photo credit: RhondaK Native Florida Folk Artist 83553 on Unsplash