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Delaware launches ‘creative economy’ initiative

Katie Tabeling
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Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long and arts advocates have launched an initiative that will study the impact of the “creative economy” in the state. The initiative will also create a new policy plan to support its growth. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JORDYN GUM

WILMINGTON — The Delaware Arts Alliance and state leaders are hoping to launch a creative economy, focused on artists and the workforce that supports it, here in the First State.

Earlier this summer, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long and Neil Kirschling, the executive director of the Delaware Arts Alliance (DAA), announced the nonprofit is embarking on a strategic plan that aims to outline a shared vision for the future of Delaware’s art scene. The “Creative Economy and Cultural Tourism Recovery and Growth Plan” will include an online map of arts and culture sites in the state, a policy agenda and an economic impact study. It is slated to be completed by summer of 2024.

The creative economy is an ecosystem of for-profit and nonprofit creative industries, cultural venues and the artistic workforce, educators and more that produce and distribute goods. In 2021, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reported that nationwide, the arts supported or created 4.9 million jobs that paid $504 billion in wages.

That same report shows that Delaware’s arts and cultural production accounts for 7,746 jobs and $972 million in the state’s economy.

“The creative economy isn’t a new concept, but it does acknowledge the economic impact that people and organizations in Delaware are using to drive goods, services and job creation,” Kirschling told the Delaware Business Times. “Think of the ripple effects one theatrical performance has. There’s people building the stage, but there’s also legal and human resources behind one production as well.”

Hall Long, a supporter of the arts, is leading the effort with Kirschling to best demonstrate the impact that arts have on quality of life matters in attracting not only visitors, but residents. Amid the pandemic, the lieutenant governor hosted monthly calls and she started to notice common threads creative businesses faced like finding health insurance coverage and accessing funds to make the business survive and thrive.

“Those issues are also important to make sure not only we have a community that’s thriving for businesses, but for small businesses to have those resources … My goal has always been to make Delaware the place to attract families to live, work and raise their children,” Hall Long said. “The creative economy essential for tourism recovery and our growth, particularly post-COVID.”

With an online, interactive map of cultural and art venues throughout the state will be the first time the DAA and state officials have defined Delaware creative economy and the businesses and nonprofits within it. It could range as large as the Freeman Arts Pavilion to a local graphic designer or the neighborhood studio. 

But with the hard data, Kirschling said that the state can identify gaps — and strategize how to address them. The policy analysis, the final step in the project, will take a comprehensive look at the state, all three counties and Wilmington, Dover, Georgetown, Smyrna, Middletown, and Milford on possible avenues forward. 

Those cities were selected, in part, due to the stipulations for funding on the economic study, map and policy plan. The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Travel, Tourism & Outdoor Recreation program paid grants for projects that must advance economic recovery for communities “severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries.” Gov. John Carney also allocated part of the state’s ARPA funds for the initiative.

Kirschling, who has been at the top of the DAA for a year, hopes that the end result of the “Creative Economy and Cultural Tourism Recovery and Growth Plan” would create a roadmap to support artists to continue working the jobs they love.

“I went around the state, talking with all the different arts organizations and one of the common themes I heard was the excitement to be in Delaware, and how they feel a deep connection to the community. And another was people said they moved to Philly because that’s where they need to be to make a living, but they want to be here,” he said. “There is a hunger for this. I do believe that we can have both here in Delaware, with intentional policy and infrastructure to support it.”

Artists and creative business owners are asked to complete a survey by Oct. 15. The survey can be found at: www.delawareartsalliance.org/survey/

For more information about the project, visit www.delawareartsalliance.org/creativeeconomy for more information.

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