What would it take to have a comprehensive, supportive advocate for arts, culture and creative enterprises in the Coachella Valley?
An accurate, up-to-date and smartphone-accessible calendar of all those kinds of events? Expanded opportunities to attract cultural tourists to the valley? A marketplace for local creative talent? A way for young students to learn about engaging, well-paying creative jobs here at home?
At artsOasis, we’re working on all of these.
ArtsOasis emerged from conversations begun six years ago, in July 2007, among dozens of people who saw the need for some kind of intermediary to “promote, network, educate and advocate” for the creative community and economy of the Coachella Valley. The first task was to convince civic and business leaders that there even is such a thing as a “creative economy.” But that was accomplished when the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), our regional economic development agency, included “Creative Arts and Design” as one of four sectors it would target for growth in its 2009 long-range plan, the Economic Blueprint. CVEP committed to house the small artsOasis operation in its new Rabobank Regional Business Center in Palm Springs that opened in 2011.
With that done, CVEP challenged artsOasis to answer the questions, “What is this creative economy really?” and “How big is it?” Taking leads from other communities, we included far more than conventional “art,” sweeping together for-profit and nonprofit businesses with independent workers in the fields of advertising, marketing and digital media production; architecture and all fields of design; literary arts and publishing; media, film and television; museums and cultural institutions; performing arts and music; and the visual arts.
From late 2011 through the spring of 2012, in partnership with Wheeler’s Market Intelligence of La Quinta, we conducted a classic economic study with interviews, roundtable discussions, an online survey and deep data analysis. The study provided numbers. More importantly, it provided clear signs of what needs to be done to help our creative community grow.
But first, the numbers: “How big is it?” More than a billion dollars big. We learned that there are more than 1,000 creative businesses in the Coachella Valley; there are almost 9,000 “creative” employees; and there are more than 10,000 independent contractors and creative artists here. (In exchange for your e-mail address, you can find a summary of the study at artsoasis.org.)
The size may be impressive, but we learned, too, that this creative community is riotously diverse and decentralized, making ordered growth difficult. Of the seven highest priorities that were expressed by the hundreds of people who participated in the study were these four, in summary:
• A master creative community calendar. This will be a central hub of information available to residents, visitors and hotel concierges that pulls in as much as possible of what is available. In partnership with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Graphtek Interactive, we are launching the first step of that calendar service this summer. Our goal is to minimize the number of different calendars to which our community needs to provide information. We are exploring ways to provide a posting service, for a nominal fee, for those who don’t have the time.
• Cultural tourism. A recurring theme in the study was the need to update the popular perception of greater Palm Springs as an outdated retirement community that is “Behind the Candelabra.” With new hotels, restaurants and festivals, a fresher brand is emerging. However, there are still many untapped assets in the region that can be packaged and marketed to cultural tourists, who are eager for unique and authentic experiences. With the impending passing of the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, the void will need to be filled!
• A creative marketplace. Film, television, infomercial, digital-media design and related production companies make up the bulk of our creative business muscle, yet there is a huge gap in their ability to deliver fully competitive services and bring in contracts that currently go to other communities. They need to provide first-class service, but they also need to be marketed to the broadest possible world. The artsOasis Creative Marketplace that we are designing will mirror successful national models that provide a “buy-sell” arena for subscribers on a sliding scale, beginning with free.
• Creative Careers. One of our weakest links is connecting our youth with our creative professional community. Education is crucial for our future, and our attention is on the opportunities provided by our three school districts’ Creative Career Academies, where students are learning in career-related atmospheres that focus on the visual and performing arts, digital and graphic design, and the culinary arts and hospitality. ArtsOasis partners with CVEP’s Workforce Excellence and the Arts, Media and Entertainment Industry councils in order to build professional mentors to work with teachers and students. Students enrolled in these academies stay in school. They’re engaged, committed and excited about their future. Those graduating from these academies are already setting national standards.
What would it take for these things to be really successful? Investment, pure and simple. And the potential returns look astounding: Between $50 and $200 returned in five years for the investment of each dollar. We have crunched the numbers and have details on the potential earnings and cost savings in each of these areas. Added together, these reach into the millions, and are worth serious consideration by every government and business concern in the valley.
Robert Stearns is the director of the CVEP/artsOasis Creative Resource Center. Learn more at artsoasis.org.