California’s workforce fuels nation-leading creative economy

150 150 Tracy Hudak

(Photo Credit: Ed Schipul/Flickr)

Update – June 24: Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget that boosted funding for the California Arts Council by approximately $7.1 million, bringing the total permanent funding baseline to $8.3 million. 


California’s creative economy took center stage in Sacramento last month as legislators begin to recognize the role it plays in the region’s success. A release of a statewide report on the sector prompted the passage of an assembly resolution and a revision in the Governor’s budget to increases state arts funding. These efforts mean to reinforce California’s standing as a creative economy powerhouse and to grow the workforce pipeline necessary to fuel its future.

The scale of that powerhouse was made evident in a hearing before the Joint Committee on the Arts to discuss the 2014 Otis Report on the Creative Economy, the second annual analysis of California’s creative industries and occupations. Many of the state’s most important industries, such as entertainment, digital media, industrial design, publishing, and the design and manufacturing of toys and apparel, are in the creative sector.

The Otis report finds these industries generated $293.8 billion in economic activity in 2013, touching one in ten jobs in the state, and contributing over 8 percent to the gross state product. As the report’s chief economist Robert Kleinhenz explained in an email, “the output of California’s creative economy is bigger than the Gross State Product of 32 states.”

Beyond creative industry employment, there are over 600,000 Californians working in creative occupations throughout the economy. These include designers and technical writers working in aerospace, cabinetmakers in construction, and marketing professionals working in the private and public spheres. “The talent that drives the creative economy provides a competitive advantage that reaches across almost every industry in California,” stated the Otis Report.

Not only are creative jobs essential to California’s economy, they offer living wages and expanding opportunity. Sixty-three of the eighty creative occupations studied offer earnings above the annual median salary of $39,000 in California. While 49 percent of creative careers require a bachelor’s degree or above, the rest can be developed through on-the-job or technical training.

Denise Grande, director of arts education for the Los Angeles Arts Commission, explained in her testimony, “creative occupations, which includes jobs like floral designers, media and communications workers, audio equipment technicians, advertising sales agents, makeup artists…offer viable career opportunities that pay living wages, even for those who do not directly continue on to college after high school.”

The Otis Report also notes growth in these job opportunities, finding that employment in creative occupations increased by 37.3 percent between 2007 and 2013.

“Now more than ever, it is critical that leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors work together to develop and sustain the talent pipeline that feeds the creative economy of our region,” stated the report.

A suggested course of action found within the LA County Arts Commission report, “Creative Work: How Arts Education Promotes Career Opportunities Beyond Arts,” parallels workforce goals set forth in the California Economic Summit Roadmap to Shared Prosperity. The report recommended increased collaboration between workforce development, higher education and private sectors to develop creative career pathways, to provide arts courses in career technical education programs, and to develop linked learning opportunities that connect classroom arts education with real-world business and entrepreneurial experiences.

Investing in a high quality arts education also has the potential to attract employers. Bill Cusato, director of Boeing’s Operations Center, gave testimony that illustrated how and why. “Boeing has made a significant investment in California” because, he explains, “one of the advantages of being in Seal Beach is the proximity of not only engineering schools, but artistic schools.”

“Connecting aerospace with the arts may be a little bit difficult, but if you think in terms of the Boeing 787, this is the art of what is possible… and before this aircraft was engineered, it was imagined,” said Cusato.

Up until last year, the state had the dubious distinction of being last in the nation in per-capita arts spending since 2003, when the California Arts Council budget was slashed by 94 percent to $1.1 million–the bare minimum needed to receive federal matching funds. The impact of this lack of funding is spelled out in the new Assembly Resolution, ACR-46: “the programs of the Arts Council that once reached rural towns, underserved urban neighborhoods, prisons, and schools have either been depleted or discontinued,” and “California is failing to provide a sufficient arts education.”

Even more damaging is the inequity that this lack of investment perpetuates. A 2007 study by Hewlett Packard called, “An Unfinished Canvas,” found that 29 percent of Californians schools offer no standards-based sequential arts education- the kind that truly changes lives, improves test scores and increases graduation rates- and those programs that do are largely funded by parent organizations. As Ms. Grande made clear in her testimony, “If we’re going to prepare all students equally for the many creative occupations available… across the state, then we must ensure that every student from K through 12th grade is provided a quality education that by definition includes the arts as a core part of ongoing instruction.”

Members of the California legislature are taking action. Assembly resolution ARC-46 “declares the importance of the arts to the state” and urges “a unified effort between the Legislature and the Governor to provide a substantial increase in the General Fund appropriation to the California Arts Council in the 2015–16 Budget Act.“ An assembly budget subcommittee proposed that the California Arts Council budget be increased to $10 million.

In response, Governor Brown presented a revised budget that keeps last year’s increase to $6.1 million but more importantly, establishes that as a permanent baseline. This only raises California to 47th in the nation in arts spending, at 27¢ per resident, with the national average at $1.09 (New York spends $2.07 and Minnesota $6.41 per person).

While resolutions and the recommended budget increase are only proposed steps, they represent leaps in increased awareness of the significance of California’s creative workforce and reflect a deeper understanding of how the arts catalyze individual, economic and community success. This momentum could help set California on the path to the thriving, creativity-driven future it deserves.

Tracy Hudak is a writer, artist and business consultant. She is the founder of CreativityWorks, an initiative to help Ventura County harness its creativity to catalyze economic and community success.


Tracy Hudak

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