Creative Economy


An important area of planning and policymaking is nurturing the economic development of the sector. This work includes ensuring the economic strength and sustainability of small, mid-sized, and large arts organizations and small individual artists/producers. It also includes defining and measuring the economic impact of arts and culture activities, creative production, and associated industries and occupations; taken together, these are understood as the creative economy.

There is a wealth of literature and data about the impact of the arts and cultural sector in terms of gross domestic product and jobs. This section introduces approaches to advance cultural economic development and provides an overview of research on the creative economy.


Planning with Cultural Economic Development

The American Planning Association has also issued a briefing paper on economic vitality in 2011 that underscores the significance of the sector as a component of broad-based economic development strategies. The APA calls for the recognition and marketing of a community’s arts and culture assets, investing in it to build both social and economic capital, and promoting mutually-beneficial collaboration between creative industries and other industry types located in the same geographic area.

Supporting cultural economic development includes planning and policy measures related to the following:

  • Cultural facilities and artist work space
  • Meeting artists’ needs
  • Small business and entrepreneurship support
  • Cultural districts
  • Measuring impact

Cultural Facilities and Artist Live/Work Space

One of the cornerstones of cultural economic development are the spaces and facilities that house artists, creative workspaces, cultural venues, and other arts and cultural activities. Development and preservation of cultural facilities and safe, affordable artist workspaces is an issue of concern nationally. In 2007, Maria Rosario Jackson and Florence Kabwasa-Green made the case for investment in artist space broadly defined, identify benefits for artists and the community at large (2007), including:

  • Increasing access to and availability of artist space;
  • Strengthening professional development for artists;
  • Deepening artists’ relationships with surrounding communities;
  • Supporting youth development and increasing access to arts programming;
  • Positive community economic impacts
  • Improved physical environment.

Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa’s research has highlights the work of jurisdictions to promote cultural economic development through supporting development of cultural facilities and space for artists to live and work.


In Massachusetts, municipalities are adopting bylaws and zoning ordinances to encourage arts uses and artist live/work space. The Massachusetts Cultural Council administers a Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF) in partnership with MassDevelopment. This fund supports cultural economic development through planning and capital support for cultural facilities. See the Cultural Facilities page for more information. In addition, MassDevelopment’s Collaborative Workspace Program supports creative entrepreneurship as part of its goal to “accelerate the pace of new business formation, job creation, and entrepreneurial activity in communities.” (Source:


Meeting Artists’ Needs

Nationally, the Artists Thrive! Initiative is a network of artists and organizations exploring the activities, practices, language, visions and values underlying what it means to succeed and thrive as an artist, what it means to have a thriving arts sector and, eventually, what it means to have thriving communities. The initiative has developed assessment tools and frameworks to define and evaluate whether the conditions that enable artists to thrive are being met from the perspective of artists and arts organizations. The Artists Thrive tools are framed around a spectrum of performance that can guide improvements in conditions. (

In Massachusetts, artist-led organizations are measuring and tracking conditions that allow artists to thrive in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) and Artmorpheus, a Boston-based arts nonprofit, administered a survey of Massachusetts creative workers in 2009 and 2017. The 2009 survey and report, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” explored artists’ work lives, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and medical and non-medical debt. The 2017 survey and report, “By Artists, For Artists,” widened the scope of respondents to include makers, inventors, and designers; gathered information on artists’ demographics, health and wellness, employment, and professional development needs, among other topics. Both iterations of the survey featured healthcare questions prominently. The 2017 survey broadened the scope of questions to include prompts about occupational health, mental health, and general wellness. In administering the survey, MALC and Artmorpheus employed the online survey tool, Survey Gizmo, which is certified under HIPAA and EU/US Privacy Shield (which replaced Safe Harbor), meeting US and European Union privacy and security standards and provisions. The survey identified needs and recommendations in three areas: improving financial security and equality for artists, primarily through increasing public and private funding of the arts; promoting access to health care and government services for artists; and increasing the civic involvement of artists and creatives.

Small Business and Entrepreneurship Support

In the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation 2013 study entitled, “How Cities Can Nurtture Cultural Entreprenuers Ann Markusen outlines the following steps that municipalities can take to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in the cultural sector including:

  1. Know who your artists are
  2. Encourage convening and equipment-sharing artists’ centers
  3. Develop sustainable artist studio and live/work buildings
  4. Provide entrepreneurial training tailored to artists and designers
  5. Build networking and marketing opportunities for artists
  6. Embed artists in city development strategies
  7. Partner with local arts and policy faculty for entrepreneurial research and training

Cultural Districts

Americans for the Arts defines cultural districts as “well-recognized, labeled areas of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities and programs serve as the main anchor of attraction.” As areas of clustered arts and cultural activity, cultural districts are often locations where planning and policy measures seek to both promote conditions where arts and culture can thrive and bolster economic development through arts and cultural activity. For more information, see the Cultural Districts (link to section).

The Massachusetts Cultural Council manages the state-designated cultural district program launched in 2011 for the Commonwealth. With nearly 50 designated cultural districts in municipalities across the state, the program has demonstrated the growing appreciation for arts and culture as a foundation for strengthening local downtowns and making more liveable places.


Measuring Impact

Efforts to measure the economic impact of the arts and culture sector have led to a variety of efforts to define, measure, and evaluate the sector. This effort has generated data collection and analysis of creative industries and the creative workforce, and an appreciation of the ways in which artist, cultural organizations, and creative workers intersect with and overlap with a variety of industries and occupations that together make up the creative economy.

Recent data analysis by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on U.S. spending between 1998 and 2013 found that the arts and culture sector produced more than other key economic sectors, such as construction and utilities. Top industries include arts-related retail (art galleries, bookstores); performing arts; independent artists, writers, and performers; publishing; and creative advertising services.

Creative Economy, Creative Industries, Creative Workforce

The creative economy is a powerful engine of growth and community vitality. Together, artists, cultural nonprofits, and creative businesses produce and distribute cultural goods and services that generate jobs, revenue, and quality of life. A thriving cultural sector leads to thriving communities. (1)

Measuring the economic impact of the creative economy requires the identification of the industry and occupation categories that comprise the cultural sector and creative enterprise. Efforts to define the sector in this way have begun to coalesce around groupings of industry categories and occupations that are most strongly and consistently associated with creative enterprise.

A 2013 Study released by the Creative Economy Coalition summarizes one effort to define the sector:

“the creative economy involves both individuals and entities who engage in activities that add value to society in one or more ways… that are inextricably linked to human creativity… throughout the process of ideation, creation, production, distribution, and use. [In this definition] creativity is… a matter of degree along a continuum from ‘not in the least bit creative’ to ‘inextricably and highly creative.’” (2)

Learn More


  • Jackson, Maria Rosario and Florence Kabwasa-Green. “Artist Space Development: Making the Case.” The Urban Institute, Leveraging Investments in Creativity, 2007.
  • Harris, Christine, Margaret Collins and Dennis Cheek. “America's Creative Economy: A Study of Recent Conceptions, Definitions, and Approaches to Measurement Across the USA.” A Report from the Creative Economy Coalition (CEC), a Working Group of the National Creativity Network Oklahoma City, OK: National Creativity Network in collaboration with Creative Alliance Milwaukee, August 2013.
  • Creative Economy Section in Gadwa and Nicodemus Creative Placemaking paper:
  • The 2009 survey and report, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” explored artists’ work lives, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and medical and non-medical debt.
  • The 2017 survey and report, “By Artists, For Artistswidened the scope of respondents to include makers, inventors, and designers; gathered information on artists’ demographics, health and wellness, employment, and professional development needs, among other topics.
  • Markusen, Ann. “How Cities Can Nurture Cultural Entrepreneurs.” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2013.
  • Jackson, Maria Rosario et. All. “Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists.” Urban Institute, 2003
    • o This study examined the economic benefits of cooperation among artists, arts organizations, and economic development agencies, with a special focus on traditional artists, i.e., artists working with material objects. It unearthed recommendations that are broadly applicable to traditional and nontraditional arts microentrepreneurs. The study found that regional economic development planning initiatives are best suited to help artists build markets for their work; economic development agencies can offer tailored business development services geared towards artist microentrepreneurs to provide the support they need in order to scale up and to fully take advantage of potential market opportunities. It also noted a particular barrier to structuring economic incentives for artists. Economic development agencies in their research most frequently offered discounted loans or other “shallow subsidies,” which are most beneficial to more mature businesses. The study noted a lack of programs that respond to the concerns of very small businesses, e.g., those formed by people without a history of attachment to formal labor market, which typifies many traditional artists (Walker et al., 2003).