Introducing Americans for the Arts’ Inclusive Creative Economy Plan

For the last two years, we at Americans for the Arts have spent significant time listening, learning, planning, and in consideration to engage in a multi-pronged, multi-year effort to support inclusive creative economies at the local level, encourage stronger unification between the for-profit and nonprofit arts sectors, and pursue federal-level policies that support creative workers. With encouragement from current and former members of the Private Sector Council, a broad cross-section of local, state, regional and national advisors, and through consistent commitment from the Board of Directors, we sought to identify our unique role and where we can effect change alongside the many organizations, coalitions, and individuals doing this work. COVID-19, and its irrefutable disproportionate effect on communities of color, has only increased the urgency of these efforts. We know that we must, with intention and alongside new alliances and relationships, design strategies for the aspiration of an inclusive creative economy—recognizing that our current economy does not equitably support all people to reach their creative and artistic potential. This is an exciting and critically important journey. I’m pleased to share our plan on behalf of my colleagues, and to invite participation and feedback in it.

Historically, we have dedicated services towards advancing and serving the nonprofit arts community, the field of local arts practitioners, and advocates. In recent years, members of Americans for the Arts have asked for broader acknowledgement of the full creative economy, including the incalculable contribution of individual artists and creative workers to our society. While we regularly cite the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ report that America’s arts and cultural sectors generate $877.8 billion[1], our organization has almost entirely focused on the $166.3 billion[2] of nonprofit economic activity. We recognize this gap and seek to help communities further embrace and leverage the full scope of creative, cultural, and artistic-based economic activity as a primary driving force towards impact, empowerment, and economic and social justice across the country.

Our role

We are not the only ones doing this work; nor do we intend to be. We recognize, however, the strength of the local, state, regional, and national network we have served over the last 60 years. In addition to providing specific services to the local arts field of practitioners and advocates, our intention is to align, support, and amplify the many voices, people, and organizations who are already building inclusive creative economies, particularly those working with frontline creative communities.

Our vision for this work

Ultimately, we strive to help communities build awareness of their cultural assets and how to equitably strengthen, value, and utilize them. Our work aims to guide local communities and national entities to establish and strengthen partnerships between the creative industries, nonprofit arts and culture, and government sectors to increase an equitable flow of resources for the creative economy. We will continue to support equitable policies that bolster the economic activity generated by creative goods and services that drive holistic economic returns and prepare individuals, businesses, and governments for a more just future.

Central to this vision are two primary and long-term goals:

  1. In concert with Americans for the Arts’ cultural equity work, resource local leaders with tools, research, and skills, and build awareness to build interconnected community networks of partners, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers that cultivate and strengthen inclusive creative economies across the country.
  1. Work nationally to bridge the for- and nonprofit arts sectors in partnership to imagine, align, and drive equitable policy creation and resource sharing that builds an inclusive creative economy in the United States.
Specific strategies

How do these goals translate into action?

  • Clear and Transparent Language: This spring, we will publish a language bank related to an inclusive creative economy, as well as a web hub on our site aggregating information, research, and training. We recognize the need for clear language and transparent definitions to create consistency in how we talk about inclusive creative economies and related subjects. Continuing to acknowledge that Americans for the Arts is one organization working in this space, we seek to uplift and support the language, concepts, and definitions used by others working with frontline communities to create equitable, restorative, and regenerative creative economies.
  • Cultural Asset Identification Tool: It is essential for local communities to be able to identify and talk about their unique creative ecosystems to advocate for the equitable allocation of resources. With no one definition of the creative economy, we heard in our listening sessions that coming up with a definition to advocate for resources has been an ongoing challenge. As a result, we are working to create a cultural asset identification tool and a rubric for measuring the health of those assets. It will be one mechanism for local arts leaders to identify their unique cultural and artistic community assets more honestly: to see gaps, build strong and authentic partnerships, focus on frontline communities, and be part of community development towards a just transition for creative workers to have the opportunity for self-determination. Acknowledging that there are existing cultural asset mapping tools, this resource will strive to directly address biases that perpetuate inequitable resource distribution.
  • Use-Case Data Tools: We recognize the breadth of data and research available, and that often it can be challenging to discern which study to use in different situations when advocating for the arts in a local community. We will continue to work to create use-case tools to help local practitioners understand how or why they should use a particular data set for their community when it comes to talking about the creative economy.
  • Unification of For- and Nonprofit Arts: The creative industries are an undeniable force of our national creative economy. Within the broad scope of the creative industries, we heard a need to find ways to bridge gaps between the for-profit and nonprofit arts worlds. Using our strength as a convener and in advocacy we seek to do this through shared policy pursuits and strategic partnerships. COVID-19 has only accelerated this work. Our participation in and drive of the Putting Creative Workers to Work Coalition is a key element to this. Support of critical partners such local chambers of commerce and Be An #ArtsHero; intersection with worker unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and pursuit of strategic partnerships with entertainment and commercial arts entities will continue to be a central tenant of the national-level work to identify and advocate for pro-creative worker and pro-arts policies, which also can be advanced at the statehouse and with the federal government.
  • Arts Education and the Workforce: As part of that effort to bridge the for-profit and nonprofit arts industries, we will work to identify arts education and entertainment workforce development challenges related to COVID-19 and reopening, and develop potential programming to support those working at the intersection of arts education and workforce development.
How to engage

Throughout 2021 there will be multiple opportunities to partake in digital education, convening, and the shape the development of our resources, including:

Webinar: Definitions & Foundational Concepts, Part 1: Arts Workers, Artists, Creative Workers — March 19, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. ET, featuring abdiel lópez, Program Officer, AmbitioUS/Center for Cultural Innovation

Webinar: Local and State Creative Workforce Recovery Programs — March 31, 2021 at 3:00 p.m. ET, featuring Calandra Childers, Seattle Arts & Culture; and Marie Acosta, Latino Center for Art & Culture

Webinar: Definitions & Foundational Concepts, Part 2: What is the Solidarity Economy? — April 20, 2021 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Ongoing virtual conversation: Stay tuned via our e-newsletters for announcements about future webinars and intensive workshops. We are planning continued opportunities for learning, discussion, and exploration.

Our platform is available to you! We seek writers for blogs such as this, authors for articles, and speakers for webinars and sessions. Please reach out if interested by sending an email to privatesector@artsusa.org.

Thousands have endorsed the “Put Creative Workers to Work” effort, and thousands have informed research such as the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists & Creative Workers. We encourage you to continue to use these dashboards to make the case in your community.

We look forward to evolving and developing this work with you.


[1] Arts & Culture Satellite Production Account, Bureau of Economy Analysis, 2017: https://www.bea.gov/data/special-topics/arts-and-culture