THE BLOG
05/23/2013 12:52 am ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

The Creativity and Commerce Conundrum

Business in America knows well that we have entered the Age of Innovation. This became evident to attendees putting together a California "Blueprint for Creative Schools" meeting in Fresno California recently.

Business knows too, that creativity leads to innovation and that, understandably, we need to find a way to nurture creativity and attract the creative worker--across town, across the nation or using H1B visas for young people in other countries.

As Randy Cohen of the Americans for the Arts has argued--and The Conference Board, and studies by IBM have found--"the arts build the 21st Century workforce."

What is still not yet clear is whether the role of the arts and art integration is perceived by the business sector as the most legitimate method to foster creativity. Yes, business says, the arts are nice but are they really necessary?

Business isn't stupid or shortsighted...it's just that they don't always see the connections.

Or maybe they do but don't have the time to hear all the rhetoric about how important the arts are. Or maybe, because of the quarter-to-quarter pressures, are not yet willing to invest in programs that will deliver a more sophisticated workforce with the new thinking skills in the decade that follows. Maybe it's all too long range.

More to the point, maybe artists and educators are not yet talking the talk.

They are not saying what business needs to hear to get them fully engaged in the struggle to put arts back into the formula; and to push for STEAM not just STEM education.

It time we acknowledge that it isn't the arts per se. It's about creativity that leads to innovation. It's about teaching creativity, not just performance in a given discipline like acting or painting or making jewelry.

For those in education and the arts, we start at a disadvantage.

Richard Deasy, former director of the Arts Education Partnership, once complained that "the fundamental problem we confront in making the arts an unquestioned part of the learning required of students and teachers is the position of the arts in the broader culture." Deasy suggested what's most valued in America is "muscularity" or toughness. The math and science curricula carry with them this sense of muscularity through their inherent formulas, truisms and theories. By comparison, the arts experience seems less tough, softer, more anecdotal.

As one committee, chaired by Anne Bown-Crawford, Director of the Arcata Arts Institute, agreed, there seems a need to change the vocabulary of the educational establishment, change the lenses in the camera, and in the process awaken to the competitive demands of this new age.

"You can study music, dance, narrative storytelling, and art making scientifically, and you can conclude that, yes, they're deeply biologically driven, they're essential to our species, but there would still be something missing," David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University says, "and that thing is an appreciation for the work itself, a true understanding of its meaning in its culture and context."

As a whole new economy based upon creativity and innovation emerges, the importance of reinventing business strategies, corporations, communities, schools, and more is critical. Nothing can remain the same if we are to survive, let alone succeed, in this new global, knowledge-based economy.

At the annual conference of American for the Arts last year, all the talk was about creativity but it was a halfhearted attempt just to appease the philanthropic community. It also narrowly centered on the so-called creative industries (film, television, graphic design, publishing, etc.), which ignores the fact that most businesses -- at least as The Conference Board and IBM (who also did a major study on the subject) -- define it more broadly. To them, the creative economy includes all businesses not just those that are directly associated with the arts.

Lets not simply talk about the arts. Let's talk about creativity.

And lets be specific too. The creative economy has become much larger, even more important than arts-based enterprises, and it is a missed opportunity not to recognize the vital role of the arts and importantly, arts integration and the vital connections between art and culture, creativity and commerce to the future of the country.