Confessions of a Creative Economy Conference Groupie: Connecting the Dots at the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009 in Philadelphia

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I enjoy big picture creativity conferences that promote art, design, and broad themes of personal and social transformation…it is so much better than the gritty and grubby grind of real life. Clever, accomplished, and basically well-meaning people have center stage rather than the peripheral roles of wise/fool, crazy/genius, or expendable expert.

There were five things that distinguished this conference from the other more glamorous gatherings like TED and PopTech:

  1. No over-hyped celebrity presenters repeating their pet cosmic theories ad nauseum. (Even the keynote talk delivery by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert was punctuated by gentle self-deprecating humor, and stories of her life as a diner waitress in Philly and under-achieving and least favorite child in a family of Connecticut uber-achievers)
  2. Limited to two days at a highly accessible location.
  3. No-frills registration for $75 that is nearly identical in experience to the full $225 registration — minus two mediocre lunches.
  4. Focused on practice rather than just blue-sky possibilities.
  5. Was in a city that was genuinely on the ropes for decades but has transformed itself into America’s #1 creative economy metro area. (I say this because Philly has very affordable housing, a considerable number of well-paying creative jobs, stellar academic, cultural, and nonprofit sectors, and a $10 Bolt bus ride to NYC.)

The following items are my personal highlights from the summit. They include intriguing web links and some of the more memorable ideas that went in one ear and did not go out the other.

  • Jane McGonigal (director of game R&D at the Institute for the Future)
    The institute has been key creative player in Silicon Valley for over 35 years. The presentation was made via Skype from California. Although Jane was sick, she made a marvelous impression.

Institute slide shows:
Epic Win (Why Gaming is the Future of Learning)
http://www.slideshare.net/avantgame

Favorite thinkers and designers and communities for learning more about happiness hacking, alternate realities, and game design:

Nicole Lazzaro

Clay Shirky – “Cognitive Surplus”

Edward Castranova – Synthetic Worlds & Exodus from Reality

Tara Hunt

BJ Fogg

Gamasutra

Alternate Reality Gaming Network

DIGMA (Design Industry Group of Mass)
Promoting the Massachusetts design economy
The Design Industry Group of Massachusetts (DIGMA) is an initiative of the statewide design industries to organize and promote the Massachusetts design cluster as integral to the state’s economy. DIGMA enables diverse design industries – including advertising, architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, landscape design, and specialized design services such as fashion, textiles and lighting design – to speak with one powerful and influential voice.

Piedmont Triad Partnership
Marketing our region to the world
These tar heels have a lot to teach us about integrating and scaling up creative economy programs.

 

Miscellaneous musings and factoids:

No one believes advertisements anymore — that is the power of social media — but we tend to believe our friends and relatives.

There is creativity without drama and reward — in fact, it is the norm, not the exception.

Celebrate the creative spirit, not the creators.

Entrepreneurship equals prosperity for a region.

You don’t need to outdo your every achievement.

To break a writer’s block, take an acting or drawing class.

Follow your curiosity — not your passions or bliss.

Beware your pitch/robot mode of talking to another human being. Everyone wants to be a person, not a client.

Money for any start-up venture is as much a burden as it is a blessing.

Never give away free food or booze to attract potential members to a group.

Yes, there can be double bottom lines — one for profit/loss and the other for social good.

Ancient Greek dice games were created by the ruling class to distract the starving masses from their hunger in times of famine.

All games have well defined rules and boundaries; a cooperative community; a shared space for competition; time to play and experiment.

It is okay to screw up, but don’t lie about it online — you’ll get caught.

Grammar, spelling, and syntax still matter.

Make something that is genuinely hard to copy.

Attention span is 2.7 seconds for a young person, which translates into a 140 character text message.

People who take digital photographs for fun are more likely to visit a museum than the average citizen.

Senior corporate management extols the virtues of creativity but does not like to hire people with fine art backgrounds for staff positions.

If you only listen to your own voice, you’ll drown.

Privacy died 30 or 40 years ago.

Be a niche marketer/producer/provider to get rich — the generalist is seldom missed.


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SEEING RED: Red Ink, Red Tape, Red Lights, and Red Faces

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An artist’s book art and print project by Bob Barancik that explores gut reactions to the made-in-America financial meltdown. It is part of the CreativeShare traveling exhibitions program.

View art folio at bottom of entry

The color red has a variety of immediate associations. They include anger, embarrassment, passion, robust health, warning, and war.

Red Tape makes us think of mammoth, convoluted bureaucracies that define our post-industrial society. This can include the department of motor vehicles, health insurance claims departments, the post office, the Pentagon, most social welfare programs, the juvenile justice system…

Red Ink means financial insolvency and bankruptcy typified by the state of California, the “Big 3” Detroit automakers, investment banks like Bear Stearns that are no more, virtually all airlines except Southwest…

Red Light indicates big trouble ahead. If you see it on an ambulance, fire truck, police squad car, traffic signal, or on a car dashboard, your adrenalin and blood pressure shoot way up. We prepare to act as if it is a matter of life or death.

Red Faces mean someone got caught red-handed with their fingers in the cookie jar, or in an adulterous erogenous zone. The number of supposedly respectable legislators caught figuratively and literally with their pants down is too lengthy for my simple blog entry.

When I think of the American financial meltdown at the end of W’s second presidential term, all I see is red. I am furious at Wall Street, Congress, Alan Greenspan, Phil Graham, Robert Rubin, Angelo Mozilo, Henry Paulson, and the rest of the incompetent government/corporate kleptocracy…and a mass media that abetted and glorified all the “masters of the universe” before their inevitable fall from grace and public adulation.

But most of all, I am angry at myself for not seeing the red warning lights sooner.

The wildly inflated home prices and the promiscuous availability of credit cards were strobe lights that should have alerted us to the dark night of an impending economic collapse.

Any functioning, gainfully employed adult knows that there is no free lunch, and that even giant redwood trees don’t grow into the stratosphere. Most of us should have taken most our chips off the roulette table (aka American stock and real estate markets) before the final spins of the wheel of misfortune.

But few of us did.

My “Seeing Red” art box and print series is something of a creative Rorschach ink blot that explores my mental state — and tries to reach some sort of catharsis or closure.

The artistic release of pent-up emotions has provided me with some (temporary) peace of mind amid the financial wreckage. And the bound-and-boxed images provided a sense of closure and control.

Everything is manageable. All the rough edges, wild brush strokes, agitated emotions, fit perfectly inside a sturdy and economically crafted box. When closed, the wild things are out of sight and conveniently out of mind.

Creativity has transformed threatening external events into some amusing visual stimuli.

I hope that these red visions will stimulate your thinking about your personal finances and strategies for coping with a world of both great economic uncertainty and surprising creative opportunities.

 

 

 

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Technical Credits:
Box and binding / Scott Mullenberg
Digitial Print and Photoshop Consultant / Brad Erickson

To close, here are some intriguing web links:

Reversal of Fortune
Vanity Fair

Subprime Banking Mess
YouTube

This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money
NPR

8 really, really scary predictions
Fortune

A field guide to economics and finance blogs
The Boston Globe

Finessing a Recession!
CreativeShare

Bankers Reaped Lavish Bonuses During Bailouts
The New York Times


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Sunshine State Scenarios: Florida’s Future in a Changing America

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Let’s start with some ridiculous riddles:

How do you make a small fortune in Florida real estate?
(Start with a big one.)

Why is Florida a large part of the American Dream?
(You have to be asleep to believe it’s real.)

Where do you find Floridians with the biggest smiles?
(In North Carolina.)

Why is Tallahassee located in Florida’s panhandle?
(Because the rest of the state is in the frying pan.)

What is the new official state song of Florida?
(The Tennessee Waltz.)

Why won’t an alligator ever bite a member of the Florida State legislature?
(Professional courtesy.)

These days it is really hard to be an optimist about Florida’s prospects, and very easy to write cynical humor about the sunshine state.

Most of the current mainstream images about Florida conjured up by the national media are of the “big bang” and “barely audible whimper” variety.

The former evokes images of a devastating hurricane with ensuing urban looting, followed by droughts and raging wildfires and more home foreclosures and homeless families.

The latter vision is less cinematic but equally distressing. It includes a slow but steady deterioration of civic virtue, public services and infrastructure…coupled with a continuing exodus of both educated young people and affluent 50-something professionals.

As a person who currently lives about four months of the year in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, I can assure my fellow Floridians that these regions are also in a hell-in-a-hand-basket mode. But the Sunshine state is paramount to the American Dream even when we are not asleep…while much of the northern tier of the country is in the American nightmare of seemingly permanent economic decline.

When Ohio factory workers become unemployed, or young college grads from Indianapolis get diplomas but no suitable job offers, or retiring white- and blue-collar workers in Chicago get access to their retirement accounts, many head down here.

It is inevitable that Florida has become a land of disenchantment. Like the failed and disillusioned Ponce de León and his doomed quest for the mythical Fountain of Youth, dreams quickly evaporate under a harsh and unrelenting sun.

As Lily Tomlin may have said, “Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.”

All the problems of 21st century America are writ large in Florida. If these national conundrums cannot be solved here, it is unlikely that they will be resolved anywhere else in the country over the long term.

Are Florida’s political, academic, media, and business elites up to the job of effectively restructuring just about everything in the state to be competitive in a global economy?
(This is a rhetorical question without a written answer.)

That is why ordinary taxpaying citizens and authentic grassroots organizations will be vital to the prospects of our state. There is really no one else to keep our decision maker’s feet to the fire and eyes focused forward. This is especially true now that Craigslist has permanently crippled our daily newspapers and decimated its cadre of hard-nosed investigative reporters.

The key challenges facing Florida can be arbitrarily grouped into a number of categories, but they really form a single mishmash. That is why I’ve run them all together without bullet points or commas:

Preservation of our aquifers and wetlands Revamping of building codes in response to global climate change Affordable hurricane insurance premiums The reversal of negative demographic trends Improving race relations Mass transit Dedicated funding of education on all levels Development of a “new urbanism” in response to sprawl Public healthcare and insurance options Crime control Humane juvenile justice system Better child welfare Tax reform Homelessness and Affordable housing

In this blog entry, I hope to explore the emerging role of Cultural Creatives (CCs) in the creation of positive and doable scenarios for our state’s future.

I start with four reasonable (but depressing) assumptions:

    1. Health insurance will cost the independent creative business person as much or more two years from now…and the cost will continue to escalate over the next decade.

 

  • There will be no meaningful reform or regulation of Wall Street…and one can expect another, but far more serious financial meltdown, within the next decade.

 

 

  • Urban sprawl will continue to spread over much our remaining wetlands and precious undeveloped coastal areas…this is all that the entrenched and politically potent business interests know how to do.

 

 

  • The Pentagon will be fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future and beyond…while a demoralized and resigned public diverts its attention to spectator sports and video games.

 

On a somewhat rosier note:

I posit that CCs will soon have a collective epiphany via social networking technology. Many will realize elections are relatively easy to win with savvy branding and a catchy tagline, but that does not automatically translate into effective governance and public policies. Apparently, quite the contrary.

CCs will finally step away from their computers and become real political grassroots players in both political parties.

Virtually all of the state’s problems require both real community dialogue (that includes deep listening rather than mob rants) and practical design solutions. For too long, the only voices behind the closed doors of power have been lawyers, lobbyists, and one-issue political ideologues. Unfortunately, most of these people represent the most divisive, inflexible, and wrongheaded minds in the state.

Conversely, many creative professionals are eager problem solvers with an appetite for ambiguous situations, a penchant for paradox, and a strong desire to give coherent form to the chaotic cacophony of life. Most CCs can do what the body politic cannot…

We can flexibly play with different points of view in changing circumstances without cracking-up (most of the time), create things and experiences of real economic value (at least on our good days), and have a global outlook (especially in food).

In terms of some practical ideas, here is an array of personal and collective items for your consideration:

  • Volunteer to do creative stuff in the public schools.

The combination of direct experience and real role models will start to create a future constituency for a homegrown creative economy in Florida. The stark reality is that there is currently not enough political will or public money to adequately fund widespread art, design, music, dance, and theater education for our young people.

 

  • Support objective science education in public schools.

 

If theocrats eliminate the study of evolution (or water it down as just another faith-based theory), a majority of our young people will not be educationally equipped for the global economy. Also, the most advanced and dynamic bio-tech corporations and research institutes will avoid our state like the plague. It is commercially applied innovative technology that generates real wealth, rather than bogus bucks found on Wall Street and cookie-cutter strip malls and condo development.

It is these genuine profits that can sustain high-quality cultural institutions and creative professionals. And it looks like the biological sciences will be driving force of the 21st century.

 

  • Think both nationally and globally in your personal marketing efforts.

 

The web has made the successful promotion of independent creative services a viable online option. You might be surprised to find that other places will pay more for your applied talents than Tampa Bay. It is a far better bet than a state lottery ticket.

 

  • Create a “Florida League of Cultural Creative Voters.”

 

The proposed FLCCV would provide a simple and objective “scorecard” of each state legislator’s voting record on key cultural and creative economy issues. Each year, a lawmaker would receive an annual overall numerical rating on his or her support of the league’s written agenda…and many of us would cast our votes accordingly.

CCs would be a highly visible political block, and politicians of both parties would think twice before cutting critical arts, education, and environmental funding in closely contested elections.

Organizationally, it could be modeled on the Maine League of Conservation Voters.

 

  • Read the last two chapters and epilogue of Dr. Gary Mormino’s “Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida.”

 

Gary is the distinguished director of the Florida Studies Program at USF/St.Pete. He understands the state as well as anyone and how it became what it is.

I am ending this blog entry with one of Gary’s key ideas about our particular peninsula and peculiar brand of paradise:

“But Florida has always been more about tomorrow’s possibilities than today’s realities.”


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New Degrees of Creativity: 10 fearless forecasts about the future of higher education in the creative disciplines

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This post is a sequel to my last entry, Degrees of Creativity.

We all harbor images of the future in our heads. It tends to make some of us either worriers or cockeyed optimists, and it leaves others perpetually confused and ambivalent.

But it is our ability to envision alternative scenarios that makes us self-aware and self-directed human beings. When we ignore our imaginative abilities, we become slaves to our base instincts and cultural conditioning. Our lives become rudderless sailboats in a choppy sea of choices.

Vaclav Havel, former president of Czech Republic and gifted playwright, hit the nail on the head when he wrote this:

Experts can explain anything in the objective world to us, yet we understand our own lives less and less. In short, we live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.

I suspect that many Americans of all ages and walks of life would thoroughly agree with that!

The following 10 fearless forecasts are offered as provocative grains of sand that might grow some pearls of wisdom in your mind. Whether you agree or disagree with these prognostications is beside the point. The act of evaluating assumptions about the future will give you a more mindful and considered approach to your decision making in the present.

  1. More young people will enter higher education in their early 20s after military or national service. The 18-year-old college freshman will become the exception, not the rule.

That is how it works in Israel, and their college students are among the most mature and focused in the world. American WWII vets are still lionized as the “greatest generation.” At many non-elite campuses like the University of Southern Maine, a typical undergrad is in his or her late 20s.

 

  • Work-Study Programs like those offered by Drexel University in Philadelphia and Northeastern University in Boston will become mainstream. Their approach addresses both the need for students to get real on-the-job experience in conjunction with book learning and a sustained exposure to the workplace before making a final commitment to a field or career.

 

I see so many creative college grads from good schools without any well-honed job skills or any real idea of what they want to do with their lives. With so many educated and clueless creative 20-somethings, it might be time to ask exactly what is going on and why.

If medical and engineering students were so psychologically ill prepared for the rigors of their disciplines, it would be a national scandal with a Congressional investigation. But society does not really care about individuals in the fine and performing arts, communication, or design. For the most part, they are viewed as fungible cultural fluff. Even if 40 percent of BFA and MFA grads leave their chosen careers by the age of 35, there is always a surplus of creative cogs to staff organizations.

 

  • Dual degree programs between private institutions like Tufts University and Berkeley School of Music, and the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, will continue to expand and proliferate. The large state universities will probably develop additional dual majors between departments to attract multi-talented students.

 

This is an obvious solution for a professionally directed creative young people with strong academic abilities who want to hedge career bets.

 

  • Both the BFA and BA will become three-year rather than four-year programs. If you factor in the “Junior Year Abroad” schemes (which provide the world’s most expensive teen travel tours with easy academic credits), many four-year college degree programs are already in reality just three-year programs.

 

This straightforward three-year degree curriculum benefits both the student and institution. It saves the former 25 percent of the cost and time of a four-year degree and makes the latter a tempting option for a young person who might have opted for just a two-year Associates degree at a community college.

 

  • Any high-profile organization that is esteemed and trusted by the marketplace can potentially offer carefully defined technical/professional certification — much of it online.

 

I can imagine Apple, Adobe, big city art directors clubs, big city symphony orchestras, big city ballet companies, the ever hip Second City Theater Company in Chicago, Pixar, L.L. Bean, Disney, and Electronic Arts offering respected certificate programs — and making a tidy profit in the process.

 

  • Independent art schools and music conservatories will get into the online distance learning business after much acrimonious faculty debate and furor.

 

If these small institutional players don’t use their brand names to reach deeply into a national and international applicant pool, they will probably not remain relevant or financially viable for much longer. But if they do rise to the challenge, their offerings could be among the most innovative and appealing — and profitable.

 

  • The predictable 40-something midlife crisis will be replaced by an official year-long sabbatical sanctioned by business, government, and nonprofit organizations.

 

Middle-aged people can look forward to a paid interval of self-examination, redirection, and retraining for the second half of life. This will likely spell disaster for Porsche dealerships, divorce lawyers, bartenders, and anti-depressant manufacturers.

I suspect that these freshly rejuvenated and rebooted “encore” careerists will be viewed by employers as desirable as the currently coveted young and restless folks in their 20s and early 30s. But many of the grayheads will opt for some type of flexible part-time jobs or entrepreneurship. This will tend to ease intergenerational conflict in the workplace.

 

  • A degree from a brand name New York school will not be a first-class ticket to either a big time career or even a middle class income.

 

The Big Apple will simply be one of several first tier global creative culture hot spots. I expect London, Singapore, Berlin, Prague, and LA to give NYC a real run for its creative money. Places like Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Parsons, Pratt, Cooper Union, NYU, The New School, Columbia, and Hunter will still have a huge cachet; but so will Oberlin, Curtiss School of Music, University of Indiana, USC, UCLA, San Jose State, Art Institute of Chicago, Syracuse University, University of Iowa. Brigham Young University, Full Sail University, Brooks Institute, and others.

Having a Gotham credential in one’s bio will be most helpful for the first five years of a creative career, but it is not a big a deal after that. The playing field flattens for just about everyone after 30. It comes down to what you can actually do right now.

 

  • Healthcare tech degrees or certifications will be the preferred “day jobs” for creative people. This includes nurse’s aide, dental hygienist, radiology tech, lab tech, medical records tech, and personal trainer.

 

All of these jobs can pay between 30 and 80 dollars per hour, are available on part-time or weekend schedules, are in high demand in all economic conditions and geographic locations, and usually come with health insurance benefits.

Basically, you become your own lifetime patron. Lots of creative professionals burn out in their 40s and go back to healthcare school for a steady paycheck. It makes more sense to do this highly analytic training while young, single, and mentally agile rather than when one is older and often burdened by life responsibilities like teenage children, mortgages, aging parents, etc.

 

  • Apprenticeship is the new BFA and MFA. Until the 20th century most of the arts were learned in the studios and workshops of older master artists, craftsmen, and performers. If you go to Florence, Italy, you will see that it was a sound approach to both training and credentialing creative and energetic young people.

 

I would be most curious to know what your “fearless forecasts” are concerning professional creative education. Please submit them below or email them to creativeledge@gmail.com for my webmaster to post.


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Degrees of Creativity: Real Credentials for the Creative Economy of the 21st Century

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This blog entry was precipitated by a visit that my wife Amy and I made to our mutual alma mater a few weeks ago.

I had only been back to RISD four times since graduating in 1972. After art school, I traversed the country as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator for about 11 years.

My creative sojourns included Portland (Oregon); Palo Alto/Stanford; Berkeley; New York City; and finally, meeting Amy in Manhattan when she was interviewing me for a job. We then moved to Philadelphia. Our time currently unfolds in Portland (Maine), Philly, and St. Pete.

My wife and I ran a successful design studio together while our daughter was growing up. In early 1991, I was in a serious accident in the high mountain country of Telluride. Personal health stories are usually distressing bores, but suffice it to say that it changed everything for me.

The upshot of the experience brought me to the new digital video production and giclée printmaking. As far as I know, Blake+Barancik was among the first design studios to embrace both the Apple computer and the web in the Philadelphia metro area.

The creative flexibility of my undergrad years at RISD and graduate education at Stanford made this leap possible. It instilled an appetite for both cultural and technological innovation, plus a confidence that one could always learn what was needed.

Unfortunately, the late 1960s and early ’70s also came with a super-sized portion of wrong-headedness that has become institutionalized in most of our academic diploma mills.

The following musing on the absurdity and harmfulness of the status quo is my desire to save creative young people a lot of unnecessary grief and failure.

Hopefully, the following ideas will provoke some decisions in the present that might pay real dividends in your future.

As I see it, these are the three key facets to successfully adapting to the emerging Creative Economy:

    1. Individuals must continually learn new skills and mindsets to prosper in an advanced global economy.

 

  • That which cannot be economically sustained, will not be sustained.

 

 

  • Any technology that can greatly optimize a given task will be applied, regardless of prevailing standards, protocols, and sentiments.

 

1. Individuals must continually learn new skills and mindsets to prosper in changing times.

It is ludicrous to imagine that the exact skills acquired as a teenager or young adult will be the same ones that will allow a person to be successful twenty years later.

A skeptic might say that this is true for industrial designers, digital animators, urban planners, and other techie types; but potters, furniture makers, ballet dancers, musicians, singers, novelists, landscape architects, actors, and other creatives will just keep on doing what they have always done…dream on.

I suspect that the more traditional art forms will continue to evolve technically and will seek new markets and venues. For instance, potters who successfully combine their knowledge of ceramics with other materials will no doubt garner new customers and increased income — or they might combine their skills with art therapy and service the psychological needs of a gargantuan aging population.

Conversely, young computer wiz-kids will eventually be middle-aged. It would be nuts to imagine that key software of the future will look or function anything like today’s Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and CreativeSuite. And remember, there will be another generation of ambitious young geeks just out of school who will be ready, willing, and able to leapfrog to the next new app.

In many ways the ballet dancer has it easier. She or he knows that it is over by 35 and one must move into choreography, open a ballet studio, or change careers altogether.

In any event, an individual in every creative profession will have to reinvent both oneself and one’s career. It all comes down to lifelong learning that will stretch easily into one’s mid to late seventies.

2. That which cannot be economically sustained, will not be sustained.

This point takes aim at the unsustainable escalation of tuitions at art schools, music conservatories, state colleges and universities. To my eye, these institutions are exactly where Detroit automakers were ten years ago; largely asleep at the wheel. Their insular execs and boards, bloated benefits packages, and inflexible tenured senior labor force are not competitive. And this whole wasteful process sustains a product of increasingly dubious social utility.

Just as the government has continued to bail out American carmakers, the feds continue to bail out the consumers of greatly inflated higher education.

Through readily available government-financed loan schemes, virtually anyone with the good fortune to be born into the middle or professional classes can come up with the cash for four years of art and design training. Even for young people of modest and disadvantaged financial backgrounds, money can be found. Massive personal debt has truly been democratized.

That translates into about $120K to $170K for room, board, and tuition for private education; and about $40K to $70K for state schools.

If parents were asked to pay these bills directly out of pocket, most of them couldn’t and wouldn’t invest in their children’s creative careers.

This reduction in the number of people entering the creative fields from college would both shrink programs to more sustainable sizes and improve standards. And it would raise both the entry salaries of graduates and their career prospects.

It is hardly a deep dark secret that most of the creative economy is a “winner take all” game — with a relatively few stars garnering the bulk of money and attention. With fewer young adults entering the field, more people would get a bigger slice of the pie.

Things were different for creative college students 35 years ago. In 1971, Amy had a whopper of an argument with her father about going to art school. It resulted in her paying her own RISD tuition, room, and board for the next three years.

She did this by using her training as an illustrator and graphic designer. She worked at multiple jobs while taking a demanding class load. This was possible not just because she is very talented, smart, and incredibly hard working — but also because the total cost for tuition, room, board, and art supplies was well under $4K a year.

Incidentally, Amy left RISD with $1,300 in the bank, which is the equivalent to at least $7,000 in today’s inflated greenbacks. Contrast this with the current legions of debt-burdened creative college kids with no savings — only onerous unpaid loans.

3. Any technology that can greatly optimize a given task will be applied, regardless of prevailing standards, protocols, and sentiments.

The third point concerns the necessary embrace of online learning. Even my most opened-minded, middle-aged academic friends go berserk when I bring up this subject.

But the only way to drop the cost of professional art and design training is through technology. Everything that the digital domain touches, it makes more cost-effective and democratic. It crushes old elites and hierarchies. That is why traditional academics are justifiably terrified of electronic learning.

What jobs in the global economy offer guaranteed lifetime employment, increasing salary as you age on the job, and 70% of your working salary in retirement with generous medical benefits for both you and your spouse?

Of course, this is a rhetorical question — tenured academia.

The reality is that four-year degree-granting programs in the creative/expressive domains are vocational. Students go there to get their tickets punched for jobs. The pretense that higher education is producing more “well-rounded” and literate creative professionals is, well…just pretence.

A great many liberal arts programs at mid-level colleges and universities can’t produce graduates who can actually write coherent (and non-plagiarized) essays, much less grasp the dynamics of history, math, science, and the canons of Western civilization. Many of my college professor friends admit (in private) that today’s college students are in general academically inferior to the middle-class high school grads of thirty, forty, or fifty years ago. That goes a long way in explaining the necessity of a MA or MS degree for many entry-level jobs.

On a practical level, here are three “Rules of Thumb” that might provide some useful guidance or at least conversation points between tuition-paying parents and their children:

Big name schools are worth it if you can get the bulk of the expenses paid by the school. If the institution wants you that much, they intend to groom you for the big time.

Don’t underestimate the hometown advantage. If you are a “homie” who wants to stay put, just do it. Your uninterrupted network of human connections will be valuable as your career develops over the decades. Longtime flesh-and-blood friends are far more valuable to our sustained well being than the engaging ersatz digital buddies found on Facebook and Linkedin.

I don’t regret my life as a peripatetic cosmopolitan, but in terms of career, things would probably have been much more lucrative if I just stayed in Chicago — a city that has been the home of both sides of my family since the early 1900s.

I know that this flies in the face of prevailing wisdom of such creative economy gurus like Richard Florida. Their point is that the fleet of foot and exceptionally nimble of mind must run to the next creative hot spot.

Ironically, some of the most successful and sophisticated creative professionals that I have known either stayed in state or came back home in their 30s and 40s. In my opinion, the ever-expanding digital revolution will make any metropolitan area with a major university and international airport a potential creative hot spot.

Stay out of debt if you can. If you cannot avoid college loans, try to keep it to what you think you can reasonably repay in 10 years.

Below are links to three provocative articles from The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times for your consideration:

Tell the Truth About Colleges

What’s Wrong With Vocational School?

In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History


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Mainely Creative Videos: Beautiful New England Seascapes and Landscapes

Although I am not entirely at home in Maine, I am at home with myself while I am here. There are no pressing business matters or meetings. All I really want to do is savor the seashore and meander around the working harbors and isolated villages.

There are still communities here that remember how to listen to the ocean, forest, and field. Sometimes I, too, hear the cyclical rhythms of nature that modern life and the internet have largely obliterated in a babble of mind-numbing communication overload.

My Maine summers are quiet and frugal. They are largely spent at my rustic CreativeShare Studio on a tiny fishing island approximately seven nautical miles off of Portland. It is a place without electricity, indoor plumbing, or even a wood stove.

It is my idea of a summer creative heaven — an earthy celestial vision not shared by either my wife or daughter, who prefer the urbane delights of Portland’s Old Port and Freeport’s L.L. Bean.

Nonetheless, it is an ideal place for me to explore my two lifelong creative passions of Zen aesthetics and creative responses to the Holocaust and human conflict. The topography reminds me of pictures of coastal Japan, and this seemingly insignificant island was where the entire U.S. Navy North Atlantic fleet was fueled for the liberation of Europe during World War II. For more about the island’s role in World War II, read Joel Eastman’s essay “Lifeline for Liberty.”

Although my real home as I near my 60th year is St. Pete by the Tampa Bay, Maine and New England will always have a special place in my mind’s eye.

The following videos were conceived in joy and gratitude after a lifesaving operation in January of 2001. I hope that you will enjoy these short digital media pieces…and also have the good sense to get a full colonoscopy when you turn 50.

I Long For My Island

This video was produced in 2005 to celebrate the completion of the construction of the studio structures. My wife Amy (who toils in corporate communications) came up with authentic sounding seafaring/country music melody. Who would have guessed?

Peeks At Peaks Island

This is probably my favorite spot on planet earth. Just before going under anesthesia for the removal of half my colon, I pictured the happy times my little family had there. The video was finished by my studio assistant, Celeste Starita, immediately after my operation.

Casco Bay Swing

Maine has an inordinate number of gifted modern dancers (due to Bates College’s amazing dance program and summer dance festival). The music was provided by the Clown School Dropouts (who actually were clown school dropouts).

Nantucket Sailboats

This was my first video inspired by New England. The artwork was created in a tiny cottage owned by the Nantucket Island School of Design. For those creative types who would enjoy staring at both graceful sailboats and super-rich celebs, you might want to visit this island off Cape Cod.

Green Mountain Ramble

The artwork was created at the Vermont Studio Center. It has been a place that has always been lucky for me in terms of contacts and might be lucky for you. I really like Vermont a lot — but Maine is more beautiful to my eye and much wilder!


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The Creative Economy as Accordion

Two arts articles in the July 30th St. Petersburg Times reminded me that the key metaphor for the Creative Economy is an accordion.

It needs to both contract and expand to play lively dance music!

Mature artists in virtually all cultures have realized and exalted in the duality of human life. It is the yin & yang, light & darkness, sickness & health, work & play, love & hate that make us whole as creative human beings and as a society.

Arts and cultural institutions ultimately reflect and mirror the talents, manias, and malaises of their hometowns. Their buildings and organizational structures define and embed all that we are (and are not) as communities.

The last century of Florida history is an often wacky tale of dizzying land booms and dispiriting real estate crashes. The current bust is most likely just another temporary downturn — but keep in mind that “temporary” can mean anything from two years to 20 years.

In terms of the articles:

Chihuly Collection is still on, despite lean times for arts

This article paints a sober, unflinching, but essentially positive picture of St. Pete’s museum scene. As a culture-loving resident of the Sunshine City, it rings true to me. My wife Amy and I have considerable faith in both the practicality and creativity of our cultural leaders and their boards. The story of the Morean Arts Center and the Dale Chihuly Museum are a case in point.

Nearly 40 years ago Amy and I were students at RISD, where Dale Chihuly was a professor at that tiny, impoverished, and eccentric art school. Like today, those were also difficult times: economic upheaval, restricted gasoline, spiraling interest rates, and racial tension. Despite those obstacles, RISD has more than doubled the size of its student body, studio facilities, and museum space. And Providence is one now one of America’s most beautiful and desirable American cities. Hollywood even made a hit television series named after the place.

This all happened because a small but dedicated group of arts administrators, business and civic leaders, preservationists, educators, and young people were willing to invest their working lives in an eclectic, inclusive, and creative urban vision.

This type of success story could repeat itself in the Tampa Bay.

For young USF, UT, Eckerd, SP College, Hillsborough CC, New College, IADT, and Ringling grads, now is the time to both hunker down and start taking calculated career risks on the assumption that things will eventually get better. Your optimism and focused imagination could very well mean a better future for everyone.

For relatively affluent and influential Tampa Bay boomers, now is the time to focus on our young peoples’ future — not ourselves. The reality is that many our key cultural institutions are in reasonably good shape, considering the global financial meltdown. But they must be financially supported in the harrowing present so they don’t enter into a period of decline and mediocrity.

The second story makes a nice counterpart to the previous news article about “ART” in all capital letters. It is about decidedly lowercase “artists.”

St. Petersburg wants to turn decaying blocks into artist haven

This is a story about hauling off broken down junk to make way for artist studios and creative small businesses on the abandoned 600 block of Central Avenue.

It was great to see this much-needed urban revitalization spearheaded by St. Pete art gallery owner and city council member Leslie Curran. Our region needs more creative people to step to the plate and become politicians. Although Leslie and I did not see eye-to-eye on the proposed Ray’s waterfront stadium (diplomatic understatement), we can agree that artists and cultural creative types are the catalysts to a dynamic urban environment.

For me as a veteran artist and designer, the only disturbing aspect about this very well-written article was the vision of the artist entrepreneur as both a hyper-kinetic fixer-upper and fungible sucker — forever doomed to patch up the holes left by reckless real estate developers and hapless city planners.

The reality is that the creative people — who are doing the actual work that increases property values for both the financial speculator and city coffers — are essentially unpaid.

Over the last two years the median price for a house in the Tampa Bay has dropped from approximately $240K to about $140K and fixed-rate mortgages can sometimes be secured in the 5 to 7 percent range. This makes home/studio ownership potentially attractive in the long term.

There are benefits to some artists and storeowners to renovate the spaces on Central Avenue and have that temporary retail presence. But other artists and businesses might consider this: rather than work for nothing and be thrown out of your space when times begin to improve, it may make more sense to find a block of derelict houses or businesses and form a syndicate so that you have an equity stake from all your hard work and risk taking.

This strategy will involve plenty of headaches and heartaches. But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is as likely to be true tomorrow as it was yesterday.

Young and currently houseless creative Tampa types should peruse this Wall Street Journal article on Artists vs. Blight.

Better yet — some well connected boomers in the real estate industry should read it!


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Right Livelihood, Right Now!

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This might be an opportune moment to broach the subject of “Right Livelihood.”

Presently, millions of American white collar and blue collar workers have lost their jobs or have been forced to accept shortened work weeks.

Millions of gainfully employed citizens count themselves among “The Working Worried.” They live with the very real possibility of being sacked at a moment’s notice.

Thousands of young college grads are forced to boomerang back to their parents’ homes and take marginal jobs.

Even Warren Buffett (“America’s Greatest Investor”) lost nearly 60% of his investors’ premier stock portfolio in Berkshire Hathaway.

And we all know what the collapse of the housing and financial markets means to the Boomer’s retirement plans. The silver-haired generation will be fool’s gold geriatrics.

So consider this:

Post World War II American Industrial Capitalism is over. It was an amazing ride but it is now kaput. The financial elites on Wall Street, in restricted corporate boardrooms and behind closed Congressional doors, simply robbed shareholders, bondholders, and worker pension funds of their accumulated wealth.

Think GM, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Standard & Poors, Moody, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, etc., etc., etc…

Everyone who was anyone inside the financial community knew what was happening but simply did not care to go public. It was too lucrative to just follow the herd — off a cliff. That was what confused and confounded Alan Greenspan, the once-venerated chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. He could not imagine in his wildest dreams that the pillars of the establishment would let the system collapse. But if you read too much Ayn Rand in your youth and don’t talk with anyone except those in your select clique for 50 years, you become a dangerous relic of the past.

Essentially, the American government has made a group of inside interests too big to fail. That is the rationale for the mega-trillion dollar bailout, courtesy of the American taxpayer and foreign stakeholders, of our treasury debt.

And it’s probably true that there was no other choice than to fork over our nation’s wallet to well-heeled muggers. The alternative was a probable global Depression.

The more obvious lessons of our ongoing tale of financial woe are:

    • Establishment elites pursuing lives of “Wrong Livelihood” made out like bandits.

 

  • The proverbial little guy has lost his inflated stake in both stock and housing markets.

 

 

  • The system cannot seem to self-correct its most obvious blunders.

 

I often feel like the kid who yelled out “The Emperor is naked!” The facts are obvious to all in their pink splendor.

Our national debt — including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare and Medicaid, government pensions, bum mortgages and derivative swaps, credit card debt, student loan debt, and interest and principle on official national and state debt before the current meltdown — is many times the size of our real productive economy. Our kids and grandkids are going to hate us.

So, where does this leave a creative person?

Actually, it leaves us surprisingly well off compared to most wage earners.

Money was never the key motivator in our lives. We set up small businesses and took day jobs so we could paint, make films, strut on stage, write, perform, and compose music, create on the computer, write plays and screenplays, design all and sundry sorts of things and experiences…

I recorded the following interviews with eight “Maine Originals” six or seven years ago — while 9/11 was still fresh in our national psyche. The tagline for the series of vignettes is “Creative lives linked to land, sea, and community.”

That is about as good a definition of “Right Livelihood” as I’ve seen. The people who were profiled inspired me to try in my own way to contribute to civil society’s long-term prospects.

The voices that you hear in the links below just might ignite your own originality. If the current state of our nation’s finances and frayed social fabric has a bottom line, it might be this:

We need practical visionaries to create new and resilient American Dreams — the old ones are falling of their own accord into the dustbin of history.

Here are two web links:

http://www.creativesharestudio.com/maineoriginals/originals.html

http://www.creativesharestudio.com/maineoriginals/


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Finessing A Recession Part II: What Now?

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On June 8, 2008, I posted a surprisingly prescient blog entry titled Finessing A Recession. It was a muted, mildly upbeat musing on what looked like the beginning of a major recession.

As a longtime student of financial markets and a reluctant realist (are there any other kind?), I tried to put a positive spin on an economic system on the brink of spinning out of control.

Because the United States is an essentially commercial country founded on a perennial optimism about the future of the human condition, there is a social taboo in business circles about offering warnings of impending doom. This genuinely separates us from our European and Asian cousins who are heirs to static social systems and endless wars with neighboring nations.

It would be helpful to see how my pre-meltdown advice looks in a post-meltdown world. Here is a link to the initial blog entry:

http://blog.creativeshare.org/2008/06/finessing-recession.php

What follows is a short updated summary of where things are now and might be headed:

Realize that all economic downturns eventually bottom out and things get better. History suggests that most down economic cycles take anywhere from two to seven years to run their course. Ironically, it is at the point of maximum pessimism where the real opportunities are often found.

That is probably still true; but it could take a generation or two to reform and modernize our banking laws. The relentless pace of technology and scientific innovation will continually disrupt large, static, and often corrupt bureaucratic political institutions and financial markets.

When you start to hear everyone blabbing about the “greener pastures/heavens on earth” that are to be found in Tennessee, North Carolina, North Georgia, and Las Vegas, it might be the time to both roll your eyes and take out your checkbook.

That is a mixed bag. Vegas has crapped-out because the cancellation of national conventions and a tapped-out consumer sector. Tennessee, North Georgia, and North Carolina are still looking good. They have strong university systems, relatively low taxes and housing costs, and lots of open land. But these states are still at the mercy of a fickle and profligate Congress and the Federal Reserve, and could also be overwhelmed by refugees from both Florida and the Midwest. Yet they remain fairly good bets compared to other parts of the country for both young people and retirees. (Chicago and Philly also look very attractive to this writer’s eyes.)

Start researching local real estate opportunities, broad-based stock indexes and mutual funds, and the possibility of starting a creative business. In Florida, you can enjoy warm winters and rent cheap studio or office space. The trick is to have cash or a secure line of credit during a major downturn or panic, but it takes nerve and a basic optimism about the future.

True. If you are under 35 years of age, there are real entrepreneurial opportunities in this depressing economy—especially in the areas of innovative new digital media, healthcare, and public policy consulting. Time is definitely on your side, but business start-ups in this environment are not for slackers, wimps, or whiners.

As to broad-based, long-term investing in financial markets: It probably makes sense for young professionals with reasonably defined career prospects (medicine, engineering, elementary education, etc.) to maximize their contributions to their IRAs and 401K retirement accounts. For young creative types under 35 with more unpredictable career trajectories, any extra cash (probably from parents or bartending) might be better spent getting an online MBA degree or certificates in the application of high-end software, statistics, or Spanish.

Perhaps the best investment that a young person could make is in a stable interpersonal relationship. This was once quaintly called courtship, engagement and marriage. But the new model for a surprising number of educated young people is the “committed monogamous relationship” without a contract document granted by state and church.

It is clear to this graying/balding observer of young people is that the ability to form durable unions (of whatever variety) is essential to both their wellbeing and a functioning society. A nation that does not foster stable childbearing families is in serious decline. Western Europe, Japan, Singapore, and China are already on this slippery demographic slope.

In one of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, he referred to a married couple as a “Nation of Two.” It is an apt metaphor for one of the few refuges from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I would like to end this piece with some shocking observations by the distinguished Chicago-based writer and conservative curmudgeon, Joseph Epstein. They appeared in the March 16th 2009 issue of Newsweek Magazine:

Robert E. Lucas Jr., a University of Chicago macroeconomist and Nobel Prize winner, in his January 2003 keynote address to the American Association of Economists, announced that economic depression was not longer a problem that modern economists had to be concerned with. “The central problem of depression-prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes,” Lucas said, “and has in fact been solved for many decades.” With something that begins more and more scarily to look like precisely such a depression, Lucas—give the man credit for honesty—more recently admitted that he didn’t know what the solutions to our current-day problems are.

The reality for successful creative types is that our profitable small businesses and consultancies will not be bailed-out with taxpayer money if we screw up.

Our hard-won creative economy experiences and expertise are as valid as those of arrogant academics and faux-expert pundits. We have an obligation to our country and world to speak up and get involved in the national dialogue—no matter where on the political spectrum we are.

Most of us can function in a precarious environment without a safety net. Most of our fellow citizens cannot. They need our free-agent creativity and our delight in the possibilities of a free and democratic society.


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Leopold Engleitner’s Story of Optimism

Leopold Engleitner is the world’s oldest known male Nazi concentration camp survivor whose experiences have been documented in the award winning book and film Unbroken Will.

For refusing to join Hitler’s Army, Leopold Engleitner, an Austrian born in 1905, was interned in three of the most infamous Nazi Concentration Camps in Germany. His refusal to sign a simple declaration denouncing his religion and swearing his allegiance to the Reich put him in a collision course with Nazi Germany that nearly cost him his life. His iron will and his determination to stand up for just principles have become a role model for all. An old tattered suitcase became a symbol of hope for a long and impossible journey back home. At his release, he weighed less than 62 pounds, but today at the age of 103, he still lives to share his story of optimism.

Fresh from his lectures at Harvard University and in Florida, Leopold Engleitner will be visiting Los Angeles and appearing at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (May 14 and 24) the Moorpark College (May 22 and 23), UCLA (May 20) and the Lammle’s Sunset 5 Theatre in West Hollywood, where his prize-winning documentary Unbroken Will and his 2006 USA Lecture Tour film will be screened from May 15 to 21, 2009 at 1:00 PM, 4:30 PM, 7:30 PM, 10:00 PM.

These excellent articles covered his first event on May 4, 2009 at Harvard University:

Holocaust survivor, 103, tells students of resisting Nazis
The Boston Globe

Oldest living Holocaust survivor speaks at Harvard
The Harvard Gazette

For further information please visit www.unbrokenwill.com.


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