The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jan 09, 2011

Creative Vitality in Philadelphia

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Gary P. Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer Philadelphia

In late December 2010 the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy released a new study "Creative Vitality in Philadelphia," that looks at the health of our creative sector - for-profit creative businesses, nonprofit arts and culture groups, and individual artists and creative workers. This research uses something called the Creative Vitality Index, or CVI, that has been developed by a group called the Western States Arts Federation. Because the data is national, aggregating an array of different sources of information, it provides a great vehicle for measuring our creative sector's vitality over time, and also to benchmark ourselves against the nation and other communities. You can access a PDF of the full report here.

The big "take-away" number from the report is that Philadelphia's CVI rating is 1.7, a full 70% higher than the national benchmark of 1.0. The region performs somewhat more modestly - at 1.1 ranking the region 16th out of the top 50 metro areas, though in terms of growth the Philly region has the fifth highest growth rate of the three years covered in the study (06-08). The CVI rating of our nonprofit arts activity is 500% higher than the national benchmark. Of course, our country is filled with many metro regions with incredibly strong creative sectors, and not just obvious candidates like New York and Los Angeles - in fact the DC area tops the list, and the top ten includes others like Nashville and Salt Lake City.

For Philadelphia, this report is an important tool to highlight the importance of the creative sector, to bring together for-profit arts, nonprofit arts and individual arts in recognition that they are all part of the creative sector (much like the Knight Arts Challenge brings all these aspects of the creative community together). We also help the report will help drive public and private sector policy, and result in some concrete implementable initiatives to help strengthen and promote the sector. An important part of the report is also a collection of case studies - the stories of the artists and businesses that make our creative sector sing. And that is a perfect segue to a teaser I would like to share from one of the case studies. This is the story of the brilliant partnership between World Cafe Live and WXPN - in effect the perfect example of the creative economy intersection of for-profit creative business, nonprofit arts and individual artists.

In 1998, when music lover and former real estate lawyer Hal Real first approached WXPN/88.5 FM about joining forces and creating a live music venue, he was hoping to fulfill his dream to “radically change the landscape for contemporary music artists and audiences.” Real was a big fan of David Dye’s widely acclaimed World Cafe show, an eclectic blend of new music, live performances and interviews featuring local and national acts that is broadcast on XPN and heard on 200 stations nationwide. His idea was to create World Cafe Live, a for-profit music venue for grown-ups that was the physical extension of the experience World Cafe listeners had in their living rooms. At that time, WXPN, which is University of Pennsylvania owned and operated and had been broadcasting since the 1970s from a closet-like studio papered with vinyl records for soundproofing inside a run-down house on Penn’s campus (its support staff worked in another building several blocks away), had outgrown its space and was in need of a new home...

To read the rest of the World Cafe Live/WXPN profile go here. And as a reminder, you can download the full Philly CVI report here. Philadelphia creatives are being invited to share their own creative industry stories at our special website, where they can also sign up to attend a Creative Vitality town hall on January 27th, as well as to stay connected with us through Facebook and Twitter. We'll be selecting and sharing some of the profiles we receive in future reports, as well as online.

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