Firing Up the Creative Engine in Chatham County

I’ve lived in Chatham county for about ten years, and it has always been my belief that there are so many artists and creators in this county because we generally can’t afford the rents in Chapel Hill, Cary and even Carrboro these days.  Artists move to a location out of necessity sometimes, and often have to market their work in more affluent neighborhoods, but they ultimately want to do work in and for their own communities.  This was the theme of the Chatham County Economic Development Commission’s “Creative Economy Summit” which took place at the Silk Hope Community Center on Saturday.
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The county possesses an abundance of creative pistons.  The annual studio tour showcases the work of artist’s in their studios, the North Carolina Arts Incubator in Siler City has spawned several galleries in town and a third Friday art walk, a Steampunk gallery is open in Pittsboro, the Community College has one of the first Natural Chef programs and the only one in the state, and a new carbon neutral recording studio called Manifold Recording is on it’s way.  The question is, how can you get all of these pistons to start firing together to create a movement that is self sustaining?

The keynote speaker and current Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources, Linda Carlisle, put the creative industry in North Carolina in perspective.  Nearly 300,000 jobs and $41 billion (“that’s with a B,” she said) annually are directly tied to creative endeavors in the state.  Put those numbers up against the fact that the state arts council makes up .ooo3 percent of the states $19.5 billion budget and you get what most would consider a good bang for your buck.  Given these numbers, it is no wonder the secretary paused to collect herself as she expressed her concerns over her upcoming meeting with the general assembly to argue against continued cuts, which would result in closing museums, locking historical sites and laying off state employees.  She asked for participants to write their house and senate representatives.

A panel discussion moderated by Mary Regan, Executive Director of the NC Arts Council included Diane Cherry of the Institute of Emerging Issues at NC State, Georgann Eubanks, a consultant and strategic planner, Betty Hurst of Handmade in America, and Stuart Rosenfeld of Regional Technology Strategies, Inc. gave success stories from other counties and states, as well as tips on the sorts of planning that needs to be done to pull together the creative capital of an area.  The strongest message was; chose your brand wisely.

The final panel was titled, “Meet the New Media” and was moderated by PR consultant Rebecca Antonelli.  Tim Moore of the Carolina Business Connection, the culture editor of the Independent, David Fellerath, and Leoneda Inge of WUNC offered suggestions on using the media resources available as well as tips on accessing the power of social media and connecting with the people who might want to take a nice spring drive southwest of the triangle to see some beautiful scenery and amazing creativity.

It’s easy to forget that there are art centers of the world that are not located in major metropolitan areas.  Many artists and other creative individuals are looking for a type of living that is not possible in the concrete jungle, and the sleepy bedroom communities of the world make excellent locations for artist studios.  The trick is, can you gain the attention of the region, the nation, or the world so that people come to you? Leaders in Chatham county seem committed to finding out.

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