Economic development and arts professionals convened in South Boston last week to explore strategies for harnessing the “creative class” in their communities. The conference, “Art and the Creative Economy,” featured notable speakers presenting examples of how small towns and cities have enhanced their economies by embracing the arts. The term “creative class,” as coined by Richard Florida, describes the class of workers that earn their living from their ideas and not machinery. These individuals may be artists, designers, scientists, and researchers, to name just a few. As manufacturing leaves more small towns, this “creative class” just may be the economic boon that can make the difference.
The Prizery, a shining example of adaptive reuse for a tobacco warehouse, made a great venue for the conference. Featured speakers included Joy Gieseke, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Joy spoke about the organic growth of Mineral Point’s artist community, emphasizing that it is not an artist commune, but just a town that supports its artists. Today, Mineral Point is a town of 2,600 residents with 17 galleries and 30 artists living in town.
Marian Van Landingham spoke about her involvement with the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. Her work is an excellent example of how an artist studio and workshop can become a top tourist destination.
The keynote address was given by Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston. He gave examples of how art has enhanced the renaissance Charleston has experienced since his first term in 1975.
After several more speakers, the day concluded with a bus tour of South Boston and Halifax including a visit to artist Bob Cage’s Sculpture Farm, Parson-Bruce Gallery and Convergence Art Guild. Later that evening, many folks from the conference attended the Suzanne Vega concert held in the Chastain Theater.