Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Arts community strategizes at talks

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Central to retaining and elevating Frederick’s art community is getting involved in advocacy and electing politicians who support the arts.

‘‘Stop complaining and start doing,” said Jenifer Dobbins of the Frederick Arts Council. ‘‘What are you going to do about it?”

Dobbins was one of a handful of Frederick professionals and residents gathered at the arts council on West Patrick Street Jan. 31 to discuss the city’s creative community and ways to encourage its growth.

The group used the central ideas in Richard Florida’s book, ‘‘The Rise of the Creative Class,” as a lens to look at Frederick during the discussion.

Shuan Butcher, director of the Frederick Arts Council, said he first discovered Florida’s book when he was completing his master’s degree thesis on strategic leadership last year.

Last week’s discussion focused on the first nine chapters of Florida’s book. The group will continue the discussion on Feb. 28.

Florida’s 2004 bestseller explores the impact of the creative class on the U.S. economy. Professionals who create for a living, from artists to engineers, architects and educators, make up the creative class.

Florida claims that these workers, estimated at nearly 30 percent of the workforce, power regional and national economies. They earn more than 50 percent of wages in the country and control 70 percent of consumers’ buying power.

In order for the creative class to flourish, Florida argues that communities and employers must attract and retain creative people, provide avenues to transfer their ideas into products, and be open to new ideas and different types of people.

Butcher led the group of professionals from the Weinberg Center for the Arts, Historical Society of Frederick County, ArtNext and Frederick Arts Council in thinking about what this means for Frederick.

‘‘We have a healthy arts community ... so it’s very appropriate for us to talk about the creative class in our community,” he said.

Creativity is a long process, Butcher said, and people aren’t just moving to the area for economic reasons. ‘‘They are also moving here because of a culture, a quality of life,” he said.

The presence of information technology, graphic design and film and dance studios are indications of Frederick’s creative class, Butcher said.

Peter Hassett, a Web designer and a longtime Frederick resident, said Frederick County’s economy has shifted in the last 50 years from agriculture to biotechnology with the arrival of Fort Detrick and Bechtel.

He agreed that Frederick is a center of creativity and noted the increase of new jobs coming to the area in the last five years.

Jan Kleiman of Frederick noted that the community does not have to go far to find a wealth and diversity of art from Hood College to the Delaplaine Visual Arts and Education Center to the Blue Elephant art gallery.

For Elizabeth Conn, an archivist at the Historical Society of Frederick County, the commuter culture and the fact that not all creative people live and work in Frederick could also affect the city as a creative center.

The city’s small-town feel, focus on history, and the push and pull of urban and rural forces all contribute to Frederick’s distinctive character, the group said.

‘‘It’s a very complex story,” Hassett said of Frederick’s identity.