Growing up, there was never a question of whether or not I would move away from Wyoming. Even with such a broad goal as wanting to do something with “music and business” professionally, I didn’t see other successful writers, musicians, artists or entertainment business professionals from the state that inspired me, that took a path I could emulate.
I didn’t see it at the time, but the varying venues across Wyoming — from sweaty VFW Halls to the AA in Laramie — that I played or planned concerts at were my inspiration, were the entrepreneurial laboratories that had a positive impact on me as a professional. I learned lessons that shaped my business and creative lenses, and the foundational ideas I picked up are still applicable today. Many of my close, Cowboy State ex-pat friends also link our home state’s hand in their formative creative experiences. And that is why it is important that younger generations can say the same.
In the executive draft of the ENDOW plan that was just released there is a sub-point within the Knowledge and Creative pillar labeled “Arts and Culture.” I call your attention to this topic so you don’t flip past it. While reading the plan you see a few buzzwords like disruptors or innovators — these types of people have been deemed vital to the future trajectory of the state — and you might find yourself wondering how people learn to be one of those in the first place. Turns out the sub-point of that aforementioned pillar is more foundation than decoration: when people learn creativity through the arts, as I fortunately did, they become big picture global thinkers who take risks and continually strive for excellence. Which sounds an awful lot like the qualities of an innovator… I share below a basic model for thinking about how we might synthesize the ENDOW charge and begin to anchor, grow and strengthen new creative communities in Wyoming.
People want to live in a thriving, hip community. Like the adage “build it and they will come” — start here and the rest will follow in many cases. Technological advancements and start-up culture are allowing increased flexibility for where people work, and in turn, it is the creative community that draws people to work in a locale. Artists influence the locations of burgeoning business hubs because they etch and mold the communities where other innovators want to stake their home and office claims.
Working as a sustainability consultant for the music industry often means building the plane and flying it at the same time when creating and executing new initiatives. In this arena I have learned that new ideas to change behaviors work best when you meet people where they are at. Often this means tapping into people who will champion your ideas because they are tuned in and “get it” while concurrently being able to start at the start and answer “why” for the majority not yet on board.
Apply this to a community and you might start with simple enhancements that meet people where they are. Connect first with your championers — fund, in perpetuity, successful creative programs that are already happening across the state so that they can continue to flourish and serve as anchors. Building the foundational elements for the long-term can lead to thriving creative incubators can lead to entire creative districts over time.
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Currently 4.7 percent of Wyoming’s workforce is in the “creative sector” (4.3 percent is the national average). This is a good sign for the transition from building to supporting, as this number could easily triple in twenty years. Artists are economic drivers — both through their outputs and through the support services they build or invest in that are necessary for their craft, which also translate to more jobs.
While living in Los Angeles, I co-founded the lifestyle clothing company Weekend Society. We attribute much of our early success to the comradery and goal-oriented resource sharing we found in the creative communities around L.A. Knowledge is contagious, and as an entrepreneur you quickly come to find that time spent learning is time well spent. Consulting for other upstart lifestyle brands plus factoring in the upswing in tech solutions for start-ups, I have come to learn how connected we are, and how great ideas these days, not location, bloom innovative businesses. When I come back to visit Wyoming, I see plenty of small businesses that could benefit from the shared experiences of the creative collectives I frequent. But where to share it?
In action, attract artists to the unique aspects Wyoming has to offer, while helping them understand that the state is equipped for global business. Take a look at how embracing the film industry has had a positive effect on the creative scene, tourism and the economy in a state like New Mexico…
A healthy creative eco-system grows itself. Applying principles of transformational leadership, empower innovators to teach innovators across industries. As we think about building and supporting the growth of creative communities in Wyoming, we must also think about how we empower them.
In professional settings we discuss and value outputs more often than we discuss the structures for how individuals think through arriving at solutions. This is where creativity taught through the arts comes in. And if the artists and makers are the ones empowered to do the teaching, it can pay wonderful dividends.
One idea that illustrates empowerment through transformational leadership can be seen when creating artrepreneurship programs. Through these learning labs — Montana currently has a great example at the state level — business leaders train visual artists to use a comprehensive toolkit to distribute and market their crafts. It’s symbiotic professional development. In turn, in a model like this, creatives show how to build the physical and digital places you want to go to do business. This model is one exciting tenet of the greater potential to be realized when considering how we might execute arts and culture components of the long-term plan.
As ENDOW grows legs let’s take some time to think about this and other models that can help build, support and strengthen creative communities in Wyoming, so the future artists and makers our state grows will consider taking on innovative global ventures while still wearing their cowboy hats.