Gold Digging

Lack, lack, lack. A common refrain you hear when people talk about the Seattle arts scene (myself included). Emily Hall laid out a lot of what's lacking here in her essay last week ["The Road of Good Intentions Is Paved with Painted Pigs," July 8], so I won't go into the specifics here. But inevitably, the conversation winds its way toward comparing Seattle to L.A. and New York, what they have and we don't.

A shift in thinking might be in order.

In a recently released Creative Industries study from Americans for the Arts (a Washington, D.C.-based arts advocacy organization), the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton area ranks number one as having the most "arts-centric" businesses per capita. The study identifies these arts-centric businesses in six industry areas: museums and collections; performing arts; visual and photography; film, radio, and TV; design and publishing; and schools and services. Given those parameters, that means we have 3.415 arts businesses per thousand people. Comparatively, Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County ranks third (2.984 per thousand) while New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island comes in sixth (2.589 per thousand). Mind you, this is per capita and Seattle's capita isn't as copious as New York and L.A., which rank number one and two, respectively, in sheer number of for-profit and nonprofit arts-related businesses. (The greater Seattle area comes in eighth in this ranking, with 12,138 arts-related businesses.)

The study follows somewhat on the heels of Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, a much-ballyhooed book that came out in 2002 and, among other things, set fire to the idea that the arts have the potential to stimulate local economies. In it, Florida gives some rather wobbly legs to the concept of the Creative Class by including engineers, software programmers, health-care professionals, and even lawyers in the mix. (One result of this inclusion is that it inflates the average annual salary for a member of the Creative Class to $48,752.)

The arts scene here has grown slowly over time out of the peculiarities of our region. Seattle has been home to an economic boom-and-bust culture, starting with the Klondike gold rush, to the massive Boeing layoffs in the '70s (and '90s), on through to the dot-com bust. A pioneer mentality haunts us still, with all its trappings of gold-seeking and quick abandonment when the well runs dry. Perhaps we've grown so accustomed to the bust, we can't see the boom until someone else tells us. The specificity of the Creative Industries study is a lot more helpful (and illuminating) than Florida's research, and it confirms that there might be gold in them there hills.

kurtz@thestranger.com

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