Making Change: Creative Industries Often Overlooked

Featured Audio

When Stephen Manka's Eco-Fence won the design competition for the Cleveland Environmental Center two years ago, he began looking for a way to manufacture the structure for a reasonable price.

Stephen Manka: The first search was with people that are used to dealing with builders and making architectural elements. And building is expensive.

Manka's design of heavy-duty steel and stone did not require the polished look that most builders seek.

Stephen Manka: Who really deals with all this steel and it's these shops. And I was just so thrilled to meet Dave Korbiss here at Precision Welding and for him to go, "This is easy." He looked at the plans and he goes, "This is easy. We could do this really quickly and for this price." And they delivered.

You could say that Manka's experience is merely an example of how art and industry overlap in Northeast Ohio. But it's more than that. Since building the Eco-Fence, Manka has won another competition to build a fence at Shaker Town Center. Once again, Presicion Welding will be involved, since the design calls for industrial steel as well large stones and natural grasses. Manka says people are beginning to express interest in reproducing his fences for more than just public art.

Stephen Manka: And it got me thinking. Well, we have the blueprint for it. We probably could refine it. Precision could probably make it even more efficient in fabrication. So if someone did want it, it's become a product.

And with the advent of a product, comes investment and jobs. Manka's vision is representative of an overlooked segment of Northeast Ohio that holds untapped economic potential: the creative industries.

Randy Cohen: They range from museums to symphonies, theatre companies to film, architecture and advertising businesses.

Randy Cohen is vice president of research and information at the Washington-based, Americans for the Arts - an arts advocacy group. He says creative industries also include industrial designers, digital artists and art galleries. An Americans for the Arts study found that 4.3% of all U-S companies are arts-related. Cohen says tracking the creative industries could influence public policy.

Randy Cohen: Most elected leaders look through funding bills through an economic lens. They want to know how is this going to help jobs and how is this going to help businesses in our communities and what are the economic benefits?

In Northeast Ohio, nearly 5,000 arts-related businesses employ 26,000 people - people who generate income tax and who spend their income on area goods. The Cleveland Institute of Art believes more of its students could contribute to the local creative industries scene. President and CEO David Demming says whether students are majoring in fine arts or industrial arts, they need to be skillful in the art of business. Demming points to two 1972 graduates - Johns Nottingham and Spirk - whose innate business acumen led to the development of Dr. John's Toothbrush, the toothbrush with a revolving head.

David Demming: Within the first year of the company they were the largest single selling toothbrush in the United States. The following year they sold the company to Proctor and Gamble. They had four investors, a total of a million dollars. And sold it for $475 million.

They created wealth, Demming says. And not just for themselves. Nottingham Spirk Design employs 50 people, according to John Nottingham, and between the 10 companies they've spun off and ten more companies in the works an estimated 50 more people will find employment through their inventions, all based in northeast Ohio. The CIA's David Demming says it's the school's goal to keep their entrepreneurial graduates in the region.

David Demming: Up until now we've had many students like that. But they usually leave Cleveland. And what we're trying to do with our concept of a design and technology transfer center that is also an incubator is to take students that are upper division that are coming up with great ideas that could be developed to go to market and help them do that while they're still in school.

But David Moss, creative director at EDR Media in Beachwood, thinks that in addition to being transformative for the economy; the creative industries could also alter the business climate.

David Moss: The closer I get to business and business development the more I think that the businesses that are doing very well - the people that are in the roll of business development are extremely creative.

Moss says it takes bravery on the part of the artistic-types to insist on having a place at the table. But from Moss's experience, the value of creative input has more potential than many realize.

David Moss: So maybe if business professionals see more of what they do as an art, and creative professionals see more of what they do - and I think they do see it as a business, that's why there's so many that are so successful as freelancer. 'Cause they see what they do as a business asset as something that can stand alone. Then the two parties are working together.

And that, he says, opens the door for Making Change. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

Support Provided By