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California City Solutions: San José Enriches Art-Based Small Businesses with Creative Entrepreneur Program

August 1, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. San José’s Creative Entrepreneur Program was submitted in 2013 for the Economic Development through the Arts award category.
 
Recognizing the cultural and economic benefits to having a robust artist and arts-based business sector, the city of San José established the Creative Entrepreneur Program (CEP) in 2008. The program aims to strengthen the creative entrepreneur sector through networking, professional development trainings, resources and financial support.
 
The Silicon Valley is an area known for its innovative technology businesses, but with the recent economic downturn the area saw a need to incorporate arts into the business community to boost the economy and quality of life. In 2003, the city of San José developed an economic strategy that has helped guide city policy, investments, and partnerships. The city updated the economic strategy in 2010 to reflect subsequent economic changes and plans to create a unique place, particularly in downtown San José, to support creative entrepreneurs. This creative community includes nonprofit arts providers, consumers, commercial businesses and individual artists of all specialties.
 
The city has been an active supporter for the arts since the 1970s, with its main focus on the development of arts organizations rather than opportunities for artists. This recognition and the increased focus on creativity in the Economic Development Strategy led to the development of a supportive infrastructure for artists and these creative entrepreneurs.
 
The San José Creative Entrepreneur Project (CEP) is a  a joint initiative established in 2008 between  the San José Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA), a division of the Office of Economic Development (OED), and the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI).
 
Five CEP program elements were selected for implementation:
  • Form a CEP Steering Committee comprising artists, nonprofit leaders, creative business leaders, academics, and civic leaders;
  • Conduct a San José Artist Survey and Needs Assessment;
  • Organize an Artists’ Town Hall Convening;
  • Present a pilot entrepreneurial Training Workshop for Artists; and
  • Develop a pilot Encouragement Grants Program for Artists. 
Short-term and long-term recommendations were also developed to help San José become a more “artist-friendly” city where artists could build and sustain significant parts of their careers.
 
The recommendations included:
  • Create web-based resources for artists;
  • Offer training to artists or other knowledge-building programs;
  • Support a “Creative Capacity Fund” for professional development scholarships and/or technical assistance programs;
  • Investigate artists’ space initiatives that would identify and promote available space for live, work, presentation and commercial activity; and
  • Explore an “Innovation Institute” that is geared towards business executives to help catalyze creativity and innovation in San José. 
These CEP recommendations were added to Cultural Connection: San José’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2020, the city’s guide for art and cultural development, with a strategic goal ‘to enhance support for creative entrepreneurs and the commercial creative sector.” This addition was an important marker in gaining support for commercial arts-rooted businesses.
 
Since CEP launched, the city of San José has worked extensively with partners and the creative entrepreneur community making significant progress on improving the opportunity landscape for local creative entrepreneurs and promoting economic vitality.
 
Some of the CEP implementation activities include:
  1. Professional development workshops for artists. OCA partners with several organizations to offer seven different workshops on topics including the Business of Art (business skills and concepts for multidisciplinary artists), the Art of Being an Artist (skills for visual artists), Taller (skill-building for bilingual artists working in bilingual markets), and the Public Art Academy (a public art sector primer).
  2. A web-based resource guide for San José creative entrepreneurs. Developed by local, statewide and national service providers, the guide supports artists and small businesses.
  3. Funding to support to provide professional development scholarships and technical assistance for artists. CCI administers funding through its Creative Capacity Fund.
  4. Organized events that support learning, dialogue and networking opportunities for artists and arts-rooted businesses. OCA hosted a day-long event on Sept. 14, 2012 called Platform: Building Networks to Catalyze Creative Urban Culture, sponsored by the California Arts Council and the Knight Foundation, this day-long event highlighted the growing importance of creative entrepreneurs on creative place making and featured a resource fair for small creative businesses.
  5. In partnership with Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA), the city supports a new facility project for cultural production and exhibition space for creative entrepreneurs. This is an important demographic since San José is one of the most diverse cities in the nation. MACLA was able to purchase the building it was occupying at below market rate in exchange for providing a creative entrepreneur environment and conducting a market study.
  6. Establishing a Creative Industries Incentive Fund (CIIF). CIIF provides project support to arts-rooted commercial businesses involved in the production or distribution of the arts. Incentives are provided for creative industries of all types such as manufacturers, service providers, presenters, and designers. 
Thanks to CEP, the role of the artist and art-based business has been repositioned from not only an innovative thinker and creator, but as an entrepreneur and critical aspect of economic development. Not only do creative entrepreneurs impact the local economy, they also build the city’s brand by creating a vibrant place and exporting their product within the San José area.
 
Achievements
 
More than 200 artists have participated in seven professional development programs as part of CEP. OCA awarded 71 grants in the amount of $34,000 to support artist professional development and technical assistance programs for San José artists. An additional $20,000 has been awarded to five arts-based businesses to support projects aimed at growing or stabilizing their business.
 
Additionally, OCA had more than 200 attendees at the Artists’ Town Hall meeting, gathering artists to participate in the planning and outreach process of Cultural Connection. It held the National Arts Marketing Project conference in San José in 2010, enabling access to nationwide experts in arts marketing.
 
San José has seen an increase in art-based jobs and number of creative industries during the past few years. According to the Americans for the Arts Creative Industries Report, the number of arts-related businesses in San José increased 1,895 art-related businesses in 2010, employing 6,363 people to 2,451 arts-related businesses in 2012, employing 7,722 people.
 
CEP will continue to enrich San José’s cultural vibrancy and enhance its creative economy by actively providing support to artists, across all disciplines in both the non-commercial and commercial, living or working within the city.


 
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