While Waunakee community members of all ages sang, danced, played instruments and showcased their innovation at the Imagination Celebration event last week, a small group assembled to learn more about how such creativity might drive a local economy.

The Imagination Celebration is part of a larger effort in Waunakee to explore an economy centered on arts and innovation.

Todd Schmidt, Waunakee's administrator and economic development director, led a discussion about creative economies, noting that creativity is key to most businesses. That's true even at banks, where creative marketing contribute to the success, he said.

Schmidt showed a video that revealed local artists, crafts people and professionals painting, making jewelry, stying hair and doing woodwork. With welders, companies such as Madrax that make outdoor furniture and bicycle racks, cooks and builders, there's power in innovation and creativity, Schmidt said.

Schmidt talked about some trends in economic development. Common goals have been attraction, retention and expansion.

"What we're seeing now is quality of life and community are emerging as important to attraction, retention and expansion," Schmidt said. "This appeal of creative economy is all over."

He quoted Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin: "It's all about investing in human talent, community and creativity. People are the main driver of economic development."

Schmidt cited a statistic that three out of four Americans under the age of 28 believe that living in a "cool" city is more important than a good job. He noted that those people are the next generation of employees for local businesses, and communities may want to look at how to attract them.

Schmidt showed videos created by the Mississippi Arts Commission and the City of Los Angeles touting their creative economies.

In Mississippi, the state encourages communities to tell their cultural stories, according to the video. That fosters tourism, achieving a new economy in places, and builds community pride. In Los Angeles, one of eight jobs is related to the arts.

Schmidt noted that creativity cannot be outsourced, and it fosters a greater livability.

"What I see as a theme, it's about people and the capacity for people to be creative," he said.

Also at the panel was Jenn Post Tyler, the interim executive vice president of Thrive - a regional economic development initiative.

Post Tyler cited the results of a recent economic impact study of Dane County's nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.

Expenditures related to the arts in Dane County amounted to $1.45 million in 2010, and the average person attending cultural events spent $26.51 on related amenities.

Tyler Post said arts organizations make purchases and they pay staff. They make purchases "not necessarily to make an economic impact, but to make transformative experiences," she said.

Those experiences become a magnet for even more spending in the economy by audiences. The study also found that one quarter of the audiences were from outside of Dane County, indicating that people are willing to leave their communities for cultural experiences. Thus, Dane County's arts venues keep audiences from going elsewhere, Post Tyler added.

The "magnet" of the arts is used in business every day, Post-Tyler said, in community training and development, designing buildings and other products and in bundling services with cultural events to provide a greater appeal.

Sondra Bonnici Hoecherl of the Madison Children's Museum spoke about that entity's need for creativity when it relocated. When the Overture Center was built, the museum moved from an 8,000 square-foot space to its present 36,000 square-foot home. The larger space meant more expense to renovate and required creative thinking. Bonnici Hoecherl said the museum directors and board decided to "go beyond green," inviting only local builders, artists and materials into the space.

They involved the entire community in the new building and used reclaimed and recycled materials. The result, she said, was a sense of place.

"Our museum looks like it belongs here in Wisconsin," she said.

Bonnici Hoecherl said entrepreneurship arises from limited resources, not deep pockets, and requires a team effort.

That building effort and the Imagination Celebration event both revealed creativity, she said.

"Events like tonight create an opportunity to see the threads of the community and where your thread is in the tapestry," Bonnici Hoecherl said.

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