The Connection Between Arts and Innovation in Rural Areas


(Liz Forsberg) #1

Ever since I met with rural and remote arts organizations and artists in Cobalt at the SPARC symposium in May I’ve been thinking a lot about the rural arts ecology in Ontario. This piece by Richard Florida (of urban “creative class” fame) in Citylab caught my attention. It looks at a growing body of research that suggests the presence of the arts in rural areas boosts rural innovation. See below for an excerpt. Also worth reading is a series of research briefs compiled by the National Endowment for the Arts on Rural Arts, Design, and Innovation in America (2017).

Research Brief #1: Rural vs Urban Arts-and-Cultural Organizations: Some Defining Characteristics
Research Brief #2: Exploring Rural Communities by the Presence of Performing Arts Organizations
Research Brief #3: Innovation and Design Use by Small Manufacturers
Research Brief #4: Local Arts and Entertainment as a Draw for Businesses and Their Workers

"If anything, the arts may be even more important to rural innovation than they are to urban innovation. While my own research has drawn a connection between the arts and clusters of innovative high-tech startups in urban areas, Wojan and his colleague Bonnie Nichols’ data suggests an even stronger connection between arts and innovation in rural areas. And according to the NEA paper, probability that a rural firm will be a substantive innovator rises from 60 percent in rural counties with no performing arts organizations to nearly 70 percent for those that host two or three, to as high as 85 percent if a rural county hosts four or more.

Furthermore, the share of firms that are highly innovative rises sharply alongside performing arts organizations in rural areas. The probability that a rural business will be highly innovative increases from 17 percent to 44 percent as the number of performing arts organizations in a rural county increases from zero to one. When that number rises to two, the probability that a business will be highly innovative grows to 70 percent or higher."

Ultimately, Wojan and company’s analysis find a strong statistical association between the arts, innovation, and economic dynamism in rural areas. And this leads them to conclude that the arts are a direct force in rural innovation, not just an indirect factor that helps to attract and retain talent."

Excerpted from “The Rise of the Rural Creative Class” by Richard Florida