The creative process: Rutland’s Creative Economy looks to city’s future.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 3/25/10.] Over the years, Rutland has developed a reputation for always being a step behind – buying into shortsighted misadventures while missing out solid opportunities. It was an underdog, which at times, became difficult to root for. Many city leaders were operating from day to day, lacking any real vision or long-term goals for the future of the city. There was a time when many people would have just assumed to write off Rutland, admit defeat and resign themselves to ride out a community in decline.

Photo above: Mayor Chris Louras and Rutland Public Schools Superintendent Mary Moran join students in breaking ground at the Rutland Middle School Garden. The Garden was a project coordinated by Sustainable Rutland, an initiative of the Creative Economy. 

Not any more. Four years ago, a group of volunteers decided that this was not going to be Rutland’s fate. These passionate folks got together, held meetings, and brought together citizens and city leaders from the alphabet soup of local organizations into something called the Creative Economy (CE). Open Air. Recreation. Arts and Culture. Sustainability. These four initiatives reflected the priorities put forth by the community in those early meetings and forums. Today, all are well-established committees, working diligently to achieve their distinct goals.

Next week, the Creative Economy will hold a community forum at the Paramount Theatre to identify new projects moving forward. The event, to be held on Wednesday, March 31, from 6 to 9 p.m. is an opportunity for Rutlanders to once again engage the Creative Economy, to get involved in the things they are passionate about in order to create a vibrant future for our community.

I suppose this is a good time for full disclosure. I am co-chair of Sustainable Rutland, one of the CE’s four committees. Clearly, I have a vested interest here. That being said, I am writing this to give you a better understanding of what it’s all about more than to proselytize (though, maybe a little).

Let’s take a step back for a moment. If you live in the area, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase “creative economy” tossed around quite a bit, but what exactly does it mean? The term itself was coined by author and urban theorist John Howkins, who identifies individual talent, skill and creativity as being key to future economic development in cities. His theory asserts, “new ideas, not money or machinery, are the source of success today, and the greatest source of personal satisfaction, too.”

In the early 2000s, social scientist Richard Florida wrote a series of books popularizing this theory describing something called the “creative class,” a socioeconomic class consisting of innovative professionals such as engineers, designers, artists and media workers. According to Florida, high concentrations of these professionals along with what he calls “high-bohemians” – high-tech workers, artists, musicians, the homosexual community – “correlate with a higher level of economic development” in metropolitan areas.

Florida goes on to argue that the creative class helps to establish a more open and vibrant personal and professional environment in communities. As a result, additional creative people, businesses and capital are attracted to the area.

In Rutland, the CE process began four years ago through a series of community meetings where this concept was discussed. A number of priorities were put forth and after an open assessment of these priorities, four were identified as the most significant: Open Air, Recreation, Arts and Culture, and Sustainability.

Since then, many of these committees’ projects have become widely known throughout the community. The wild success of Friday Night Live was courtesy the Open Air Committee. The Arts and Culture Committee launched that Art Hop thing you check out every second Friday. You’ve probably heard about the proposed Creek Path – a multi-use path that will traverse the western part of the city. Well, you and your bike will have the Recreation Committee to thank for that. Do you own one of the nearly 2,000 “I am Local” canvas bags? That was Sustainable Rutland. I could go on, but you get the point.

You see, the Creative Economy is all around you. And it’s much more than a series of nice events and feel-good projects. Over the last four years, the CE has helped foster a new, collaborative brand of leadership in Rutland.

Downtown Rutland Partnership Executive Director and CE steering committee member Mike Coppinger sees this new energy every day.

“It pulled a lot of volunteers out of the woodwork,” Coppinger said. “It got them involved and focused.”

The DRP has worked closely with the various CE committees on a number of joint projects. While he acknowledges that people are occasionally critical of the DRP, Coppinger says that the downtown organization has become more involved and energized because of the CE.

As Friday Night Live grew, the DRP took over operation of the weekly summer block party. The DRP has also been a vital partner for the Art Hop. Additionally, it has played an active role in a number of Sustainable Rutland’s projects including last year’s popular Trash-to-Art Exhibition.

“The Creative Economy has become a melting pot for ideas,” Coppinger said. “Where else do arts people and recreation people get to sit down and collaborate?”

Indeed, collaboration is what the CE is all about. It’s what sustainable Rutland co-chair Carol Tashie calls “the magic of Rutland” – the interconnectedness and energy of the people who live and work here, and their eagerness, when given the chance, to do something really positive.

Of the upcoming forum, Recreation Committee co-chair, Paul Gallo, is optimistic about the CE’s future, stating, “What better form of investing in your community than building from the ground up on positive ideas created from a grassroots event such as this open forum? The purity of it in being that it is all volunteer-based is powerful and extremely rewarding.”

True to Howkins’ and Florida’s theories, the future success of Rutland is not going to be delivered to us in a nice, shiny package. It’s not going to be a big manufacturer offering 500 new jobs or new strip mall or something that confuses success with conspicuous consumption while eroding our local economy and culture. Success will be achieved by the creativity and innovation of volunteers and community leaders.

So next Wednesday, head down to the Paramount and do your part. Get involved and let your voice be heard.

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