How supporting the creative economy helps Milwaukee

A crowd of about 100 gathered at the downtown office of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce last week to explore how Milwaukee can increase its social and economic vibrancy through strategic investment in its diverse creative economy.

Organized by the Creative Economy Forum Imagine a wifeFeaturing several speakers, a comprehensive overview of the results of the latest Arts and Economic Prosperity Survey conducted by Imagine MKE and Americans for the Artsand a discussion of opportunities to harness the power of Milwaukee’s cultural and creative assets.

The forum brought together some of the top echelons of the region Civic, business, educational and philanthropic leaders.

„We need to reshape the way we discuss the arts and the way we champion its impact. For those who don’t get it, the case needs to be made that the arts are not trivial,” said Adam Pratts, managing director of Imagine MKE, which works to advance and advocate for the region’s creative economy.


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Pratts said the arts are vital to the region’s future prosperity.

„Supporting creative endeavors, the arts and artists is an intentional investment, not a handout,” he said. “Everyone values ​​and engages in the arts in some form. They permeate our lives and often in deeper ways than we realize. Movies, music, books, video games, fashion, theater, architectural design, the images that brighten our spaces and what we put on our desktop computers. The arts enrich our daily lives.

Pratts emphasized that it’s important to understand that the arts are „not some mysterious force” that autonomously benefits the local economy and the lives of residents and visitors. The „disconnect” under discussion, Pratts said, is compensation, public support and financial investment in the arts in the Milwaukee area.

„There is a widespread misunderstanding about the role of the arts and creative economy as an economic powerhouse, and it absolutely is,” he said.

The data supports the economic importance of the arts, Pratts said. He pointed to a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report that says Wisconsin’s arts and culture sector can account for 2.9% of the state’s gross domestic product, providing more than 87,000 jobs and nearly $11 billion in economic activity.

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Pratts also recently cited The Arts and Economic Prosperity Study was conducted by Americans for the Arts, which measures the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture sector. A study conducted in 2022 showed that the region’s arts and culture sector generated more than this $330 million in economic activity, generated nearly $58 million in tax revenue and employed more than 4,500 people.

„States and cities across the country are realizing that planned investments in the arts and creative economy deliver social and economic prosperity,” Pratts said.

But he noted that Wisconsin lags behind other states in key components, including ranking 49th.Th Public grants for individual arts in the country.

„It’s not good,” he said.

Pratts noted that the state’s arts sector has seen 8% growth since 2020, compared to 14% nationally.

„As the largest center of economic activity in the state, Milwaukee needs to be a leader in turning this around, and we can,” he said. „Yet we are fighting an exodus of young, diverse creative professionals.”

He pointed to another complicating factor — that Milwaukee is the only city of its size in the nation without public funding of the arts, culture, entertainment and nightlife economy.

Through advocacy and other activities, the region’s arts and culture sector can be boosted, Pratts said. He pointed out The Creative MKE PodcastIt is syndicated by WUWM, the premier national public radio station in Milwaukee, which was recently renewed for another season. The podcast is a way to share „the untold stories of Milwaukee’s dynamism, excellence, and elevating the arts and changing the narrative about this city.”

Pratts and others recently met with the state’s elected representatives on Capitol Hill to push for a legislative agenda that would benefit the region’s arts and culture sector.

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„We have strong support for an amendment to the tax code that would allow people to use standard deductions and itemize their charitable contributions,” he said. „At the state and local level, we recommend that funding be increased in any way we can, whether through budget appropriations or through stand-alone bills.”

There is also a push for tax incentives to bring film and television production to Wisconsin.

„If Netflix has a documentary, if they’re sending people to a state, they’re hiring locally,” he said. „They’re contracting, they’re renting venues, they’re hiring security, hair, lighting, makeup, lodging, and it’s bringing a ton of attention to what we’re doing here.”

A healthy arts and culture sector has far-reaching and lasting economic implications, Pratts added.

„Data increasingly shows that young professionals are looking for dynamic, vibrant communities that are rich in amenities and have cultural and outdoor activities,” he said. „Talent attracts capital, and vibrant communities with the arts and a creative ecosystem at the core attract talent.”

City Development Department Commissioner Layfayette Crump pointed to a downtown plan that aims to increase the downtown population by 40,000 residents, add 15,000 housing units, including 3,000 designated affordable, and add 000,000,000 downtown jobs.

„There is no doubt that the creative economy will play a very important role in achieving these goals,” Crump said.

He also pointed out The Arts & Economic Prosperity Survey showed this Spending by arts and cultural organizations reached nearly $192 million, and spending by arts visitors exceeded $142 million annually.

„The spending in Milwaukee is more than the entire state in the country,” Crump said. „This is a powerful number and a wonderful boost to our economy.”

He emphasized that non-profit arts and cultural organizations are businesses and should be treated as such.

“Let’s say it loud and clear. „We treat our arts and cultural institutions as a completely separate part of our economy that doesn’t have the same needs or the same level of impact as other businesses,” Crump said. A significant part of the marketing and development of regions. Their act of doing business has a positive economic impact and a multiplier effect.

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Photo by Rich Rovito

Arts and culture also drives business for other local businesses, such as restaurants, bars, parking operators and babysitters, Crump said.

Jan. Dale Kooyenga, the new Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president on 2nd, replacing longtime president Tim Sheehy, stressed the importance of focusing on what makes Milwaukee unique, including its vibrant arts and culture scene.

„The story of Milwaukee art is inseparable from our business,” he said.

While supporting arts organizations in the region is vitally important, it’s also important for artists to be paid fairly for their work, said John Riebenhoff, Sculpture Milwaukee’s new executive director. An annual outdoor public sculpture exhibition focuses mainly on downtown.

„One of the first things I did was measure not only how much was spent on each sculpture in Milwaukee dollars, but how much was spent on each sculpture in Milwaukee dollars,” he said.

It is also important to introduce art to different people in the region, he said.

„Some of the biggest struggles that Milwaukee has inherited, and we still struggle with today, is staying close to the diverse population in our city,” Ribbenhoff said. „I want to encourage people to reach out and connect with different communities through art.”

Visit Milwaukee President Becky Williams-Smith noted the overlap between the creative and visitor economies in the region.

„We know that live entertainment, including the performing arts, concerts, sporting events and more, generates $400 million in economic impact from visitors alone to the Milwaukee area each year,” he said. „I fully believe that by collaborating with all the brilliant minds in our midst, we as a community can tackle some of these issues, whose resolutions will foster an even stronger creative economy that will lift up all voices and provide more futures. World-class art is being made right here in Milwaukee.”






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