State of the Arts
“Creative economy” is more than a catchphrase in Vermont; the growth of arts- and tech-related enterprises is practically the Great (Multicolored) Hope in a state that’s low on jobs but teeming with artists and entrepreneurs. With the goal of helping nascent CE-type businesses, the Office of the Creative Economy  — itself a fledgling branch of Vermont’s Agency of Commerce & Community Development — has issued a survey to home in on their needs. It was sent to “approximately 1000” such businesses, according to Joe Bookchin, director of the OCE — and recipients were invited to pass it along to others.
The 15-question survey was “basically an outgrowth of a lot of meetings with people in the creative-economy sector; it’s a way to codify things like ‘what were the reasons for putting your business in Vermont?’ and ‘how did you find qualified employees?’” Bookchin explains. Some of the other questions asked for the “top five concerns facing your business,” which resources the business has utilized, which OCE activities would be helpful, and how the Vermont educational system “could be more responsive to your employee recruitment and retention needs.”
“Ultimately,” Bookchin says, “I think it’s about how we can help our constituents and shape our agenda.”
Another reason for the survey, he adds, is to obtain more demographic data, “so we can really chart which areas are growing and not growing, and then establish best practices to help,” Bookchin says. “Is social media working for them? Do they have access to capital?”
The OCE is focusing on four types of businesses in Vermont: computer software and game development; graphic arts, marketing and advertising; film and new media; and independent artists who have manufacturing shops. Bookchin says those “macro sectors” were derived from research at the Department of Labor, but “there are lots of gray areas.”
One of those might contain Local 64  in Montpelier, a membership-driven coworking and networking space founded in 2011 by Lars Hasselblad Torres. “Lars in particular goes beyond just supplying the space,” says Bookchin. “He reaches out and tries to help people make connections.”
Torres agrees that his place falls outside the OCE’s four macro sectors, which is why, he says, “I found it difficult to offer the insights I’d have liked [on the survey] — what I think is exciting in Vermont right now, who I see as valuable players in the creative ecology of the state, what I think could be priority investments, etc.” But Torres says he wants to see the OCE succeed, and hopes to help shape its “core programs and activities.”
Local 64 offers its own supportive opportunities to members and the public. One of them is the Pitch Kitchen, where individuals with an idea can run it by a small group of interested but impartial judges. Bookchin, who has been a judge at Pitch Kitchen, applauds “this new way of looking at how people organize themselves. It’s getting people out of their houses to be part of a collective synergy.”
A similar dynamic is at play in Vermont’s small but growing makers’ movement, Bookchin notes. “They’re a wonderful synthesis of all those ideas — software developers, putting things together. Hopefully from that, new businesses will arrive.”
Preliminary survey findings will be posted on the OCE website by February 15, Bookchin says.
For more info or to get a link to the creative economy survey, contact Joe Bookchin at 828-3618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.