ArtServe Feburary Issue: Lansing cultivates a creative industry growth spurt

New data revealed in the Creative State Michigan report reinforces just how significant an impact the creative sector has on Michigan’s economy, making it more clear how crucial it is to support entrepreneurs trying to make it in creative industries in Michigan. It’s an effort the Arts Council of Greater Lansing has taken to heart, in part through ongoing activities aimed at developing creative professionals.

One such program is SmArts: A Professional Development Program for Creatives, which offers multi-faceted support for members of the council. Among the many resources offered are business consultations, workshops and creative mixers; office amenities and business tools; a fellowship program and grant programs; and an online Creative Toolkit that provides creative entrepreneurs with access to community resources, legal, financial and marketing information, information on affordable live / work space and links to funding, grants and other relevant local or online resources. So why are they doing this? Would you believe that, per capita, the Lansing area has a comparable number of arts nonprofit organizations to a city the size of Seattle? It’s one of the stats Leslie Donaldson, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, noted came out from research conducted for the council’s Cultural Economic Development Plan, launched in 2009. “We found out Lansing’s creative sector, such as graphic designers, web designers, print houses, advertising, so on, is growing,” Donaldson said. “That led us to open a number of discussions with regional partners regarding the arts as a growing sector and how the arts enhance quality of life. We talked about what we might be able to do to enhance and help grow those working in the creative industries.” The work on the Cultural Economic Development Plan for the greater Lansing region initially started in 2008. It was an interesting time, if you think about it—right in the throes of the recession.

“It initially started as a planning process that engaged the city of Lansing, East Lansing and Michigan State University,” said Donaldson. “We worked with an outside consulting firm who guided us through the process, through a series of public meetings. We completed the plan and launched it in October of 2009. Since then, we have been working regionally with partners and volunteers to work toward enhancing creative activity in the region and employ strategies that help us attract and retain talent, using arts and culture.”On a local level, Donaldson says their work over the past few years has helped open up opportunities for further partnership with their municipal community and other businesses in the greater Lansing area. One thing Donaldson has become a local expert in is the idea of creative placemaking, or the use of art and culture to jumpstart local economies and transform communities. Recently she’s spoken at a few conferences around Michigan, as other regions try to implement similar strategies. And on a larger scale, the Cultural Economic Development Plan also got the attention of the state, which Donaldson said was interested in seeing how their model could be used throughout Michigan. “I think a lot more work can be done,” Donaldson said. “I’ve had great conversations with people across Michigan about creative placemaking and how arts and culture plays a role in that.” Donaldson says she looks forward to seeing similar programs implemented in smaller communities throughout Michigan. To read the Cultural Economic Development Plan or find out more, visit