Pictured: Tracy Hudak of CreativityWorks also serves on the Advisory Board of Thousand Oaks Arts Live and the steering committee of the Ventura County Economic Vitality Strategic Plan. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

by Kimberly Rivers

krivers@timespublications.com

Experts working in the areas of housing, homelessness, natural disasters, crime and gentrification are beginning to see a common thread key to solving those issues: a healthy creative economy.

Daily life is touched in many ways by the creative work of others. The pattern and colors on bed sheets, fonts on the signs of businesses, pathways and plantings in public spaces, coding in the programs and apps on smart devices, even the ads, words and layout in a newspaper — each of these experiences is built through design and, thus, part of the creative economy.

“I think about design as the goods and services that shape how we experience something. All industries have that kind of interface with either the consumer or the public,” said Tracy Hudak, director of CreativityWorks, a Ventura-based consulting company focused on the creative economy. “That element that needs to be designed, which makes the creative economy really ubiquitous, it’s really embedded in everything.”

In 2008, the Ventura County Community Foundation’s report “Ventura County and the Arts” found that the creative sector contributed $2.1 billion to the local economy, on par with agriculture that year. The 2019 State of the Region Report, produced by the Ventura County Civic Alliance, found that five percent of businesses in the county were part of the creative economy, with about 11,684 people working in the sector. Right now, a few jurisdictions in the county are incorporating the idea of fostering a strong creative economy into their community planning in a formal way.

The Ventura County General Plan, covering land use planning in the county over the next two decades, includes a new focus on the creative economy, and the city of Moorpark is beginning the process of developing a master plan for leveraging arts-targeted funding.

“The city, over the past decade or so, has sponsored half a dozen public art projects,” said Chris Ball, management analyst with the city of Moorpark. “But there has never been an overarching vision that guides the city’s public art.”

Today, the city is embarking on developing a master plan to do just that. “I really credit our city manager [Troy Brown] for bringing it forward as a priority,” said Ball. The process will result in a “community-wide vision for our public art program” and identify “feasible priorities to guide public, private partnerships over the coming decade.”

Certain new developments are charged a fee by the city to fund public art projects. “The master plan will guide how those funds are used,” said Ball.

Moorpark has contracted with Arts Orange County (AOC) to prepare the plan. Hudak with CreativityWorks is one of the contracted consultants hired by AOC to work on the project.

Hudak said a major part of this process for communities is “moving beyond the traditional concept of public art to include not just stationary art in public space like sculptures and murals, but also festivals, concerts, pop up events.” Stakeholders begin to recognize the important ripple effect one individual creative worker can have across a community. She mentioned a fine art painter who works as an independent contractor doing graphic design work for local businesses who also teaches art in the local public schools, teaches free art classes at the local community center on the weekends and founded a nonprofit organization using the arts to support survivors of domestic violence.

This highlights the way the “creative process” works “with entrepreneurship to benefit the community across public, private and commercial sectors,” said Hudak.

“We really don’t have info on the economic impact of the arts; [Hudak] brings some of that expertise,” said Ball. He sees a part of this process as bringing that information to light. “We recognize the value of arts as an economic driver, and for a small community like Moorpark, if we can leverage our arts program, to bring people here, to drive business in the community, it’s a win-win on many different levels.”

Hudak says that shifts are happening locally leading to new discussions. “Ventura County is getting more specific about the issues it is facing — negative migration of young families, housing and the pressure of gentrification in a coastal town,” said Hudak. These issues require a focus on “creating the conditions so artists can stay and do their thing.”

“The Thomas Fire had no small role in building the willingness of local leadership and decision makers to look at new ways of defining and fostering community success,” said Hudak. Hudak with the Ventura County Arts Council conducted a study, forum series and grant program specific to working artists impacted by the fire. She said in seeing how the creative sector was particularly impacted by the fire, community leaders began really looking at “how to bring together ideas around cultural and economic success. These ideas were latent, but not activated. The fire and aftermath have helped some communities express new ideas.”

Local leadership has “work to do to bridge the gap… to grow our capacity for resilience,” said Hudak. But it’s not just leaders; the creatives themselves have an important role.

She previously served as the arts impact director for downtown Oxnard. She called it “such a visionary, cool project. It brought business owners, artists, and cultural organizations together around wanting to share what everybody loves about downtown Oxnard, and create ways of inviting people to explore the district.”

She witnessed a shift when city leadership changed and the artists themselves took a larger role in implementing the program. Hudak noted that councilmembers or city managers “have these ideas but then they end up moving on. It really woke me to the fact that the arts can’t expect local governments to be the drivers of this, that we have to be the drivers.”

Ventura County is working through the challenges of building a healthy economy in the 21st century, and beginning to understand the important role of the creative sector in that vision for the future.

For more information about the Ventura County General Plan, visit vc2040.org/review/documents. For details about the Ventura County Arts Council and CreativityWorks Thomas Fire Recovery Grant program, visit creativityworksvc.com/making-it-forum-series.