By John Ceballos
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.
Jay Dick realizes that when most people think of “the arts,” they usually picture an old lady with opera glasses taking in a grand performance from her balcony seat.
“My job here is to get you to think a little differently about the arts and the creative economy,” said Dick, senior director of state and local government affairs at Americans for the Arts. “The arts are so much more. The arts are afterschool gang prevention programs, they help soldiers with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
“There is a huge amount of things that are part of the economy that feature artists.”
Dick was one of five keynote speakers during the second annual Sm(ART) Business Symposium on Friday at Southeastern University’s Bush Chapel.
He cited a 2013 study from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which revealed that arts and culture production was a $699 billion a year industry and represented about 4.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. That percentage outpaced industries such as transportation, agriculture, and construction.
According to data collected by Americans for the Arts, Polk County has 972 arts-related businesses that employ 2,465 workers.
“Unlike businesses that you have to entice to come into and settle in your county, you already have 972 businesses here that are operating every day,” Dick said. “They’re real jobs, and they’re doing a lot of great things.
“We just have to recognize and try to support them a little bit.”
The Sm(ART) Business Symposium is a partnership between the Polk Arts Alliance — the county’s designated arts agency — and Southeastern University.
“This event is really a significant part of our DNA at the university,” said Kent Ingle, Southeastern’s president. “Perhaps now more than ever in our history, there is a real need for innovative leadership because our world is changing so fast.”
Andrea Oliver-Clarke, news and public affair director at Lakeland-based Hall Communications, served as emcee.
Ingle — along with Polk Arts Alliance executive director Meri Mass, Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), and Polk County Commissioner Melony Bell — preceded the keynote speakers on stage.
“We are all about creating jobs here in the county, and it all stems from the arts,” Bell said. “When we’re looking at an industry that wants to come in, the first thing they ask is, ‘What is there to do in Polk County?'”
Burton, who formerly served as executive director of Lakeland’s Imperial Symphony Orchestra, talked about her personal connection to creative industries and how the capacity to think outside the box shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“Our creative minds are what make us human and make us who we are,” Burton said. “And it’s a wonderful thing.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Dennis Cheek, another of the event’s keynote speakers.
“The human species, beyond any other species on earth, has the capacity to think about the future,” said Cheek, executive director of the National Creativity Network and co-chair of Global Creativity United. His talk focused on the tangible impacts of America’s creative industries. “We think of innovation as the ability to take an idea and making it work in the real world.”
Tammie Nemecek, director of GrowFL, discussed the role creative thinking often plays in entrepreneurial success.
“There’s a sense of energy you get with entrepreneurs that is unlike anything else,” Nemecek said. GrowFL is a statewide economic development organization that serves second-stage growth companies. “They are as creative as any musician or any artist out there.
“If we lift up local entrepreneurs and the energy they have for their community, they’re going to give back.”
Gavin McGuire is the chief operations officer for Usher’s New Look, which was founded by the successful recording artist in 1999 and helps prepare students for careers in the entertainment industry.
McGuire relayed the story of a student who aspired to be a rapper, but is presently studying to become a sound engineer.
“We help kids see the opportunities that exist behind the scenes,” McGuire said. “I don’t say, ‘Have a Plan B,’ I say, ‘Diversify.'”
The final featured speaker was Allen Reed, creative director of Madden Brand Agency in Lakeland.
Reed took the audience into the mindset of a creative professional.
“Truthfully, I do have the best job in the world because I get to be creative every day,” Reed said. “I also have the most terrifying job in the world because I have to be creative every day.”