Category Archives: Creative economy

Counting On The Arts

The most recent biennial Colorado Business Committee for the Arts Economic Activity Study has been released. It uses Scientific and Cultural Facilities District raw numbers in a statistical model developed by Deloitte Consulting using U.S. Department of Commerce multiplier data. In short,  “quantifying the economic and social relevance of arts, cultural and scientific organizations in the metro area.” I’m a geek for this because I live it everyday. Sort of, anyway.

The study can’t measure how much individual artists pump into the economy when they take your $500 dollar check downtown to buy art supplies (and maybe a beer or two), but it can give a hint. It measures numbers reported by organizations, such as the SCFD-supported Art Students League of Denver, which pays me to teach your children- and you- art in the 21st Century economy, which is screaming for workers with creative skills.

I keep it handy and quote from it often, not only to shut up the troglodytes who think art is an indulgence not relevant in the “real world” of business and NFL football, but to reinforce those of us who encounter art every day, and think it matters, but can’t really describe why. You can get one, too, it’s published for free distribution thanks to business sponsors. There’s more info about the CBCA at cbca.org. But I’ll be posting nuggets from it, along with some of the striking graphics, periodically here.

A reminder: The deadline for my next “Monotypes for Advanced Beginners is less than a week away. You can register here: https://asld.modvantage.com/Instructor/Bio/1053/joe-higgins

Time Machine

Do you Instagram? If so, follow me at @JoeHigginsMonotypes. I enjoy posting Instagrams from museums, where there are often many architectural subjects to explore. This one was taken at the Clifford Still Museum.
Do you Instagram? If so, follow me at @JoeHigginsMonotypes. I enjoy posting Instagrams from museums, where there are often many architectural subjects to explore. This one was taken at the Clifford Still Museum.

September! It’s the best month for a vacation, don’t you think? When I had a regular job, I always reserved a couple of weeks in September for traveling, or just for hanging around the house or in museums. But one casualty of the creative life is often free time. Make no mistake- I’m free to schedule my time, and I enjoy that. But the necessity of creating cash flow to pay off previous health, framing or other business costs when sales don’t cover them often leads to a lack of unscheduled  time, especially during prime months.

Today is a beautiful day and an unexpected day off. My temp job at the bookstore will not need me to cover vacations till next week. I am trying to catch up a few tasks today, and then I’m giving myself a vacation, too. I’ll need it! I have another job coming behind this one that will be interesting- fabricating art for installations here and in other cities. But it will again make downtime scarce.

Artists also need to schedule studio time, and it’s easy to put on the back burner, especially when paying debts off. But again, the ability to give myself regular studio time doesn’t feel like obligation- it feels like freedom. It’s necessary, and art work suffers when I don’t print regularly, but creative hours don’t constrain the mind; they actually stretch it.

I’m lucky- and grateful- that some of my various part-time jobs actually help me to engage my creative life. I checked my 4-week monotype workshop and it just barely filled. So vacation postponed for Tuesday, and part of Wednesday too, as I have a DPL workshop at Schlessman Library that evening. However, the workshops will be a return to art in an unusually important sense for me. I recently alluded to the notion of writing about books in my posts to process what they mean to me. The same is true of teaching printmaking. My monotype workshops are intended to address the frustrations of trying to incorporate our creative lives into our daily lives. With that in mind, I try to engender a spirit of camraderie, exploration and spontaneity into the proceedings all while trying to instill disciplined habits and a professional manner in the print room. When there are 7 fellow artists in one studio, one must be mindful. But that mindfulness is a precious gift, to me.

I’m usually rusty after a break from studio anyway ( it’s been over 3 months) so the simple physical act of making demo prints and re-establishing good print room habits is valuable in the sense that body memory is a useful physical discipline. But the conversation will also help me get my mind back to my real work as well. In helping others solve creative problems, I’ll loosen up my own creative muscles. I often stay after my class and work on my own things – I have the ink and tools out anyway. I’m hoping to hit the ground running this fall and produce some large work. I’ll try to post more about my various projects this fall, though I really love the book blurbs too, so I’ll be posting those, as well.

But Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week I’m putting down to reading, museums, soccer and puttering about the house. The weather should be good, and my last big paycheck will arrive Friday. It’s been a long, productive summer (except art making) so I’m going to reap my reward: time. Studio time is as valuable as a glass of wine and a good book in warm golden September sun, and I’m going to try to get a little of both before the first frost hits.

 

 

Riding on the Metro

Having to work means less time for social media. Fortunately, there’s public transportation for catching up. I can check email, Twitter and Facebook on the way to the University of Denver.
I can also blog, thanks to Blogger’s iPhone app. I have a larger post in “drafts”, but chose to post this instead, because it’s hard to concentrate on revisions when the Foothills are glowing with a new coat of snow on a mild Spring day.

Fear of a Mac Planet

Fear of a Mac Planet


An artist/instructor where I teach responded to my casual suggestion that faculty could communicate and resolve various routine issues among themselves by using a dedicated Facebook group with: “I’M NOT GOING ON FACEBOOK; I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR FACEBOOK!” So much for the social media revolution. 

Perhaps she’s one of the few who have realized the Romantic Dream: making enough sales at a sufficient price level to not need to worry about marketing her work. If so, she should tone down the vehemence of her reaction- it makes her sound like a raving technophobe. 

The rest of us will be making time for social media, thank you. One thing about leaving your day job, you DO have more time, but money, not so much. So social media, which is mostly free, becomes pretty huge. 

It is time consuming to do right, meaning: get a conversation going. Facebook and blogs require promotion. Twitter is reviled, even by Facebook and blogging afficianados, but if you devote regular time, it is easier to get its mostly younger, more savvy adherents talking, thus getting yourself into conversations you just can’t enter in “real” life, such as at art openings. Or even on Facebook or the blogosphere. I suspect that some who put down Twitter and other social media are just not that comfortable with the idea of meeting new people online. 

I’ve had some success devoting Monday mornings and Friday afternoons to my various media accounts, with random tweets and posts thrown in when I have time. I’m also experimenting with using the Light Rail more for commuting, thus converting that time to productivity through social media and blogging apps on my phone.  I try to apply that to blogging, but writing is not a spontaneous activity for me, so it’s easy to postpone. It’s clear “I don’t have time for blogging,” but I would never admit that I’m not trying to make time. Social media is not going away, no matter how much it scares you.

The picture is a “mash-up” of sorts, in which I cut up old failed prints and reassembled with some new ink on top. It’s designed to have a number of discrete textures and visual timbres while conforming to a new, somewhat abstract, whole. What is your reaction?

Going Mobile

I just downloaded the Blogger app and wanted to see if I can post from my phone.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the train lately, and the ability to update my Twitter accounts and check email has turned wasted (and annoying) time in my car into fairly productive time on the way to my temp job at Denver University.

I don’t get quite as much NPR listening this way, though there’s actually an app for that, too.

If you’re wondering, there is a WordPress app as well. I’ve already downloaded it, though my WordPress website is stalled until next week when the temp job ends. When I import the Blogger Squishtoid into WordPress, I’ll try it out and compare the two. Stay tuned.

I’ll also be blogging from the road when I go back to my Upstate NY hometown in Mid-February.

The word “economy” refers primarily to the movement of a nation’s resources; and secondarily, to an attempt to spend less. This sums up President Obama’s “balanced” approach to stimulus and deficit cutting, in that order. Polls show this agenda is favored by a majority of Americans.


The GOP-dominated Congress has a radically different set of priorities, obviously, and we won’t go into that now, other than to note that more Americans favor a Communist takeover than favor Congress right now.

‘Nuff said.

The underlying issue, when to spur on, and when to rein in, spending is one every household and small business faces daily. For example, it would be counter-productive for me to stop spending on nice new frames for fine art prints, though I’d love to spend on nice new art books. So it’s off to the library I go.

Ironically, it’s schools and libraries and art museums that are the first to feel the blind GOP hackings, but I promised not to get into that.

So when non-profits come soliciting, it’s easy to reflexively squeeze the coppers, but there’s solid evidence that that’s the worst thing we could do.

* Colorado’s creative enterprises employed 122,000 people, according to a 2008 study. Another 64,000 worked in creative occupations in other sectors, for a total of 5 billion in earnings.
* This ranked as the 5th largest cluster of jobs in the Colorado economy, almost at large as IT and Biotech, and larger than Agribusiness.
* Creative occupations were expected to grow by 30-45% in the next 10 years, exceeding the state growth rate of 25%.
While these numbers undoubtedly pre-date the Bush recession, the potential for creative enterprise to help us climb out is clear. So I’m asking you to consider giving to the creative sector on Colorado Gives Day, Dec. 6th.

And here’s why: A consortium of Colorado foundations, including the First Bank Incentive Fund, will be increasing each donation. For this penny-pinching artist, that’s an offer I can’t refuse. Shall we call it “Gold Tuesday”?

And since’s it’s my blog, I’m going to tell you where the Squish’s hard-earned fun tokens are going. The Art Students League of Denver, which employs many creatives itself ( ahem), and which goes a long way toward filling in the gaps left in the state’s education budget. I can tell you first hand that many who come to the League on a lark, wind up contributing to the state’s creative economy.

I won’t quibble with those who contribute to any charity, creative or not. It’ll put money in circulation where it’s needed most, and take people off the street. That’s leadership! Just promise me we won’t start acting like… Congress.

Cold ‘fusion


Winter finally did arrive here, 6-7 inches worth, along with the frigid local tradition known as “Stock Show Weather”, named after the National Western Stock Show.


I don’t mind. We need the moisture; it’d been mostly 50’s with sun all through December- and I have a long list of computer projects to catch up on. Checking my pantry- veggie burgers, beans, bacon- Hey! Somebody send beer, quick!

Well, never mind. Weather droid says it’ll be back to 50 by the end of the week, anyway. So now’s a good time to sit down and focus on some computer projects.

I’ve become a new member at ZIP37 Gallery, and my contribution there is to take over the Twitter account( stop laughing, please). I’ve actually been tweeting more on my own account, @hggns, as a result of walking into a soccer party, and one of the young tech-savvy friends there saying: “Boy, you don’t tweet much, do you?” Well, no. But I knew I was a logical candidate for running the ZIP account, when one of the other, similarly middle-aged, artists confessed that she hadn’t figured out how to make labels on the computer yet.

So I’m trying. Twitter lists me with 35 followers, and 189 tweets. I’m informed that I’ve been listed in “Good Tweets 2” by a fellow tweeter in the creative economy, and I hope to find what that is (Is there a cash award?) , but I’m honored. And in my own defense, for the first two years of my Twitter account, I didn’t actually own a cell phone.

Now I’m trying to get in the habit of tweeting on a regular basis, and taking over the ZIP account fits right in with that. I’ll also be posting video of each show to the Zip Facebook page, something I started doing when I took over The Class VI Colorado Rapids Supporters Group page, all of which actually fits in with stuff I want to do on my Joe Higgins Monotypes page. I may be confused and over-extended now, but soon I’ll be very tech-savvy, and over-extended. Or maybe I’ll just retire to the bar.

Any way, check back here and on my Facebook page ( link at right) soon, as I’m reading up on how to better use them, and there will be interesting changes ongoing. I promise I won’t be videotaping the inside of my pocket, as I did the first time I set out to create content for Class VI.

Checkin’ the List

Sun breaking through the clouds after a gray morning; shimmering on the lake, shining on dry fallen leaves. I’m on my second pot of coffee, catching up on blog and Facebook posting, and sorting work for a group show at Zip37 gallery.
Last year at this time, I didn’t have a lot to do, so I mostly read. It was very relaxing, but I was dead broke, to be honest, which isn’t that much fun. I realized that I needed new revenue streams, however small, to tide me through the slow months, when there were no major shows.
So I got to work, dropping off flyers at art supply stores to fill workshops, going on eBay to sell books for extra, well, book money, and doing odd jobs for friends and family. I even got a temporary job, filling in at a college bookstore. Now things are better, but I don’t really have a lot of time to read. I decided to fix that, and walked up to the branch library to pick up some books. First one I saw was a Facebook Marketing for Dummies type of thing, and since my marketing has been sort of… dumb, I picked it up. A real busman’s holiday, there! Now I’ve joined a co-op gallery in North Denver where I can have work available all the time, but of course, I need to frame work to fill the wall. And on and on.
But as I learned from the temporary bookstore job, it’s a lot more fun to plan your own tasks than have them assigned to you ( though the bookstore is a very pleasant place to work). I’m not really killing myself, but there is usually something on my to-do list. None of which provides a regular paycheck, but all of which seems related to the overall cause. Even the studio time is pretty un-romantic right now. I haven’t really created any new images in a month. I’ve mostly been inking etching plates to complete my many unfinished editions, some of which will become holiday gifts, others which will be offered for sale in the gallery and next summer’s shows.
People don’t have a lot of understanding of what artists do. Some romanticize it, making reference to some sort of vaguely divine gift while protesting that they can’t even “draw a stick figure”. I tell them that it’s mostly about working at it, putting in time, practicing, but they don’t really want to hear that, I guess. Some are a bit patronizing; “you are so lucky to be able to do what you want”, and some frankly, are plain clueless- “I want you to paint my child’s wall with a unicorn.”
If the long litany of little tasks that fill my days sounds like complaining, let me reassure you- I’m having a great time. But the arts are this state’s 5th largest employer, and contribute greatly to the slowly improving economy. Let’s stop pretending it’s magic, or child’s play, or some sort of overgrown hobby, though all those are certainly part of it. Mostly it’s just hard work.
One more factoid- your holiday dollars, when spent on the arts, tend to return very quickly into your local economy (try me!). Unlike Walmart, the arts work very hard for your money.

Millions of Monkeys…

…are, as we speak, whompin’ away randomly at millions of surplus, “Front Page”-era Remington typewriters (two or three per simian, typewriters are cheap! free, even) in a warehouse not far from the dark, 70’s chintz of Herb’s Hideout on Larimer, where Jack Kerouac once roamed looking for meaning in Denver’s tenderloin, poetry to match the mountains. They are hard at work on the long-promised Squishtoid Manifesto. I may as well let the monkeys do it, since I have no clue. Like a lot of people, I’ve been busy trying to survive.

It has been nearly a year since I stumbled out of the machine-like florescent hum of my day job, into the harsh light of possibility. A vague plan for creative entrepreneurship was tapping away in my head. Art and self- realization awaited. But the manifesto (and the business plan) didn’t… manifest. There was quite a bit of day-to-day grind to leaving the day-to-day grind behind. And naturally, finding and affording health care is a big worry. Nowadays, many find their work choices defined not by their vision for their careers, but by the need for health care.

It’s not really my intention to inject huge amounts of political opinion into this blog, but the framing narrative here is the struggle to have an independent creative/working life, and there can be no doubt that the ongoing culture wars, as well as the health care reform controversy that stems from them, affect that directly, so it’s kind of hard to avoid. And America, in putting off resolution of this issue for 60 years, has made it harder to solve it.

 Nixon proposed a health care plan very similar to the one we’ve just passed, and Betty Ford advocated choice and the era. But that was the old GOP. The right wing, as they gutted the old GOP, also ratcheted the scope of American democracy further and further right. As resources dwindled, priorities changed. We have to make good choices. But the right wing shouters and haters have consistently downsized the definition not just of the American dream, but of American. And how did Wal Mart become the model for what employment should offer us? There is something appalling about allowing corporations (not to mention rich politicians) to decide who does, and who does not, receive health care in a free society. 

The old saw that Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work has never been more apropos. America, as a country, has never figured out why we work, and it has turned the notion of time well spent into a zero-sum game. We measure ourselves in material wealth rather than health and happiness, so we shouldn’t be surprised when the system demands that we devote our ever shrinking free time to securing the basics that much of the rest of the world has long ago figured out how to make, well, basic. Dreams get postponed. education suffers, kids suffer, retirement suffers. The middle class is a vanishing oasis, the electronics store our stress relief, with VISA the ticket to entry. It’s not a healthy way to live, physically or as a culture, and bingo! here come the number crunchers to tell us why we as a nation, can’t have health care. Though ironically, as a society, we devote tremendous resources to convincing ourselves why something can’t be done. We need a few dreamers. 

I figured I fit the bill. My timing wasn’t great, in the middle of a recession, but it was an old story- the corporation was eying the pension to maintain profits, in the current political climate, it was sort of use it or lose it. In taking the plunge I stepped into the middle of a debate that was no less about dreams than it was about reality.

 The far right doesn’t seem to believe in the American dream. The existing system, in which workers receive health care only at the sufferance of their employer or corporate health insurance concerns, presents workers with little flexibility in terms of striking out on their own, long a wellspring of entrepreneurial creativity that has fueled the American economy. The American dream has always encompassed everything from real estate licenses to hot dog carts, but now is expected to show a profit. If your dream- or your health- doesn’t conform to the business plan, you must not be an American. Is it work for its own sake that forms the dream, or independence? The desire to see the society and its dreams move forward is obviously great as evidenced in the current political mantra “Yes, we can”. 

Isn’t independence why people leave their jobs; why they work for peanuts in the first place? Do people work at Walmart because they are just opposed to decent wages and health care? Society benefits when people apply their talents to produce. It is not properly society’s aim to put everyone to work in a dead end job. Yet when the fundamental question of providing the basics of a productive work force- education and health care- arise, we get the the party of “No we can’t”. When government lacks imagination, and representatives go to Washington simply to be reelected, the American dream withers.

 Health care reform is a simple commonsense idea that strictly by the numbers will more efficiently channel resources while simultaneously ensuring freedom to venture out into our dreams. It nearly got talked to death. Because there are always reasons to be found not to do something. I know. I could have stayed in the safety of corporate retail hoping the Corporation felt like funding health care. But like a lot of people in middle age these days, I was far too young to be coasting into old age, and what could it possibly profit a society to keep me or anyone in such a state of inertia? According to filmy sentimentalism of the brokerage house commercials, our generation is redefining retirement, yet the mechanisms of our own society haven’t kept pace. It is a contradiction of the American Dream- in order to guarantee ourselves quality health care, we have to do the thing that the capitalist heroes like Steve Forbes have always advised us not to do: postpone, downsize, sublimate our dreams. How unhealthy! As we shrank the American dream, we made it more likely that we, as a culture, will do nothing special. And by the law of diminishing returns, we risked decline.

 The health care crisis, as most have realized by now wasn’t about efficiency, but about the Reaganite desire to shrink government arbitrarily. Like those monkeys, the right banged purposelessly away at one key “tax, tax, tax”, hoping no one would notice that there was no vision, and no faith in America. But our government is, by definition, a vision, and tax just a tool. In trying to shrink government, they sought to shrink the definition of “American”. Health care reform, far from the radical takeover the extremists have cast it as, is simply a return to the freedom to shape our own dreams. Far from a government takeover, it is a populist takeover. In an America that is still struggling to move forward from the wars, recession and huge deficits of the Bush years, can we really afford to spend far too much money on a system that limits our ability to have independent innovation? 

There are still tough choices to be made. In this case the right choice was made. I’m feeling better about my personal choices too, now the economy is showing signs of recovery, though I may still need to get a job to make them work. Our health care system is somewhat more rational and user friendly, though premiums will undoubtedly be a stretch, and fixes will be needed. But it’s far more adaptable to changing needs. The road to creative entrepreneurship will always be tough, but at least the road is a bit clearer of obstacles. I have a clearer vision of what is possible. 

Is it possible to get those monkeys going on that manifesto? I might have to give it time. But anything’s possible- after 60 years, we got Washington to believe in the American Dream.