Artists, musicians, designers and those in other creative fields in Traverse City may have opportunities that weren’t available previously, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office (MFDMO). Exactly who will benefit and how is yet to be determined, but officials are hopeful the $300,000 grant will act as seed money to set up self-sustaining efforts in the various creative industries.

It is all part of a statewide endeavor to identify ways in which Michigan can promote the so-called creative economy, which according to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Statistics, employs about 90,000 people.

“We need to get a handle on how to attract creative talent to the area,” says Kent Wood, the director of government relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, who is serving as the point person for the efforts. For those individuals who are already in the area or those who are just harnessing their creative skills, Wood says the challenge is to keep them here by offering jobs that utilize their talents.

Traverse City was one of five cities in the state selected for the pilot program. The other participating communities are Marquette, Grand Rapids, Detroit and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. Nearly $1.5 million will be shared among the five regions.

Wood says the creative industries touch on a number of areas. They include film, audiovisual and broadcasting; design, creative technology; fashion, garment and textile; advertising; literary, publishing and print; architecture; music; art schools, artists and agents; performing arts; culture and heritage; visual arts and craft; and culinary industries, including food, wine, beer and distilling. “Those are all creative, part of the big umbrella,” he says.

Determining ways to use the funds to attract and retain individuals in those admittedly creative yet disparate fields will be a challenge. The pilot program requires community input for each region to find their own best ways to help such industries prosper, according to MFDMO Commissioner Jenell Leonard. The groups are not being told by the state how to spend the funds, but in Wood’s words are going to “let local solutions happen organically.”

“Every economy is different and at different stages,” continues Wood. “The creative indicators are different (in) Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor or here.” That’s why he says the initial stages will include focus groups with individuals associated with creative endeavors. “Then we want to come up with an advisory committee or board that will help to determine the needs and where the grant money should go.”

Doug Luciani, CEO of Traverse CONNECT, the Chamber of Commerce’s parent company, says this area competes with other communities in the nation and the world in a struggle to attract creative talent. He believes the Creative Alliance grant program should help the Traverse City region retain and attract talent, particularly millennials who want to live, work and play in vibrant, engaging communities. That’s especially important as many of those born after 1982—the so-called millennials—work in creative industries.

The grants for all five communities also include incentives to create strategies that continue past the funding term. Wood says it is important that whatever projects the funding is spent on are self-sustainable.

“Creativity is an essential part of the state’s heritage of innovation, which can be seen from the automotive industry to the arts,” Leonard says. “Further building the creative economy is a central part of fostering the entrepreneurial spirit and culture that makes Michigan a great place to live and work.”

Work in Northern Michigan:

Photo(s) by Taylor Brown