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The following paper attempts to establish the presence of the emerging “creative class” and accompanying design movement across industries in the United States and their demonstrated potential for solving politically intractable problems.

First, I provide examples of the current shortcomings and failings within the American political machine, particularly highlighting the present ideologies and philosophical mindsets when conducting “business-as-usual”.

Second, I provide evidence of the emerging “creative economy” and design movement burgeoning in globally influential industries such as business and education. I describe the features, changes, and potential impact of these movements on society, in general.

Third, I connect our political problems with the potential answers provided by those in creative and design-oriented industries. I provide examples where this is already happening and professional research in support of my view.

Many of the sources I use to support my thesis come from a wide variety of sources, some outside traditional peer-reviewed journals. This is done strategically, in an effort to most accurately examine current and emerging cross-disciplinary thought on these issues, most of which has not yet been studied in academia.


“I believe that creativity will be the currency of the 21st century.”

–Gerald Gordon, Ph.D., President/CEO, Fairfax County (Virginia) Economic Development Authority

It is the purpose of this paper to spark a new vision for solving our political and economic problems as a nation through the innovation and creativity brought to bear by those of America’s “creative class”. Richard Florida, in his book The Rise of the Creative Class, declares that if a person is a “scientist or engineer, an architect or designer, a writer, artist or musician, or if you use your creativity as a key factor in your work in business, education, health care, law, or some other profession, you are a member.”[i] Throughout my research, I found that the rise of such a class has not only been corroborated by others in various industries, but it has been followed by the rise of a “creative economy” and design movement.

The myriad of seemingly-intractable problems in Washington have, in many ways, hit a wall of ideologies and philosophies, serving to hinder any possibly solution. We have seen this, time and again, in recent years with a deeply-divided Congress, desperate grabs for power, and discontent among the American people. Culminating in the failure of the “super-committee” and the growing strength of fringe movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, much of what we are experiencing goes beyond differences of opinion: Washington’s current strategy for economic growth and positive societal change is clearly not working.

Given the current state of affairs, it has become clear that a new paradigm is needed, a different approach demanded. The world has drastically changed in the past ten years, and it is essential for those in power to not only acknowledge this but to adjust to it. Other mega-industries see what lies on the horizon and are making necessary changes: it is time for Washington to follow suit. Florida attests that “the task before us is to build new forms of social cohesion appropriate to the new Creative Age—the old forms don’t work, because they no longer fit the people we’ve become.”[ii] Indeed, across the board, industries are burgeoning with young entrepreneurs and design-oriented start-ups in order to cope with economic pressures, and in many ways, indirectly solve what our leaders in Washington have been unable to.

The potential of this “creative class” to provide positive change goes beyond economic contributions. Their undeniable link to the arts and culture of our society provide a different paradigm in which to examine our political issues. Examples of this are given in the Ford Foundation study entitled “Animating Democracy”: “the potential of art to create indelible images, to express difficult ideas through metaphor, and to communicate beyond the limits of language makes it a powerful force for illuminating the civic experience.”[iii] Though largely underutilized in America, this is precisely the type of mindset being implemented in national governments across the globe from China to the United Kingdom. The ability of the arts and artists (across disciplines) to transcend medium and think “outside-the-box” may be just what Washington requires.


The Tea Party movement. The Occupy movement. The failed “super-committee”. The health care debacle. Surely, our friends and leaders in Washington are aware that their current problem-solving strategy is neither efficient nor effective. Unemployment has maintained its claim on over nine percent of Americans. The national deficit and debt continue to rear their ugly heads, as if sneering at the paltry attempts of Congressmen to solve an intractable dilemma. In many ways, these problems are not completely novel; our forefathers saw them—now it is our turn. However, the complexities and confluence of such issues serve to confound our generation, even the most highly educated and most powerful. This is reiterated in “Animating Democracy”: “the crosscutting nature of today’s complex issues often places them outside the traditional structures and settings…which have served in the past to organize civic discourse.”[iv] Not only do we not understand how to solve our problems, but we don’t even know how to talk about them. Additionally, in IBM’s Global CEO Study from 2010, they found that “today’s complexity is only expected to rise, and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it.”[v] Seemingly, those holding positions of power in our nation are at a loss as to how to make progress on the issues they face.

In some ways, this loss of effectiveness may be linked to a loss of civic engagement, sparked by a superficial relationship with the American people. The Ford Foundation study found that “the failure of the political process and the media to engage local-level issues that speak directly to what people care about most is a key source of Americans’ disengagement from the civic realm.”[vi] In an increasingly isolated and disjointed society, people crave intimacy and relationship at any level. IBM acknowledges this when they state that “successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number one priority.”[vii] When those needs are not met, consumers and constituents disengage; in many ways, the distance created between leader and follower can be linked to psychology. The American people have changed, and like any healthy relationship, the partner must acknowledge and learn how to cope with these changes. This has not happened with our leaders on Capitol Hill. They remain baffled and burdened. Thus, the emergence of a new paradigm, a new way of doing business must answer the call.


In the past decade, leaders in various industries have been announcing the arrival of what has been dubbed “a ‘creative economy’…following in historical succession our agriculture, industrial and information-based economies.”[viii] Daniel Pink concurs in his book A Whole New Mind when he says, “we are moving from an economy and society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and society built on the inventive, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”[ix] Again, the editor-in-chief of Fast Company magazine opines that there are “two economies at work…one is traditional…not changing much [and]…there’s the innovation economy….a triangle of new thinking centered around the tech world…entertainment world…and the marketing world.”[x]

This new era, as many have declared it, is based on far different principles than that which has preceded it, requiring unique capabilities of its workers. IBM’s study found that among its 1,500 interviewed CEOs across the globe, they identified “creativity [as] the most important leadership quality.”[xi] Additionally, CEOs found that “they must equip their entire organization to be a catalyst for creativity.”[xii] A far cry from the current knowledge-based employee economy, the Americans for the Arts found that “employers believe that applied skills [including creativity] will surpass basic knowledge” in the coming years.[xiii] These documented trends indicate that the need has arisen for a different type of leadership, namely creative leadership, from the local to the national level.

Inherent in this new economy is the use of design and innovation as a competitive advantage for America, winning jobs, revenue, and economic prosperity.[xiv] This has become increasingly clear with the advent of companies such as Apple, Tumblr, and other design-based operations. As a result of the innovative products created by such corporations, “there’s been a resurgence in appreciation of design in consumer products.”[xv] This concept has even found its way into the Occupy movement, where its “design identity has been defined by the ingenuity [of]…its supporters.”[xvi] The key to positively utilizing these trends is harnessing them in favor of stimulating economic growth and increased competition.


Thus far, we have established the brokenness of our current political system, the materialization of a new creativity and design movement, and now we turn to look at the ways in which the political sector can take advantage of the aforementioned movements, harnessing their power and influence to answer pressing political and societal concerns. There are many ways in which this may occur, and the following section is not meant to serve as an all-inclusive examination of all the possibilities rendered by a holistic integration of art and design into the political sphere, but rather, showcases the ways in which it may be applied.

Because art possesses a nature which inclines it to be a “neutral and ‘safe’ place in which people feel comfortable enough to engage in difficult discussion”, incorporating artistic strategies into constituent communication may help to drive civic discussion and buy-in.[xvii] In an arena which obviously lacks the ability to even create the space necessary to pursue deep and meaningful debate and discussion, the “creative class” may be able to provide necessary mediation. Indeed, “meaningful dialogue depends on effective facilitation”, and this is something we have been lacking which the “creative class” may be able to provide.[xviii] Admittedly, “artists continue to offer new ways of seeing and thinking about the world.”[xix] It is precisely this alternate vision of reality which may hold the key to removing the blockage hindering political, economic, and social breakthrough.

A fresh focus on creativity and design when coupled with a dissimilar industry may ironically produce necessary change. Linda Tischler of Fast Company asserts that “if you study American history, you see that when innovation has been married to good design, it has yielded unprecedented economic growth.”[xx] Additionally, “the overlap [of industries] is where the greatest innovation is happening.”[xxi] All the more reason to experiment with the creation of interconnectedness between art and design industries and our leaders on Capitol Hill. The “complexities of globalization” faced by our nation’s leaders may be buffered by the mediation and innovation provided by our “creative class”.[xxii]

Foreign relations, a growing concern for the United States, may also benefit from this marriage of creativity and Congress. The Americans for the Arts concluded at its 2009 annual conference that “because of the power of the arts to transcend differences and communicate across cultures, participants agreed on the need to assert a more visible and active role for the arts in improving the relations between the United States and the world.”[xxiii] They identified the fact that the arts’ “arsenal of art forms and capabilities are uniquely suited to support larger government and interagency activities designed to increase cultural understanding among nations.”[xxiv] As the American people have witnessed the disintegration of many foreign relationships due to ineffective oral negotiation or cultural misunderstandings, we have at our fingertips an “arsenal” with which to stimulate, repair, and transcend many obstacles in these relationships.

Much of my research led me to the realization that the United States seems to be behind the curve ball in this integration of art and design into political life. China has established over 1000 new design schools over the past ten years.[xxv] The United Kingdom has established a parliamentary program entitled “Democracy by Design”. This educational initiative “combines art, communication design, and politics to engage young people with Parliament and democracy.”[xxvi] They understand the significance of integrating art and design with the political process. The purpose of the initiative is stated as taking “a creative approach to engaging young people with politics, as well as giving the students a chance to experience learning in a higher education environment.”[xxvii] This is a win-win situation. The younger generation is gaining exposure to the political process, hopefully encouraging buy-in, and political leaders are benefitting from the creativity brought to bear by the emerging “creative class”.


Despite the multitude of benefits derived from an interdependent relationship between the “creative class” and our political leaders, one would be remiss to conclude without mentioning some of the potential obstacles to such a collaboration. First, there is the issue of measured evaluation. As our national bureaucracy has taken on the nature of a traditional, large business corporation over the years, the idea of measurable outcomes has become an essential element of any new initiative or potential change. Even advocates for this creative collaboration have voiced that “there is a recognized lack of serious, outcome-based evaluation” in place for the type of work conducted by the “creative class”.[xxviii] This surely presents an obstacle to adoption by those currently in-house, but the idea that everything must have a measurable outcome is, in many ways and in many sectors, outdated and will likely require adjustment to a certain degree.

A second obstacle is the pace at which change occurs within the current political structure. The implementation of creativity “requires a certain fluidity and tolerance for change that can be hard to manage, especially in a corporate context.”[xxix] This shortcoming presents marked difficulty, but, as presented above, creativity is essential—not optional—for the success of any organization, particularly one so global as our national government. Working closely with the “creative class” in developing solutions for societal problems is no longer a preference but a necessity.

The current relationship between our creative industries and our political system is purely economic, if present at all. As a country, “we make design decisions that reflect our personal, social, political, aesthetic and economic desires…as such, they reflect our ideas and ideals.”[xxx] In many ways, the United States currently holds an outdated position in this regard. At the present, we are seeing a general disregard and misunderstanding of the potential of design and creativity to shape not only our economic future in the for-profit sector, but its potential to benefit our public sector as well. We can no longer ignore the warning signs; our present course of action is failing.

The emerging dominance of the “creative class” in multiple industries across the globe provides a vision in which creativity and design serve to provide much-needed insight and innovation in the public sphere. Their newfound power and influence may prove vital to the continued health and prosperity of our political system and, consequently, our nation and world. “Animating Democracy” summarizes the myriad of ways in which those in our creative industries may contribute to positive political and societal change: “the arts in general can express difficult ideas through metaphor; transcend the obvious to imagine solutions; communicate beyond the limits of language; serve as a herald to raise awareness about an issue; gather diverse publics for interaction at a common physical site; [and] transcend established social and political boundaries.”[xxxi] There is no other class of people or another group of industries with such a wealth of potential problem-solving capacity as those in our creative fields. It is time for Washington to take a good hard look at their situation and face the music


Bacon, Barbara Shaffer, Cheryl Yuen, and Pam Korza. Animating Democracy: The Artistic Imagination as a Force in Civic Dialogue.http://www.artsusa.org/animatingdemocracy/pdf/reading_room/Animating_Democracy_Study.pdf This study, commissioned by the Ford Foundation, explores the ways in which the arts can add to political and civic discourse. Specifically, it identifies trends showing that constituents may respond more positively to the fresh perspective that art provides. I use this to bolster my claim that increased interaction between the artistic community and political community is not only necessary but becoming more established by recognized research and professionals.

Bryant, Martin. “For Startups, Great Design is More Important Than Ever.” Entrepreneur, November 19, 2011. Bryant explores the notion that design has become increasingly more important to consumers in recent years, necessitating new businesses to develop more complex design-based strategies. I use this article to support my thesis that design is becoming increasingly important in consumer-based industries and thus is more important to the average constituent. Politicians must realize this and act accordingly.

“Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study.” IBM Institute for Business Value: New York, 2010. This study, published by IBM, includes the results of surveys given to over 1500 CEOs of major corporations who (1) see the increasing complexities within their field and (2) identify creativity as the most necessary attribute leaders must now possess to handle these complexities. This publication provides invaluable insight into the changes and needs of today’s business world; I use this to cite another cross-disciplinary example of creativity being utilized to solve problems, advising politicians to recognize and implement these ideas as well.

“Final Report: The Role of the Arts in Educating American for Great Leadership and Economic Strength.” Report presented at the annual conference for the Americans for the Arts, Sundance, UT, September 23-25, 2010. This report provides support for the idea that the creativity and innovation cultivated by the arts will have a significant impact on providing our economy and government with the competitive edge it currently lacks. Specifically, I use this report as further evidence of America’s impending “creativity crisis” and ways in which professionals feel the arts can significantly contribute to solving that issue.

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class. Basic Books: New York, 2002. Florida establishes the existence of a new “creative class” and their increasing power and influence of society. I use Florida’s concept as evidence of the emergence of creativity and design-based thinking in the United States and across the globe.

Lee, Hyun-kyung and Mark Breitenberg. “Education in the New Millennium: The Case for Design-Based Learning.” International Journal of Art and Design Education 29, no.1 (February 2010): 54-60. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 20, 2011). Lee and Breitenberg acknowledge and identify the growing “creative economy”, establishing a need for design-based learning which is dependent on problem-solving and holistic approaches. I use this source as a cross-disciplinary example of the implementation of creativity and innovation. It also serves as support for the idea that this approach to influencing society is needed in today’s world.

“On Hybridization.” Creative Review 31, no. 8 (August 2011): 40-44. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 20, 2011). This article provides support for the idea that the arts continues to be an increasingly hybrid field. I use this to establish the connections between the arts and various other industries (education, business, etc). The increasingly “blurred lines” between various industries illustrates the need for governmental institutions to recognize these changes and respond accordingly.

Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Penguin: New York, 2006. Pink makes a case for the birth of what he terms the “Conceptual Age” which will thrive on the backs of artists, designers, and the like. He terms these the leaders of a new era. Though provocative, to be sure, Pink make a strong argument for what I present in this paper: the increasing importance and need for these types of thinkers to provide success in an ever-changing world, particularly the political world.

Rawsthorn, Alice. “Elements of Style as Occupy Movement Evolves”. New York Times, November 20, 2011. Rawsthorn pinpoints the influence of design in the “Occupy Movement” as well as other recent political movements. I use this article to further support the idea that design plays a significant role in changing a political scene, and politicians must actively engage with this idea if they wish to move society.

Safian, Robert. “From the Editor: The Creative Economy.” Fast Company, November 22, 2011. Safian makes the argument that a second economy, the “creative economy”, is exploding within the United States. More and more industries are melding together, and creativity is the driving force. I use this article to bolster my claim that this creative movement is being acknowledged across the board and must be acknowledged and implemented by the political sphere.

“The Role of the Arts in Strengthening and Inspiring the 21st Century Global Community.” Report presented at the annual Americans for the Arts National Arts Policy Roundtable, Sundance, UT, September 24-29, 2009. This annual conference consists of high-profile public and private institutions who believe the arts have a place in shaping the future of our society. Specifically, this report addresses the idea that increased globalization in all spheres has created a need for mediation which can be well-executed by arts organizations. This provides evidence that those in power see a strong connection in using the arts as a problem-solver for government (and other) institutions.

Tischler, Linda. “The United States of Design.” Fast Company, October 2011. Tischler makes a strong case for the emerging design movement among American businesses, stating that design (in other sources: creativity) can serve as an economic competitive edge. She gives examples of businesses that are thriving because they “get it”. I use this as support for the idea of the emerging design/creative movement, begun within the artistic community, and its ability to solve economic crises on a global scale.

United Kingdom Parliament. “Democracy by Design.” http://www.parliament.uk/education/special-events-and-programmes/democracy-by-design-2011/ (accessed November 21, 2011). Democracy by Design showcases an initiative started by the British Parliament involving young designers in the political process, thereby creating ways in which the sphere can interact and thrive side-by-side. I use this as an example of how government might incorporate a more design-centered and creative approach to “business-as-usual”.


[i] Florida, Richard, The Rise of the Creative Class, Basic Books: New York, 2002, xxvii.

[ii] Ibid., xxx.

[iii] Bacon, Barbara Shaffer, Cheryl Yuen, and Pam Korza, Animating Democracy: The Artistic Imagination as a Force in Civic Dialogue, 11.

[iv] Ibid., 20.

[v] “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study,” IBM Institute for Business Value: New York, 2010, 8.

[vi] Bacon, Yuen, & Korza, 30.

[vii] Capitalizing on Complexity, 9.

[viii] Lee, Hyun-kyung and Mark Breitenberg, “Education in the New Millennium: The Case for Design-Based Learning”, 2.

[ix] Pink, Daniel H, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Penguin: New York, 2006, 2.

[x]Safian, Robert, “From the Editor: The Creative Economy,” Fast Company, November 22, 2011.

[xi] Capitalizing on Complexity, 8.

[xii] Ibid., 30.

[xiii] “Final Report: The Role of the Arts in Educating American for Great Leadership and Economic Strength”, Report presented at the annual conference for the Americans for the Arts, Sundance, UT, September 23-25, 2010, 6.

[xiv] Ibid, 7; Tischler, Linda, “The United States of Design”, Fast Company, October 2011.

[xv] Bryant, Martin, “For Startups, Great Design is More Important Than Ever”, Entrepreneur, November 19, 2011.

[xvi] Rawsthorn, Alice, “Elements of Style as Occupy Movement Evolves”, New York Times, November 20, 2011.

[xvii] Bacon, Yuen, & Korza, 13.

[xviii] Ibid., 13.

[xix] Ibid., 32.

[xx] Tischler.

[xxi] “On Hybridization,” Creative Review 31, no. 8 (August 2011): 40-44.

[xxii]“The Role of the Arts in Strengthening and Inspiring the 21st Century Global Community,” Report presented at the annual Americans for the Arts National Arts Policy Roundtable, Sundance, UT, September 24-29, 2009, 7.

[xxiii] Ibid., 23.

[xxiv] Ibid., 20.

[xxv] Lee & Breitenberg, 2.

[xxvi] United Kingdom Parliament. “Democracy by Design.”

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii]Bacon, Yuen, & Korza, 15.

[xxix] Tischler.

[xxx] Lee & Breitenberg, 6.

[xxxi] Bacon, Yuen, & Korza, 32.

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