Do you remember telling your family what you planned on majoring in when you got to college? Maybe they were satisfied, smiling and congratulatory of the fact that you had a plan for the future. Maybe they weren’t so happy, but they decided to support you anyway because they love you so much. Or maybe things went way left and they tried to convince you to pick something else, something that they considered more “practical.” The latter is something many arts and humanities students, from both today and the past, know all too well. However, the art kids stuck it to the proverbial man and decided to go ahead with studying what they wanted to. In doing so, they have contributed greatly to what economist and social scientist, Richard Florida calls the the Creative Class, the economy’s latest socioeconomic group.
What is it?
“Creative Class” might sound like another name for some arts and crafts program at your local YMCA, but the creative class is so much more and, I daresay, way more important. (No offense to any recreational art teachers out there—you were a big part of my childhood.)
Florida describes this class as about 30 percent of the United States’ workforce that can be separated into two sections, courtesy of the SOC system: super-creative core and creative professionals. (SOC could use some creativity for those names. How ironic.) Super-creative core is the innovative group, the creators of commercial products and consumer goods; the creative professionals are workers who draw upon their knowledge in order to solve problems.
Both sectors are made up of knowledge workers, intellectuals and various types of artists who represent a major shift away from traditional agricultural practices to a more industry-based system. Various places around the world have been associated with this shift, in addition to having large Creative Class populations, including Silicon Valley; Route 128 in Boston; Dublin, Ireland; and Sweden.
The Creative Class also shows a great bit of diversity, due to its inherent lack of standards for who can do what. “Creativity comes from people,” Florida says in his book, detailing the class’s economic impact. “It annihilates the social categories we have imposed on ourselves. A Creative Economy requires diversity because every human is creative –– creativity cannot be contained by categories of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
The Creative Class can also be identified by its departure from the conventions of a traditional workplace. People now set their own hours and dress codes; a degree of independence is expected of those working on the creative side of things.
Why is it important?
The Creative Class’ economic function is to create: They create plenty ideas, new technology and more content. What many arts and humanities naysayers seem to not realize is that the skills of this group are incredibly transferable and useful. Take the concept of specialization into consideration for a moment.
Say you wanted to start your own contracting company, but all you’re good at is the contracting part. You’re not familiar with coding, professional writing or digital art. So, how are you going to get the word out and catch the eye of potential clientele? Maybe you have a friend who usually codes for video games and they could create your website. Then, your website needs to sound professional while also being an appealing, easy read; you hire a freelance writer who generally contributes to magazines like Rock Sound. The website now needs a logo, so you hire an artist that is currently writing their own webcomic. When applying this logic, it is clear that everyone needs a creative-type on their team.
Many of the world’s businesses involve the work of Creative Class members, but everyone seems to forget about them because they’re not the face of the company or the salespeople that you speak to regularly. Arts and humanities people are always working behind the scenes to make a company what it is.
Without the world’s creatives, there would be so many nonexistent things that are currently being taken advantage of. With their cognitive skills and social intelligence, members of the Creative Class have been responsible for the establishment of whole industries and businesses, as well as changes in human lifestyle. A world without the Creative Class would likely still be in an agricultural state without an industry—many world connections may not have been made.
The Creative Class also plays a big role in the population density of certain places. As mentioned earlier, Silicon Valley, Route 128, Dublin and Sweden are some of those places. Florida took notice of the fact that the talented and creative population of the world favored cities over suburbs. Also, older cities were regaining relevance which was lost during the Baby Boomer’s generation because of their visual appeal. This is discussed further in Florida’s book Who’s Your City.
At this point, the Creative Class sounds a little too good to be true and that is correct. As with anything, there needs to be a degree of moderation. Florida is not praising creativity as the holy grail of the economy or the world’s next great wonder; he, himself, says that basing everything on creativity without moderation could cause more problems than solutions. Creativity needs to be molded properly to reach its full economic potential.
Another issue with the Creative Class is the loose concept of a workday, briefly mentioned before. A standard workday is the nine-to-five that people in songs and tv shows seem to always complain about. Those with the freedom to choose their own hours have time that is worth more than ever before, but everything seems more rushed. In order to feel a sense of daily accomplishment, Florida says that the creative class has to multitask; a work day isn’t just a work day, now, it is also social and personal time all rolled into one.
Keeping those cons in mind, they outweigh the pros of the Creative Class and the impact it has had on the world. Creative careers that are usually looked down upon by everyone are more normalized and accepted by the working world. Thanks to Richard Florida, the next time your great aunt, twice removed makes a remark about how you’ll never survive as a painter or writer, you can let her know just how wrong she is.