Expert: economic development driven by 'creative class'

By: Brigitte Geiss, Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal

A creative class can transform every aspect of a region, including its
economy, says Richard Florida, Carnegie Mellon University's professor of
regional economic development and he lays down his beliefs in his book, "The
Rise of the Creative Class."

Florida's book embodies the thought that areas swathed in creative energy
can become the most economically grounded, with a high probability of growth
due to an influx of ideas and talents brought by a diverse population.
While efforts to bolster the economy of northeastern Pennsylvania are
ongoing, the region continues to be at a disadvantage because of its lack of
diversity - and lack of a keen interest in the arts, according to Alicia
Grega-Pikul, a member of the creative class and journalist for the area
entertainment guide Electric City.

"With an area that has very little background in creativity in regards to
the arts," says Pikul, "You have to start from scratch."
She says this area is a fresh clean slate to work with and options for
developing the creative class are endless. "I'm hopeful that people will be
able to walk down the street sharing the sidewalk with street performers
that force us to stop and take notice of art."

Creative energy is already being generated, she says pointing to "The One
Act Play Competition," held by the Actors Circle and The Mulberry Poets and
Writers' Association which keeps original works in the spotlight. Others
like the Afa Gallery and Michael Paulukonis' performance art series are
important cultural assets.

Michael Paulukonis, the performance art coordinator for the Artists for Art
(Afa) Gallery, views northeast Pennsylvania as under-developed artistically.
He points out that the area lacks substantial amounts of experimental art.
While there are some outlets for artists to grab the community's attention
with unusual art, in regard to the actual size of the region, there are only
minimal glimpses of such.

He also explains that the connection between business and art is still in
the early stages of development.

"There is still some distance with area businesses in regard to the artistic
class," says Paulukonis, "The understanding that enhancing the cultural
aspects of the region will increase the economic growth has not been fully
grasped by the business community. Our area has an enormous potential for
increased cultural tourism."

There is, however, a slight benefit to the under-developed artistic
community. This region, unlike its culturally and economically
over-developed counterparts, has unlimited possibilities for the
introduction and development of unique creative energy.
Northeast Pennsylvania has not been condemned to the categorization of one
artistic form over another. Thus, it has the opportunity to become a
well-rounded region for added economic growth.

"Northeast Pennsylvania is still a recovering area. Worldwide, these are
places that tend to excel in the abstract arts and sciences - mathematics,
philosophy, arts - things that don't require . . . infrastructure." Says
Paulukonis, "We have an area with plenty of vacant industrial buildings that
cannot be used for contemporary industry without prohibitive renovation, but
these spaces are perfect for artists or performers with comparatively little

A perfect example of Paulukonis' thought can be seen right in downtown
Scranton at the Afa Gallery. The gallery's goal is not solely to earn
revenue. The Afa Gallery brings art, in every sense and form, to the view of
the public. Since the gallery resolved the location problem that most
artists have, there is relatively little money needed by the artists to
perform. The Afa Gallery also works to bring local and visiting artists
together for the benefit of the community. This allows the population of
northeast Pennsylvania to catch a glimpse of unique art forms to which they
otherwise wouldn't have access.

Such is the case with Paulukonis' series "Alternative to Noise." "The
'Alternative to Noise' series is really the whole gamut," says Paulukonis,
"It's a showcase on any and all types of performance art from music and
theater to the outrageous and unidentifiable."

Watching business relocating to the area brings a positive outlook. There is
the added assurance by new business that the area is indeed becoming a more
successfully creative environment. Paulukonis highlights that very same
point when it comes to major cities.

"Ken Marquis (Wilkes Barre gallery owner) moving into the old Casey Laundry
building is a good sign," notes Paulukonis, "If you look at New York City,
this is how defunct areas tend to be revitalized. Artists, bohemians move
into cheap, funky, semi-abandoned structures and slowly the area comes back
to life."

©Northeast PA Business Journal 2002