Arts, culture contribute to Martha’s Vineyard economy


The economy of Martha’s Vineyard, once driven by a construction industry that has fallen on hard times, can be revitalized with an emphasis on promoting culture and arts, state and local leaders said at the latest round of the Creative Economy Brown Bag Lunch speaker series.

The series is part of Arts Martha’s Vineyard’s month-long effort to promote and support the arts on the Vineyard that begins tomorrow. The multi-partner undertaking, of which The Martha’s Vineyard Times is a joint sponsor, will attempt to drive business growth through marketing, according to Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce executive director Nancy Gardella, a leader of the effort.

During the third in a series of lectures, several state legislators explained what the state is doing to support arts and culture on the Island and around Massachusetts.

The event, held Tuesday at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, attracted business owners and Island officials. The series continues at 11:30 am, Tuesday, October 23, with a panel discussion with members of the local media. The subject will be “Creative Economy: Media and the Arts on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Scheduled to attend this Tuesday are representatives of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, Cape and Islands NPR, Martha’s Vineyard Patch, MVY Radio, and the Vineyard Gazette.

The Tuesday lecture had a decidedly political feel to it, as several members of the Martha’s Vineyard legislative delegation touted their records and their colleagues’ records in promoting arts and culture around the state.

Featherstone Center for the Arts director Ann Smith opened the luncheon before turning it over to Patrick Phillips, the publisher of Martha’s Vineyard Arts and Ideas, who introduced the topic of a creative economy.

“How many of you know what a creative economy is?” Mr. Phillips asked, to which only a handful of people raised their hands. “It is that which loosely uses imagination and creativity to create economics that benefits the community.”

Mr. Phillips said the creative industry sector includes more than just artists, musicians, and writers, but also architects, advertisers, and members of the media. “[It includes] all those who are creating something out of their minds, who create and promote intellectual products,” he said.

Mr. Phillips summarized a study compiled by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and provided to the audience that found that the creative economy makes up 10.2 percent of the total economy on Martha’s Vineyard.

The study found that arts and culture industries generate $10.624 million in wages and income for Vineyard workers, although people who work in the larger category of the creative economy take in $29.816 million.

“Over 647 [creative economy] businesses contribute over $52 million to our economy. That’s a lot of money; that’s a lot of creative energy,” Mr. Phillips said.

Mr. Phillips said the purpose of the lecture series, and by extension the Arts Martha’s Vineyard program, was to clarify and promote the Island’s creative economy. “[We want to] work to build value into the creative economy, which contributes directly into how people view us on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “And they will come to us, they will move here, and they will create more and more jobs.”

State Rep. Sarah Peak of Provincetown, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development, said her committee is working on initiatives to promote the creative economy across the state. “Arts and tourism is the third largest economic engine we have in Massachusetts… promoting the arts is vital to this state’s economy,” she said.

Ms. Peak said her committee is working on establishing a statewide poet laureate as well as the so-called “Bill Cosby” bill, which prevents a celebrity’s likeness from being used after death to promote products they do not support.

Ms. Peak said the committee also provides an important bully pulpit for legislators to fight for funding every year to support the creative economy.

“The budget is more than dollars and cents,” she said. “It’s a moral document, it lays the groundwork for the work ahead and expresses what our priorities should be — like arts and culture.”

Overall, she said, the committee has been successful securing money for the arts. “As we all know the economy tanked about five years ago and was in a precipitous dive, but still we have been able to more robustly fund the various arts and cultural foundations,” she said.

Ms. Peak pointed to success stories, for instance an additional $200,000 last year to keep visitor information centers open, and efforts in the city of Lowell to convert old mills there into artists’ spaces. “Massachusetts is on the leading edge of the creative economy,” she said.

Seth Rolbein, senior advisor to state Sen. Dan Wolf, said Martha’s Vineyard was a beacon and inspiration for artists. Senator Wolf did not attend the lecture due to another engagement.

“I look at these statistics and I see 10 percent of Dukes County is involved in the creative economy, and if I had to guess I would say nationally it is something closer to two percent,” Mr. Rolbein said. “That [difference] has everything to do with the quality of life of this place.”

Mr. Rolbein said the creative economy could be expanded to include other fields on the Vineyard, in which creative thinking is at a premium — preserving open space, the promotion of green energy, and farming and fishing. He said the Island has been a beacon for the state in terms of locally grown foods and renewable energy.

“When people from around the world show up on the Vineyard they take home the inspiration, not just for the great culture, but also of the creative economy that is defined in our food production in the way we use our land and the way we protect our open space,” he said.

Cape and Islands state Rep. Tim Madden noted the large number of new restaurants that have opened on the Vineyard over the past year. “I do consider that art… It has all been a positive thing for the community,” he said.

Mr. Madden said that state legislators and local leaders could do more to advertise both the creative economy and the Island in general. “We need to advertise our product more so people know it’s out there,” he said. “You walk the streets of the Vineyard now and you hear a lot of people with foreign accents, and the only reason they come here is because they had to be reminded to come here.”

The Island has a lot to look forward to, Mr. Madden said, like the new Martha’s Vineyard Museum headquarters in Vineyard Haven. “All of a sudden you go there and then you go over to the new theater [in the Tisbury Marketplace], and that is how you build the economy: you all feed off each other,” he said.

The Brown Bag Series continues Tuesday at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. Admission is free, and all are welcome. Feel free to bring your lunch. For information or to RSVP go to or call the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce at 508-693-0085, ext. 0.