NECEN Survey Trends

Detail of Summer Camp, a collage painting by Vermont artist Hannah Morris


Dee has shoulder length, curly, blond hair. She wears glasses and baby blue. She's a white woman.
Senior Program Director, Creative Economy

At the end of 2023, NEFA’s creative economy team reached out to folx in the New England creative community to share their top needs within the realms of visibility, connection, and knowledge building.  We also asked specific questions about how connection could be increased and a region-wide network for our creative economy revitalized. We wanted to reach out after all of the disconnection of the last few years, to see who is doing creative economy work and would participate in a network.

Before the pandemic, the New England Creative Economy Network (NECEN) was a group of people involved in creative community building and advocacy from around New England. Through the CreativeGround regional database and convenings like the Creative Communities Exchange (CCX), NEFA brought together this informal network of creative community thinkers to discuss New England creative economy priorities and strategies and:

  • Formalize and increase connections among practitioners
  • Spotlight creative economy work
  • Share resources across communities
  • Brainstorm on New England creative economy priorities and strategies

The feedback from this survey will help inform NEFA’s strategic planning around our ongoing creative economy work and we wanted to share the information we collected for broader use. It is part of our mission to make data as accessible as possible to others and inspire outside analysis - we are by no means the experts on all of these domains and rely on the creative minds in our region to have better ideas than we do about how the data could be activated and responded to. There are many wonderful creative leaders and arts service organizations in our region who are responding to these needs very locally and directly and might find this information helpful to guide their own plans and services. We do our best to leverage our role as a Regional Arts Organization and intermediary by connecting constituents to resources that already exist and raising funds to distribute around our service area. There is nothing new in terms of activity being announced here, but this information gathered has been very useful for our current organizational strategic planning process – namely, getting an updated sense of current priorities in the field and in identifying opportunities for funding partnerships that might align with addressing these needs.

The survey went to past participants in the NECEN, and users of CreativeGround. CreativeGround is New England’s community-generated, free, online arts and culture directory that celebrates the vital work of New England's artists, creatives, culture bearers, creative organizations and businesses. It is a tool to gain visibility within the creative sector, and with those in the network from industries outside of the arts who are focused on arts-based community and economic development.

Artists and creatives are at the core of the creative sector, and creative economy initiatives typically leverage local creativity and cross-sector partnerships to address social, economic, and cultural issues in communities. Past NECEN activities complemented CreativeGround and its focus on the people and places of the creative sector to share case studies of these creative economy initiatives occurring in communities and connect in real time/in person.

The survey asked respondents to consider how they might want to participate in re-forming this regional network and give feedback on these goals and tools.

Survey Responses

Respondents were from all six New England states and identified themselves in these ways:

  • 73% are artists/creatives along with their roles as arts administrators, educators, consultants, planners, and researchers.
  • 60% were new to the NECEN. Most respondents were people who had not been involved by attending network meetings or Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) events. This might be due to the high degree of turnover of leadership at the organizations that were previously involved (e.g. municipal planning offices and local arts agencies). 

Priorities for Revitalizing the NECEN

  • Top Reasons for having a region-wide Creative Economy Network
    • Making connections across state lines
    • Sharing creative economy projects and field trends
    • Mobilizing to create collective strategy/policy
  • Priority topics to discuss with the Creative Economy Network
    • Economic sustainability of artists and organizations
    • Marketing
    • Research for advocacy

The respondents seem to be focused on addressing the effects of arts-based community development by town government, main streets organizations, and anchor arts organizations such as gentrification and displacement and, the financial impact of these cross-sector partnerships on artists. It’s possible that this is because our region has such a density of artists and organizations that other regions don’t have (see CreativeGround), and cultural districts and community development that began many years ago. We have a unique tool for visibility and strong state arts agencies who generate public and legislative support but the desire from respondents seems to be to move beyond the grant and rental-based model to ownership and business development focused on artists.


When we asked about trends over the last three years, we intentionally left the question open to the respondents’ interpretation and desire to report items with positive or negative impact.  The people who reported positive impacts to their work seem to be those who adjusted their programming or activities and reached out to others for collaboration.

  • Visibility – items with the highest impact over the last few years
    • Gigs or events
    • Social media increase as traditional marketing decreased
    • Collaboration
    • Programmatic and staffing changes
    • Funding
    • Creating marketing materials
  • Visibility - Top Needs
    • Marketing/advertising and traditional news media
    • Showcase/exhibiting opportunities
    • Networking opportunities
    • Space
  • Connection – items with the highest impact during the pandemic
    • Sales/gigs and also showing up at events
    • Professional membership and service organizations
    • Direct outreach like making phone calls and doing local networking
  • Connection – top blockers
    • Time and cost to travel
    • Lack of gathering spaces/networks
    • Information about who to contact


Respondents noted a desire for more information about opportunities, and the good news here is that regional, state, or local arts agencies are great about collating and sharing information in email communications – signing up for mailing lists is an easy first step!

People reported that taking the time to attend meetings, network with peers, or reach out to community or membership organizations helped them know what was going on and what resources might be available. This was harder for people new to the region or the field.

There is also a high need for peer groups of various kinds so that resources and ideas can be exchanged within affinity groups – it seems that the organizations were more equipped to pursue this than the artists who responded.

While some respondents reinforced the importance of leveraging existing relationships and investing in ongoing learning and peer exchange, many were understandably inwardly focused on their own interests and immediate needs and might not be in the space to see the resources that they themselves could bring to a regional network. 

The good news is that in New England, we have a unique resource that is a directory of profiles with contact information. If you’re wondering who is out there, CreativeGround is the place to start. We’re the only region with a public directory for arts and culture and the feedback shows that it’s worth the time to reach out to people. You can contact profiles directly or go to the websites for unions/guilds/membership organizations or local arts agencies to learn more about them. Our aim is that a multi-state network is built around these crisscrossing local and state efforts, and that these are visible and available to all on CreativeGround.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our creative economy survey, and feedback is welcome at any time.

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