Outdoor festival stage with large crowd of people on grass

Northeast Kingdom Region, VT

Contact Name
Amy Cunningham
Project Dates
May 2018 - December 2018
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
The Vermont Creative Network (VCN) led an effort to complete a creative economy study and action plan for the Northeast Kingdom. The Vermont Arts Council, as the support organization, secured funding from the USDA and the Vermont Community Foundation to conduct this project. It is our intention that this regional study and action plan will inform and shape our next step- a similar plan for the entire state. Using a national and local consulting team and an advisory committee of regional community leaders and artists, the study and plan are being released to the public in January 2019. This project is providing both the data and the specific action steps required to tap the NEK’s creative and entrepreneurial energies, to promote economic growth and to improve quality of life in the region.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
There were three primary end goals for this project: 1) a cohesive plan of action will be created to move the creative sector of the NEK forward; 2) the process itself will galvanize NEK community members to understand the power and potential of the creative sector; 3) this NEK project will inform and shape the VCN’s approach to this work for the rest of the state.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
These goals have remained unchanged throughout the course of the project.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
There were several different categories and grouping of stakeholders for this project:

Amy Cunningham, deputy director of the Vermont Arts Council and coordinator for the Vermont Creative Network and Jody Fried, Executive Director of Catamount Arts and the chair of the VCN steering Committee helped to guide the project.

The study was completed by a consulting team that includes local leaders working alongside national experts on the creative economy. Principals Michael Kane and Stuart Rosenfeld were among the first in the U.S. to analyze creative enterprises as a distinct industry cluster, and to document the convergence of creative businesses with other regional economic sectors. The team also includes Melissa Levy of Community Roots, a Vermont firm specializing in rural economic and community development.

A NEK Advisory Committee made of 25 artists and community leaders provide input and guidance to the consulting team throughout the process.

Five regional focus groups across the NEK region solicited feedback from approximately 40 individuals working in creative sectors.

The consulting team conducted over 100 in-depth interviews with individuals, including representatives from all creative sectors, statewide and regional leaders, and content experts.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Our project has been in coordination with and complementary to larger efforts to better understand and bolster the long term economic prospects of the Northeast Kingdom region. Specifically, our study aligns with the economic priorities laid out by the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative. This group of residents, businesses and organizations recently identified as one of two key priorities advancing economic development through the region’s creative, recreation and food sectors. In addition, most of the NEK Collaborative board members served on our project advisory committee.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We were inspired by many other related initiatives, including the creative economy studies that the principal consultants have conducted nationally-- in Mississippi, Louisiana, the Berkshires, and the Capital district of New York, to name a few. Closer to home, they conducted a regional study of east-central Vermont in 2016, demonstrated that creative industries are a significant, and growing, source of employment and provide a road map that has been useful for that region. We have also been inspired by the work of the Vermont Farm to Plate initiative, in particular their strategic plan: http://www.vtfarmtoplate.com/getting-to-2020.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The project began in May of 2018. The study has been drafted by the consultants, reviewed by the advisory committee, and will be released publically in January 2019.

Phase 1: Create advisory committee. Review past creative economy data (from VT and NEK); create stakeholder engagement plan
Phase 2: Research and analyze creative economy and the broader NEK landscape (including use of focus groups and interviews)
Phase 3: Formulate action plan
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The project steps have primarily stayed the same. We added some important steps this fall, having the consulting team present initial findings at a Vermont Creative Network Convening in order in increase awareness of the plans for a statewide project.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
1- It was difficult to get good attendance at our regional focus groups. Volunteers and community leaders are busy and time is precious.
2- In creative economy research, the sectors being explored are not by nature clearly defined. The intersection of the specialty food sector and the creative economy for example, was nebulous to navigate.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
1- Get local volunteers to extend personal invitations (Much more likely to be successful than an email from someone at a state wide organization!).
2- In the NEK, there is incredibly strong expertise and leadership in the local food sector, so getting their guidance and buy-in was important.

What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1- A strong, well-represented advisory committee is key.
2- Be clear in your outreach and communication about a project like this- who’s doing it? what is it for?
3- Get local advocates on board at the very beginning.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
This study provided an analysis of economic data to define the strength and scope of Vermont’s creative industries, it documented the full range of benefits derived from the creative economy, and outline next steps and resources for implementation. We now have the research, the buy-in, and the roadmap for next steps in amplifying the creative sector in the Northeast Kingdom.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The study is complete (mostly on time and definitely on budget). There is enthusiasm and a sense of momentum to move forward with the recommendations. And importantly, this project did serve to inform our planning and case-making for the larger state wide project , which will begin in the first half of 2019.

How did you measure this success or progress?
We used the following indicators of success for the project itself and its outcomes.
1- The project will be completed on time and on budget (indicators: completed by October; $52,900 total cost).
2- The process will increase understanding of the power and potential of the creative sector and will bolster enthusiasm for the work in the NEK region (indicators: strong attendance at meetings; new members of NEK creative zone recruited).
3- The plan will be informed by robust stakeholder and community engagement NEK (indicators: strong attendance at meetings; pool of participants includes broad geographic and job diversity).
4- Clear consensus on the action steps by a variety of regional stakeholders.
5- The plan will contain “early-stage opportunities” that can be acted upon in the short term.
6- The process will prepare the VCN steering team to conduct similar work throughout the state.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Several arts organizations are already using the research from this study in various case-making documents. Funders have expressed interest in the recommendations of the report to help them prioritize cultural and economic development funding needs. And finally, the study has uncovered specific facets and members of the region's creative economy that has been illuminating for the Vermont Arts Council and will be helpful as we continue to communicate about the diversity of Vermont's creative sector.
CCX Workshop Handout