11/19/2012 12:21 EST | Updated 01/19/2013 05:12 EST

The Best Way to Grow the Economy? Creativity

ArtsSmarts, a non-profit helping schools across Canada use the tools of arts integration, met in Calgary recently to explore the larger issue of the role of the whole community in fostering creativity.

Entitled "Cultivating Creative Communities: Arts, Education and Spaces for Successful 21st Century Learning," educators, artists, art and cultural organizations and public policy makers looked closely at how "arts-in-education programs served as catalysts for reimagining spaces" that cultivate creativity and innovation, and -- whether intended on not -- policies that inhibit the new thinking necessary to reinventing a nation.

If a community really wants "art integration" to work, they discussed, business and government must agree that the economy has shifted, and "outsourcing" and "off-shoring" are permanent features of life and work in the new-truly global-economy.

Importantly, Canada and nations like America have entered a new phase in which promoting creativity and innovation represent the only option for boosting global competitiveness. Canada or any country desirous of succeeding in an interconnected world must aggressively adopt the idea that creativity is the single most important ingredient to reinventing itself.

Young people might get the new thinking skills because of arts integration in the schools but then can't get a job. Why? Because the non-profit sector, government and business haven't changed. But young people need a place to work, and they need a community that nurtures their creative instincts; they need to live and work and play in a community that itself is creative.

At the heart of this effort to reinvent a community is recognition of the vital role that art and culture play in enhancing economic development, and ultimately, exploiting the vital links between art, culture and commerce. In the process, a nation must consciously invest in human and financial resources necessary to meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving knowledge economy and society.

People in every sector -- parents, educators and artists, politicians and policymakers -- need to understand the challenges before them, and recognize that globalization has changed life and work, as we know it. Technology, particularly the Internet and the pervasive spread and influence of new media, have led to the emergence of a world where every nation is inextricably tied together. Manufacturing and service sector jobs are nice to have but increasingly going to other nations where, simply, wages are lower.

While the ArtsSmarts conference program covered a lot of ground, from an address on the "Motive and Opportunity" to cultivate creative skills by Dr. James Catterall, emeritus professor of the Graduate School of Education at UCLA, to sessions on practice and pedagogy, it was clear that there were a lot of things that every region must do to make its community highly livable, and attract, nurture and retain the best and brightest. Not least of which are understanding that:

1) A new economy based on creativity and innovation is rapidly evolving;

2) Efficient, affordable, effective broadband infrastructures must be available to citizens, businesses, governments, schools, and the entire non-profit sector;

3) Cities within greater geographic regions must work together to compete in the global economy, providing vital public services, and art and cultural programs; and,

4) Civic collaboration or engagement across every sector of the region's economy is critical.

Government particularly has a vital role in promoting affordable, accessible broadband and encouraging land use policies that encourage development of "creative economic clusters." These clusters include live and work spaces, art districts, public art, art museums and other cultural institutions. Governments can also embrace green initiatives, encourage private sector investments in enterprises that exemplify and foster the concept of sustainability.

Organizations responsible for planning and development and for weaving the fabric of the new community demand that all institutions-public and private-and individuals too, become owners of the new economic, social, and political agenda.

Educators and artists like those at the ArtsSamrts event -- perhaps more than most any other group --understand the power of the arts and the role of arts integration.