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Reflecting on the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy


The Otis College of Art and Design's "Otis Report of the Creative Economy" was published this week and presented in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon, among a cultured crowd on hand. Trustees and board members from area art institutions, artists, and art boosters gathered to hear the news about the state of the creative economy in Los Angeles and its surrounding region. Others, including artist and muralist (and Otis alum) Kent Twitchell, architects Steven Ehrlich and Fred Fisher were in attendance specifically to hear keynote speaker, and 2001 Nobel-prize winning economist, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz.

Stiglitz -- who coined the term “the one percent” -- began with a simple question, “When we move into a knowledge economy and innovation economy,” he said, “Will these new economies be able to produce jobs for our young people as they join the labor force?”

With the 2015 Report, Otis and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation's (LAEDC) Institute of Applied Economics made the argument that in fact L.A. is doing just that. The report contains data on wage and profit trends, growth rates for each field of artistic pursuit, and year-to-year comparisons of growth from a wide group of creative sectors including; entertainment, digital media, architecture and engineering, fashion, arts education and publishing and printing. Opening speaker Bruce Ferguson, president of Otis College of Art and Design, noted the report's growing power in each successive year (this is the report's 9th edition) as an advocacy tool for arts groups, to develop policies in arts education and increase resources at the local to state level for nonprofit arts organizations. He went on to say several smaller regional and even international municipalities had adopted this type of compiled research to help secure funds in their communities.

Infographic based on the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy.

The report portrays a picture of L.A.'s creatives and their work as a group of businesses. This year's report added publishing and printing into the fray. Robert Kleinhenz of LAEDC asserted, “L.A. is the creative capital of America,” siting the proportion of L.A.'s creative jobs to the total number of overall of jobs in the region, compared to New York. (L.A.'s is 8.4 percent and New York's is 5.4 percent). The report also suggests that L.A.'s creative jobs are quite sustainable too. Though there was less presented about the security and stability of creative jobs, the year-to-year trends did show that work in creative industries is definitely on an uptick (the report shows architects in Los Angeles making a median income of around $81,080 and fashion designers around $67,080, for example).

Stiglitz, the event's keynote speaker, and one-time advisor to presidents, pivoted his talk towards our inequality gap in the U.S. -- the topic du jour for so many presidential candidates and talk shows of late. First, Stiglitz outlined how he, as an economist, describes inequality: He outlined the differences in comparing median household income ($53,657 in 2014) vs. individual wealth -- stating that although median incomes seem to be stable, the benefits of personal wealth and knowledge of taxes, access to bargaining power, and other easily attainable loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy in the U.S. have widened the gap to ever more extreme polarities. Stiglitz said to the audience at one point that, in the U.S., “Your single most important decision in life is to choose the right parents.” The comment was met with uneasy laughter, the current political presidential battle seemingly weighing heavy on everyone's minds.

Infographic based on the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy.

Questions from the audience asked the former senior vice president of the World Bank about an array of factors implicated in the country's economic inequality gap in terms of housing, politics, retirement issues and an embedded American idea of inequity bred early on in our history, promulgated in slavery and plunder. Stiglitz easily fielded them all, making points most significantly to housing. “A right to housing,” he said, “is written into some countries' constitutions.”

The Otis report mentions some 166,404 self-employed jobs (roughly 30 percent of the total number of creative jobs in the region) that are not high salaried jobs, but jobs that are done on a contractual or freelance basis, usually part time, via hourly compensation or flat fees. The underlying question connecting Stiglitz's stance on inequality and the Otis report's call for jobs for the next generation encouraged another deeper question: what does a city's creative economy do for a structurally unequal economy?

View the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy here.

Infographic based on the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy.
Infographic based on the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy.
Infographic based on the 2015 Otis Report on the Creative Economy.

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