Lessons for Entrepreneurs Amid Rust Belt Culture Development

Redefining the Cultural Landscape

As the city of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley continue to reach toward a revitalized identity, shaping the region’s distinct cultural landscape has been a result of collective and mutual support from business leaders, educators, young professionals, and community members alike – creative efforts that are augmented by the arts community.

To understand and measure perceptions of the arts practitioners and consumers in the Mahoning Valley, a survey was distributed to the public in five counties across the Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania region (Columbiana, Lawrence, Mahoning, Mercer, and Trumbull). Respondents were asked to identify as either an arts practitioner or consumer, and the following information is based on their responses.

Among arts consumers and practitioners in the Mahoning Valley, expansion of arts and culture development was rated of the highest importance among both groups. However, perceptions of public support only received an average rating of three out of five, according to a survey.

“I think that advancing the arts in the Mahoning Valley is very important,” noted an arts practitioner respondent. “We are getting better every day, but will only continue to increase the visibility [of the arts community] with continued support from local business and the general public.”

Cultivating Relationships

Mentions of strengthening connections with Youngstown State University, the underground feel of independent artists and their projects, and geographic proximity to vibrant cultural cities Cleveland and Pittsburgh were frequent perceptions of the Mahoning Valley among consumers and practitioners alike.

“There is great potential for growth in the art community, but there has to be support from the surrounding Valley areas,” said an arts practitioner. “We need to be given the chance and opportunity to show that we can turn this town into a great art community.” The majority of arts practitioner respondents identified themselves as a “professional artist,” “student artist,” or “other.”

Artist respondents primarily market themselves and their events by social media and word of mouth. Because of this, local arts practitioners cite effective means of advertising and online communication as areas of growth when distributing information.

Other areas cited for continued growth of the arts community include collaboration with other artists in local and regional idea exchange forums, arts in education curricula, implementation of art in public spaces, development of an organizational body, a greater number of participatory arts programs and events, and an increase in funds available for artists/arts businesses.

What Does This Mean for Entrepreneurs?

Cities with a strong creative presence may be more likely to have business growth, according to to a study completed by Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Kevin Stolarick, José Lobo of Arizona State University, and Deborah Strumsky of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Using data to investigate how a city’s creative class affect its entrepreneurial growth, the researchers found that “the larger the creative employment of a region, the higher the levels of entrepreneurship and regional growth.” It is in this way we find that one form of creativity is associated with another.

Just as entrepreneurs must execute, create, sell, and mobilize support for their idea – sometimes without knowing they are going to succeed -, the journey of the artist is not dissimilar. What’s more, potential for collaboration abounds when it comes to creating coalitions for support, reaching key influencers, and growth in social entrepreneurship endeavors.

As one respondent states, “being treated by the business community as a legitimate business” and “being accepted socially into the business community [to] take advantage of networking opportunities that other businesses are able to access” would help fulfill goals of selling artwork, reaching a wider audience, and sharing events with as many potential consumers as possible.

“While I am not an artist, I highly believe in the potential for this community to become heavily influenced by the arts,” a consumer states. “A lot of people are unaware of what is here or the multitude of people working to make a difference. With our continued efforts, we can inform them, attract them and keep them. Art can and will change this Valley for the better.”


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About the Author

Madeline Grimes is a Monus Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Youngstown Business Incubator and Junior student at Youngstown State University, where she studies Arts Administration and Marketing Management with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership.