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Iowa Creative Economy Unconference Trip Report

Wow! Event a Mega-Success... A Creative Good Time Had By All

Article pages:  [ Peters Says You're Only As Cool As The Company You Keep... ] [ The Unconference Was Unreal! ] [ Sohodojo Reflection: Iowa Gets It And Sets The Pace ] [ Printer-friendly version of full article ]

Related pages:  [ Creative Class In The Small Unworkshop Presentation (PDF format) ] [ Read Our Unconference Workshop Press Release ]

The Unconference Was Unreal

We walked from our hotel to the Unconference venue in the Iowa State Historical Building. Sounds kinda stuffy doesn't it? Dusty folios, leather chairs, a stuffed bird and "Quiet please" signs reminding you of the serious business of history... Wrong!

Iowa State Historical building, exterior inset to interior view

The Iowa State Historical Society building is a modern, open, New Generation, living, multi-functional museum/resource center. The entire main floor of the museum/office complex was transformed into a lively cultural fair... a street scene inside this bright and airy space. Kids doing rope skip, crafters' demonstrations, artists all over the place... and did we mention the free food and drinks!? Plenty of sustenance to fuel the creative activity ahead.

After everyone had time to view the many exhibits and get comfortable, Anita Walker convened the event with enthusiasm. Often, the slate of conference opening, pre-keynote and keynote speeches can get a bit long in the tooth. You struggle not to yawn or bob your head too much. But this was an unconference, remember?

There wasn't a boring or inconsequential presentation anywhere to be found. We heard from Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, from Dr. David Skorton, new president of the University of Iowa, and from Iowa artist and motivational speaker David Williamson. David Swenson, economics professor from Iowa State University unveiled his and Liesl Eathington's study of the Creative Economy in Iowa. All this and not a snorer among them.

Creative Class Adds Heat to Local Economies
Learn more about the creative class here...
There is a growing recognition that creative entrepreneurs and networks of small businesses are at the heart of growth and sustainability of local economies. This idea of the power of creative individuals flies in the face of those who think that large corporations are the primary source of jobs and community development.

The misguided fascination with incenting corporate relocations leads to the plague of corporate welfare that further unlevels the playing field for independent small business. This unlevel playing field contributes to rural depopulation as the urban centers offer the sweetest relocation deals.

Learn more by reading Carnegie Mellon Professor of Economic Development Richard Florida's latest book, The Rise of the Creative Class.

After a lunch and fun break, it was time for a taste of the headliner, Carnegie Mellon's distinguished professor of economic development and best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida. He led a panel discussion, "Plugging the Brain Drain: Strategies for Keeping Our Best and Our Brightest," that featured a wide ranging group of Iowans who got to ask Dr. Florida penetrating questions that were on everyone's mind in the audience. Florida replied with eye-opening statistics and insightful anecdotes that got everyone thinking about how our regional and local economies can tap the dynamics of the creative class in an increasingly mobile network economy.

The panel discussion was an ideal set up for the afternoon's diverse and inspiring workshops. Our only frustration with the Unconference was that, as workshop presenters, we were busy working when there were so many interesting sessions going on that we would have liked to attend!

Our Unworkshop: Creative Class In The Small

The good folks at the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs wanted Sohodojo and NARFI (North American Rural Futures Institute) at the Unconference to represent a much-needed perspective for their state's constituency, that is, the recognition of the dynamics of creative class in the small. It isn't in the cards for all of our rural and distressed urban communities to get a make-over and face-lift that will turn us into urban, hip-happening creative class hotspots.

While the economics of scale can help urban areas tip themselves over to creative class magnets, these is much that we can do to tap these dynamics in rural and distressed urban communities. While the "three T's" – Technology, Talent and Tolerance – are vital to all communities, our rural and distressed urban communities can tap the power of a fourth "T" – Ties – as we learn how to evolve ourselves into extended communities that transcend physical place.

The challenge for urban creative class hotspot wannabes is to figure out how to capitalize on "quality of place" as an attractor for creative class talent. The challenge, more often, for rural and distressed urban communities is to overcome the challenges of place through the intentional development of social and business networks that extend beyond place and connect us to the creative network economy.

This is the message we brought to the Unconference in our workshop, "Creative Class In The Small: Economic Fire in Rural and Distressed Urban Communities." Our "unworkshop" was filled both times that we presented, indicating the extent of folks' interest in how rural and distressed urban communities can tap creative class dynamics. As we evoked introductions at the beginning of each session, the quality and experience of the folks at the Unconference came through loud and clear. The Unconference was a watershed event bringing together movers and shakers from all levels of state government, from community organizations, and of course, all manner of creative classers. While everyone we talked to felt that they left the Unconference with valuable new knowledge and insights, the real value of this event will play out over the weeks, months and years ahead.

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