JPAC initiative looks to boost economy, quality of life in Janesville

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Shelly Birkelo
Sunday, April 6, 2014

JANESVILLE—The instructor asked the 5- to 8-year-olds to express their interests—whether they be singing, dancing, music or acting—on the first day of their Creative Kids Classes in March at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

She then let them choose how to stage a performance of an authentic African myth as they worked individually and in groups.

By using their minds, bodies and voices to create and perform their story for family and friends, “they are learning creative problem-solving skills, making creative decisions and succeeding at them,” instructor Mindy Curtis said.

Elizabeth Horvath, JPAC's executive director, agreed.

“Whether your child is interested in theater, music or art, it's about opening your brain up and learning how to be creative.”

The idea is that the classes will help spark the children's creativity so they become involved in activities such as band, choir or orchestra when they go back to school and encourage others to join. Horvath hopes their creative arts interests don't stop there.

By the time the students reach high school, they might consider creative industry professions because they were exposed to creative thinking early in life. In college, they may be more inclined to take creative classes and get internships at nonprofit arts organizations, Horvath said.

“Ideally, they would come back to Janesville and contribute to the community where they got that creative start,” she said.

A graduate, for example, could come back and open a fine arts gallery downtown and later contribute to a scholarship fund that would allow a child to attend arts-related classes like she did as a child, Horvath said.

“The possibilities are endless,” she said.

“It's not just about music, theater or fine arts. It's about coming together as a community and realizing there are other ways to build up our community than through traditional job creation of factories. There are other resources to make our town an attractive place to live,”  Horvath said.

That's why JPAC is launching a creative economy initiative for Janesville.

It is an engine of growth and community vitality where together artists, cultural nonprofits and creative businesses produce and distribute cultural goods and services that generate jobs, revenue and quality of life.

 “It is one of the only economic drivers that is not replaceable by technology and has the potential to grow towns similar in size to Janesville,” Horvath said.

The local initiative will focus on:

-- Experiential, interactive opportunities for youth that will engage parents, grandparents and community members. 

-- Partnerships with community organizations to create economic-driven events.

-- Workshops for adults and seniors.

Irish Fest, a citywide collaboration celebrating the city's Irish heritage and culture, generated more than $350,000 over one weekend in October. Local Talent Month, a full month of events staged earlier this year and focused on appreciating creative community members, is another example of the initiative's potential.

Creative kids classes started in March. JPAC's Family Fun Festival is April 12. A three-week creative kids camp is set for July, and a PTA Reflections Program with the Janesville School District will start with the 2014-15 school year.

 Those programs and more, including some expressly for senior citizens, are projected for 2015 and 2016 as the initiative grows.

Bringing the community together in such creative outlets produces economic development through travel and patronage at restaurants and hotels, Horvath said.

The creative economy movement is an international trend that's been growing for about a decade, said Maggie Kuhn Jacobus, Creative Alliance Milwaukee's executive director.

“Although there is no finite definition of what industries make up a creative sector, it is agreed it is more than the general arts and cultural institutions,” she said, citing architecture and interior design as other examples.

Creative industries make significant contributions to the economy in terms of work force, development, education and funding opportunities, Kuhn Jacobus said.

“Creative industries will create jobs and businesses, enhance competitiveness of other businesses, be an important asset to attract and retain talent and increase the vitality and quality of life throughout the region,” she said.

Their economic impact in Southeast Wisconsin includes more than 66,000 workers, 4,000 companies and organizations and more than $2.1 billion in annual wages, Kuhn Jacobus said.

“So when you start to measure and look at creative industries, it's a significant contribution to the economy.

“This is a game-changer because the challenge the arts have faced nationwide is that the arts and culture are an add-on that can be cut when the economy is tight, but it's not a frill. It is the foundation upon which all industry is built and from which innovation comes,” Kuhn Jacobus said.

Whether at a manufacturing company or an ad agency, the ability for a workforce to be creative thinkers and problem solvers is critical, and those skills come from education, typically through the arts, she said.

Kerry Swanson, incoming JPAC board president, agreed.

“Creative minds can lead to innovative answers for the opportunities and challenges that we may encounter in the future.”

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