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Georgia’s Creative Economy: Cultural Clarity


By: David Sutherland, Senior Lecturer, University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business

A creative culture attracts creative people, pure and simple. But how do we know that the state of Georgia is a “creative state”? And how does a state like Georgia go about establishing and maintaining such a culture?

In my first two articles I highlighted the key elements of a creative economy, that economy’s foundational creative industries and how they are generally measured. In this article I will describe the need to understand how creative economies generate and build upon a culture of creativity and how “cultural clarity” enables a given economy to move with speed and efficiency.

Culture is a nebulous word, often misconstrued and more often misused. In the business startup world, founders often describe the need for a “creative culture”. When we dig underneath this desire, we realize three things they are looking for: risk willingness, futuristic thinking, and a holistic perspective. When corporations pursue the development of a creative culture, they are often focused on human resource retention and a generative product process.

Like anthropology, an understanding of the foundations of a culture is first found in the visible artifacts. Public Art is key; it is a creative economy’s body language. You can see the values and beliefs of a community through its Public Art given that installations are generally agreed to and approved by organizing bodies like arts commissions or planning boards representing that community.

Additional creative culture artifacts include studios, museums, performance venues, and university and corporate innovation centers. Georgia State University states there are over 300 recording studios in Georgia, and FilmLA Research states that Georgia has over 3 million square feet of film soundstage space, second only to LA.. There are over 290 public museums in Georgia and many performance venues. The University System of Georgia claims 32 campus Innovation Centers and Georgia has over 40 corporate Innovation Centers located around the state.

Yet Bloomberg Innovation Index recently ranked Georgia 26th in innovation. Why is that? In addition to the slew of creative cultural foundations mentioned above, Georgia has a talented workforce, agreeable cost of living, incentives for R&D and creative industries like film, television, and digital entertainment, but does not position itself as “Creative Georgia”. As a researcher focused on the creative economy, I feel this is a missed opportunity.

This brings us to the notion of “cultural clarity”. Even though we may have many cultural elements, as a state we don’t message this. When my graduate students conducted a Semantic Mapping exercise for their Business Analytics for the Creative Economy course, the key concept that surfaced for the question “Why do business in Georgia?” was” Affordability”, driven by cost of living, business incentives, and real estate costs. The concepts of creativity and innovation were far down the list. This is not to say Affordability shouldn’t be high on the list, but if we are not messaging creativity and innovation, we are missing a massive opportunity.

We will never be a Silicon Valley, nor should we want to be. Our diverse creative ecosystem and the many strong foundational elements should be highlighted, and the opportunity for collaboration and convergence of ideas should be supported by policy and intentional engagement. In fact, the Georgia Center for Innovation should be the standard bearer and primary messenger given its strategic function as part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, bringing key elements of Georgia’s Creative Economy together and providing cultural clarity that will even assist rural economic development, which I will cover in my next article.

I will be talking about this and more at the next roadshow event in Roswell.

David will be writing a series of articles for us and also speaking at the Georgia Unscripted Roadshow. For more information, please contact us


David Sutherland has been an entrepreneur, a corporate executive (formerly Vice President of Innovation, Computer Sciences Corporation) and a trusted innovation advisor to a set of companies including CIRT Tech, Blink Interactive, NASA, BMW, Siemens, and Bank of America. David is an active participant in several startup ecosystems, including Austin, Texas, Boulder, Colorado, as well as Palo Alto, California.

As a Senior Lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, David teaches courses in Entrepreneurship, Design Thinking, and runs seminars on the topic of Creative Economies. In addition to the Terry Executive Education Program. David has lectured at Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, CEDIM Design Institute in Monterrey, Mexico and GISMA Business School in Hamburg, Germany.

David received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and he resides on a farm in Athens, Georgia, with his wife Sarah, dog Norah and a variety of horses.


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