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Georgia’s Rural Creative Economy


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

The World Bank shows that 40% of Georgians live in rural areas while 60% live in urban areas, and this has remained nearly steady since the 2010 Census. When you look at the distribution of funds for the arts in Georgia (Georgia Council for the Arts) only 26% goes to our rural areas. That is 26% of $2.1 Million the GCA distributed in 2022, a total of about $806,000, or $0.14 per person, the lowest per capita state arts distribution in the US.

In my last article I highlighted the need for “Cultural Clarity” in Creative Economies and described the need to better define which creative industries are considered in Georgia’s Creative Economy. In this article I will focus on our state’s investment in the arts, Georgia’s Rural Creative Economy, and how the Film Industry can be a foundation for Rural Economic Development in the state of Georgia.

In Georgia, the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDED) and specifically the Georgia Council for the Arts (a division of the GDED) are charged with understanding and enabling our Creative Economy. The primary areas of focus for GDED are Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment while the Council’s 2.1-million-dollar fund has a primary focus on non-profit arts organizations, including Art Education in the state.

Per their website, the Georgia Council for the Arts is currently conducting a “Statewide Economic Impact Survey” to better understand “the impact and growth of Georgia’s creative economy.” When asked what creative industries were being studied and where, Tina Lilly, Executive Director of the Georgia Council for the Arts stated they were participating in the Americans for the Arts national “Arts and Economic Prosperity 6” program, which is primarily focused on the economic impact of non-profit arts organizations on tourism and local community income. It highlights individual studies for “Atlanta, Macon, Augusta and Savannah”; hardly a robust look at the overall creative economy as we see it.

So, what about our rural areas?  I live in a rural county, and when I travel through other rural parts of our state, I see beautiful communities on the periphery of economic advancement. Small town squares surrounded by shuttered buildings that once housed thriving businesses now longing for renewal. And what I see as part of this renewal is the opportunity for communities to engage in our creative economy to develop enterprise and provide jobs.

Recently I was introduced to a concept called “Creative Clusters”, a part of an “Industry Cluster Mapping” process identifying small hubs of creative endeavor in rural areas. For example, the state of Texas, as part of its rural economic development program has identified 36 such rural communities with the intent to support creatives in these clusters with grants, business development coaching and networking these nodes to connect to the larger state capability networks and organizations.

A way to jumpstart this in Georgia would be to use Georgia Film Academy locations as hubs for our Creative Clusters, given that the $4+ billion Georgia Film Industry is so robust. Among other ideas, we could leverage some of the state tax revenue generated by our Film Industry to support these rural Creative Clusters, helping rural creative endeavors, including film makers, location managers, electricians, sound engineers, visual artists, designers, caterers, local businesses, and others involved in the film industry.

As the Georgia General Assembly embarks on a new rural economic development initiative, it would be beneficial to include an analysis of our rural Creative Clusters in addition to the governor’s “Rural Strike Teams” which are focused on large commercial development. Bringing Rural Economic Development closer to the Georgia Film industry and therefore our Creative Economy would benefit many rural Georgians!

David is 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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