New study to guide growth of Franklin County’s creative economy

  • Greenfield Community College President Yves Salomon-Fernandez welcomes those in attendance at the Franklin County Creative Economy Project event at Greenfield Community College on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Franklin County Creative Economy Project event was held at Greenfield Community College on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield Community College Dean of Humanities Leo Hwang welcomes those in attendance of the Franklin County Creative Economy Project event at Greenfield Community College on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Consultant Michael Kane delivers his findings about the creative economy in Franklin County during an event at Greenfield Community College on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield Community College Dean of Humanities Leo Hwang talks with Deb Habib of Orange’s Seeds of Solidarity prior to the Franklin County Creative Economy Project event at Greenfield Community College on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Former state Congressman John Olver speaks with state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, prior to the Franklin County Creative Economy Project event at GCC on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • People talk prior to the Franklin County Creative Economy Project event at Greenfield Community College on Monday night. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2019 10:07:22 PM

GREENFIELD — Franklin County has grown a strong creative economy over the past decade with its 50 fairs and festivals each year, hundreds of artists and performers living here, and numerous performance venues, particularly in Greenfield. But the area’s creative minds say there’s still work to be done.

Educators, artists, municipal leaders and legislators gathered at Greenfield Community College on Monday to find out where the county is at and what more it can do to boost the creative economy.

GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez said Franklin County is a rural area alive with creative people who are “contributing greatly” to their communities. She said it is an important time to grow the creative economy and the college wants to be part of it as a convener and catalyst.

“There is much unrealized potential here, and we have to unleash it,” Salomon-Fernandez said. “The future of Franklin County is yet to be fully realized.”

Michael Kane of Michael Kane Consulting conducted a study and created a report called the Franklin County Creative Economy Project to help guide those working on the issue. The report was an initiative of GCC and former Congressman John W. Olver. It provides information about the strengths, assets, opportunities and challenges the area faces when it comes to the creative economy.

Kane said the county will need to dig deeper, unravel and showcase the talent living and working in the area, but can use the report to guide it along. He said the bulk of information came from about 100 people who participated, including many from Franklin County. The study was conducted for Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.

The study indicated that 9.2 percent of the people employed in Franklin County work in creative industries. While Greenfield is becoming the hub, Kane said Turners Falls, Montague, Shelburne Falls, Deerfield and Orange have strong creative economies, as well. In fact, SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, ranked Franklin County as ninth in the nation on the fifth annual Arts Vibrancy Index report released in August.

“Downtown Greenfield and GCC play roles and they are expanding,” he said. “There are new creative businesses opening all the time. There are co-working spaces expanding. Performing arts, like theater, music and dance, are expanding all the time. There’s a lot happening here.”

Some of the challenges to growing the creative economy include branding and image, focus and coordinating, lack of formal communication and affordable housing. But, Kane said, there are organizations, including the Franklin County Community Development Corp., Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and the University of Massachusetts Amherst Arts Extension, that are willing to help.

Amy Shapiro, Franklin County Community Development Corp. business development director, and Lisa Davol, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce marketing manager, said the Pioneer Valley Creative Economy Network has worked with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to address some of the challenges.

Jim Ayers, the foundation’s vice president for programs and strategy, said the foundation is looking at ways the three counties can connect and share resources. The foundation has a nine-year partnership with the Barr Foundation, a private foundation in Boston with core programs in arts and creativity, climate and education. The two groups will work to build platforms and relationships.

Suzanne LoManto, director of RiverCulture in Turners Falls, said she has seen a lot of progress in the creative economy over the years, especially in Montague, where she serves as cultural coordinator.

“We have fostered arts and culture. It has become part of our identity,” she said. “We’ve attracted artists and in turn, there has been an upswing in investment and interest in our town and its five villages.”

Eggtooth Productions theater company Artistic Director Linda McInerney noted The Hive membership-based maker space in downtown Greenfield will open in 2020, offering a place in which people with shared interests can gather to work on projects and share ideas and equipment including 3-D printers, laser cutters and other machinery.

Leo Twang, dean of humanities at GCC, said artists and artisans throughout the county are valuable assets who provide a quality of life for everyone.

“Without them, we’re just another place in the woods,” he said.

The Franklin County Creative Economy Project will soon be available to view on the GCC website at: gcc.mass.edu.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.


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