Two weeks ago, I attended an "emergency arts summit" at the Arts Council of Beaufort County. It was like a "meeting of the five families," with representatives from local arts organizations, government, artists, actors, musicians, business people and, well, me.
The meeting was wide-ranging, but what was clear was that the local arts community is willing to work together. They also have ideas on how to do this. One of the points made was that artists need professional development to better market and sell their services.
Coincidentally, a new initiative launched last week looks to address those thoughts. Fuse843 is billed as a "new hub for business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers and anyone in the 843 region who considers themselves a creative professional."
(Note for those who are not hip to the kids' lingo these days: "843 region" refers to the 843 area code, meaning anyone who lives in this area. Word.)
"Fuse843 will be a great resource for creatives, where they can find helpful information to further their career, where they can connect with others in their field, where they can share ideas and where they can get inspired," said Heather Bragg of Bragg Media. "More than that, Fuse843 is a telling sign that change is on the horizon -- not only in regards to the economy but a new way of life that incorporates live, work and play."
That's quite an ambitious mission statement, but Fuse843 is made up of ambitious people. It was founded by Bragg, Carrie Carper of Adagio Creative, Ken Hawkins with The Digitel in Charleston and Ian Leslie with the Lowcountry Economic Network.
The foursome had met previously, brainstorming ideas to bring together the creative people in the Beaufort area. "We are all pretty confident in our individual abilities and know there's so much talent in the area, but no 'hub' to call home, so to speak," Carper said.
While the founders all work in traditional media and marketing jobs, they hope Fuse843 will reach out to other types of creative people; the ones more likely to wear a tie to work instead of jeans.
"It's important to understand the definition of 'creatives,'" Carper said. "We believe in (author) Richard Florida's definition of the Creative Class, which runs the gamut of professionals and are your traditional 'knowledge-based' workers. That includes health care, business, finance, the legal sector and educators."
Carper also spoke of the "super creatives" (which sounds like the worst name for a superhero group ever), defined as artists, designers, marketers and computer/Web developers. But, she stressed, Fuse843 can't succeed with just super creatives. Like what was mentioned at the Arts Council meeting, the artists need the help of business professionals, grant writers and legal professionals to turn their passion into profit.
This connection will be provided by the centerpiece of Fuse843, which is an interactive Web site that will bring locals together. The group also will host networking opportunities (the old-fashioned kind that involve you putting clothes on and leaving the house) and group projects.
"It will provide a home base to connect, learn, grow and be inspired," Carper said of the site. "Fuse843 will have some themed events. Maybe one event focuses on social media, one on marketing, another on grant writing or business planning, etc. -- and we'll find hosts for these events who are just as excited as we are about the possibilities that this organization will provide."
Yes, well, this all sounds well and good, but how does it work in the real world? If I am a freelance graphic designer, for instance, why do I want to join a community with other freelance graphic designers? Isn't the improvement of my competition's ability to market and promote themselves going to be a detriment to me?
Carper agrees that there is some competition between creatives (as there are in any business), but she believes the long-term success of Fuse843 would benefit everyone.
"The advantage, as we see it, is that if this takes off the way we feel it will, Fuse843 will provide a sense of 'creative credibility' and will empower participants and the region as a whole," she said.
Think of it like a shopping mall. It's better to have 100 great stores than it is to have one great store and 99 bad ones. Customers are more likely to come shop at a mall that offers 100 great stores. It's the same for the 843 area and its creative class: The more creative professionals visible in the area, the more likely the community will be to attract businesses that need those creative professionals.
"It's something that definitely needs cultivation," Carper said. "Take a new business owner for instance. He or she has no idea who to go to for a logo, branding, PR, marketing, Web design. Fuse843 provides the infrastructure for a one-stop shop of sorts."
It's an interesting idea. At the least, one would hope that Beaufort's creative class is creative enough to make it work.