Charleston is a tourist city. Obviously. We all benefit in a big way from the dollars travelers bring in, but that’s not the only way this region churns out the cheddar. The software, engineering, medical, and defense industries keep this little piece of paradise economically afloat. Oh, and did we mention art? Yeah, that too. Parliament is an advocacy group of people working to prove how economically viable the creative industry is.
Gross sales associated with creative industries in Charleston exceeded $1.4 billion in 2009, according to a research study funded by a partnership of Parliament, New Carolina, and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. That’s approximately 3 percent of all sales generated in the regional economy — 27,315 jobs in this region, to be exact, ranging from culinary to literary to architectural to cultural heritage industries. Moreover, the study found that the Creative Economy cluster, a term used to describe creative and non-creative workers employed in creative industries, is one of the top five largest employers in Charleston.
Parliament wants Charleston to acknowledge those statistics and do something about them, namely champion the findings as proof that the creative sector is critical to the Charleston economy.
“Parliament to us means helping Charleston become a place known nationally as a creative center, and as a place that inspires personal growth, cultivates and rewards creativity, embraces diversity, and creates positive economic impact,” says Steve Warner, the founder of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance and one of the masterminds behind the Parliament movement.
Warner, along with what Parliament calls its Strategic Posse (a board of 11 local movers and shakers), created the group to not only promote the creatives of Charleston, but to encourage artists to move to the area and network. The first step was starting Pecha Kucha, the show-and-tell/live social-networking event held around town to highlight local artists and innovators.
Robert Prioleau of Blue Ion, an interactive marketing agency, says Pecha Kucha is a significant part of Parliament’s mission to unite Charleston’s creative working class. Now the next step for Parliament is to have interested individuals get involved, which is as simple as signing up on the website.
Parliament’s goal for artisans of every ilk is to self-identify and show their pride with bumper stickers and other flair the group has produced. The hope is that such self-identification will lead to pride, greater unity, and eventually a body of individuals fighting for Charleston’s creative initiatives.
Local artists and arts industry businesses are right on board with that goal. PURE Theatre’s Rodney Lee Rogers says the beauty of Parliament is that it wasn’t created to benefit artists alone. Like the term “cultural creative” suggests, Parliament embraces anyone with a creative bent, from painters to thespians to those in the tourism industry to advertisers. “It’s open to anyone who’s interested,” Rogers says.
Prioleau and the team hope Parliament will be a driving force to highlight Charleston as the arts leader he believes it is, with members discussing arts issues with their school boards, community leaders, and business acquaintances. Most importantly, he wants artists to take action.
“Don’t just sit back and complain,” he says. “We need people to infiltrate the larger community to advocate to support funding art so that we’re recognized as a legit industry.”