The Detroit Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship and the Marygrove Conservancy have joined forces to conduct a citywide arts-focused census in an effort to learn how many Detroiters make part or all of their living from the arts.
The information will be used to seek more arts funding for the city of Detroit and assist artists from every field in finding and maintaining sustainable work.
“The city was without an office of arts and culture for more than 20 years, so there’s been no accurate reflection of just how huge our creative workforce is,” said Rochelle Riley, Detroit’s director of arts and culture. “The best way to gain support for it and to give it the passion and and attention it deserves is to prove how large it is. What we want to do with Marygrove Conservancy is take that information and go after funding the artistic workforce like nobody’s business. By the time this census is done, I bet we’ll find our creative workforce is as large as our automotive, if not bigger.”
The census is a groundbreaking move for a major American city. Quantifying the number of artists living and working in a large city could lead to shaping major changes in the way the country addresses artists and their needs.
“About a year ago, when Marygrove Conservancy was starting to reimagine its work and programming around arts and culture, folks kept telling me: ‘You need to talk to Rochelle Riley! She’s thinking about things in a very similar way!’ ” said Racheal Allen, Marygrove chief operating organizer. “On our end, we were thinking about doing an artists census, and they were saying, ‘She’s looking to do that, too.’ “
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 873,000 American citizens were employed in manufacturing roles by the automotive industry in June 2021, while more than 2 million filled arts, entertainment and recreation roles. Month-over-month numbers are growing steadily as arts opportunities return after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the country.
In 2019, arts and cultural economic activity accounted for 4.3%, or $919.7 billion, of U.S. gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The American Automotive Policy Council states that automakers and their suppliers account for 3% of the GDP.
“When Rochelle and I finally had the opportunity to connect,” Allen said, “we saw that a lot of our projects were very synergistic, and it made all the sense in the world to partner, particularly to get this artists census done.
“Work has been done by other organizations over the years to capture some of this information, so to round that out, we looked to approach this from the perspectives of the Marygrove Conservancy and its neighborhood-based way, but also at the city level. By having both organizations coming into this from two different vantage points, we’re optimistic we can get the right kind of support to collect the data we need to make a difference.”
Said Riley: “We want to make sure that we’re supporting this industry. People support the industries they’re familiar with, and since we’re the Motor City, people think of auto first when they think of us. But we are also a creative city, and quite frankly, we want to do all the things artists have been begging us to do: provide valuable work space, resources, training, networking opportunities, funding. We want to create an environment where our artists can be fed and nurtured here instead of having to go someplace else to create. We have a world-class arts community, and it’s time we supported that fully.”
Allen agreed, noting that “the creative economy in Detroit is strong.”
“So we’ve been saying to people, ‘We can’t support you if we don’t know that you’re here and we don’t know what kind of work you’re doing,’ so we are hopeful that this data will come in and really make the case for getting our artists the level of support they need and deserve. When we reach for new, formalized funding, we’ll be asked: ‘How have you reached out to the community? What is the data telling you?’ We know anecdotally what Detroit’s artists need, but through the census, we’ll be able to use this data-driven approach to support and obtain that.”
The census needs participation from every person involved in the arts, Riley stressed.
“If you’re a painter, a gaffer, a dancer, songwriter, someone who does stage management for plays … if you work in administration for an arts organization, if you have anything to do with arts and culture in Detroit, please go and fill out the census,” she said.
All members of Detroit’s artist community are invited to complete the online census at http://bit.ly/ART4313 before Aug. 2.