Washington Has a Secret: We Have Artists!

by Editorial

Maggie Michael and husband Dan Steinhilber (Photograph by Joseph Allen)

Maggie Michael and husband Dan Steinhilber (Photograph by Joseph Allen)

A Washington secret doesn’t have to be about the Hill, lobbyists, think tanks, or the 24/7/365 stream of network punditry and online musings that trail politics like an FBI agent on a stakeout. No, Washington’s secret is that – gasp! – we are creative. There, we said it. We are creative! Feels good, doesn’t it? Don’t believe it? According to a 2009 assessment conducted by the D.C. Office of Planning and Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, the District’s creative industries generate more than $5 billion in income each year and more than 75,000 jobs.

“The economic significance of the creative sector is clear – creative enterprises play a key role in contributing to the District’s economic vibrancy through tourism, income generation, and business incubation,” says Harriet Tregoning, director of the Office of Planning. “Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to harness the extensive talent in the city in a way that will position the District as a global leader in creative industries.”

As the metro area continues to grow and attract talent from around the world, the creative economy will be the deciding factor that determines how Washington can realistically be compared to New York, London, Tokyo, and Paris. Do we have much further to go before we are regarded as their equal? Yes. Are we on the right path? Absolutely.

There have been important creative movements in the city’s past: Duke Ellington’s jazz, Fugazi’s ’80s punk music revival, and the Washington Color School of the ’60s, among others.

This continues today as the local hip- hop scene gets national attention, our celebrity chefs grace network food shows, and The Discovery, National Geographic, and Smithsonian channels join a small army of production companies that regularly turn out thought-provoking film and television (need we mention the ongoing reality TV blitz?). The upcoming H Street Corridor and now-established Chinatown, U Street, and 14th Street neighborhoods regularly see national and international quality artists. Look around, Washingtonians, our city is flourishing creatively.

One misconception that most people have about the region’s creative industry is that it only includes people holding paint brushes. In the following feature, we broaden the general definition of what constitutes a creative field. We’ve also taken the time to consider those who are the forces behind helping drive creativity.

Take social media for example. It’s generally recognized that NOVA is a hotbed of innovative tech entrepreneurship. It’s the petri dish from which AOL sprouted along with the numerous start-ups that followed. But the venture capitalists who helped fund that charge are just as important to the tech industry as the developer who conceptualized the “widget” and the programmers who made it.

Politics and the local creative economy overlap. Some of the leading social media minds are in the White House. And the Smithsonian plays an invaluable role in the region’s arts world. But our goal is to get you to stop and smell the creative roses, i.e., take the time to look beyond the important, yet, obvious, stalwarts of the metro area’s creative community and open your eyes to the emerging cadre of musicians, interior designers, event planners, photographers, performing and visual artists, galleries and theaters, new media minds, TV/film professionals, writers, and more. Let the secret out: we are the District of Creativity.

What do you think?
Thousands of professionals are helping to drive our metro area’s flourishing creative economy. Can we list them all in our Creative List here? No. Can you help us list them all online? Yes, you can. Tell us what you think! We’ve posted different artistic categories and we want to hear from you. Who are the region’s top creative movers and shakers? Stay tuned to the debate by joining our Facebook group and following us on Twitter @washingtonlife.

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