What is your general impression of people who make their living in the arts or a craft?

Unfortunately, I think that many of us think those are only hobbies. If that is your thinking, you are overlooking an important part of our economy.

Some of the most hardcore, savviest businesspeople I know are artists and craftsmen.

Having lived in Nashville, aka Music City, I have known a few.

And I have lately been learning that southern Colorado has its own rich vein of businesses that make art.

Nashville's creative economy is vast: An estimated 40,000 Nashville-area residents earn a living in live and recorded music, theater, visual and culinary arts and the fashion industry. It's such a large presence that city leaders and the Chamber of Commerce center their business recruitment on the arts.

Major citywide public school initiatives there nearly all have a component of music and the arts.

What this does is not only give support to the arts but it acknowledges that the arts support the community.

So it is very gratifying to see the work here by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, or COPPeR, and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance to lift up the creative economy.

An "Arts and Economic Prosperity Study" conducted in the region in 2012 found that the nonprofit arts industry created 2,168 jobs and had a $72 million annual economic impact.

With the recent burst of population growth in Colorado, it's safe to say that the 2016 study, which is underway, will show even higher numbers.

And that is just the nonprofit portion; a look at the Colorado Collective (www.colorado- collective.com) will introduce you to locals who have turned their creative talents into going concerns.

While perhaps only a small percentage of arts and crafts jobs will make you wealthy, there are good livings to be had for those who have learned how to practice, promote and preserve their unique talents. And predictably, the internet and social media have made that easier than it used to be.

When artists need help with business principles, there is the local AIR:Shift Workshop (AIR stands for Arts Incubator of the Rockies, which serves 10 states in the Intermountain West), which brings them together with business professionals in a collaborative effort to break down barriers through projects and coaching.

That is only the beginning.

Other nonprofit organizations in our area that promote the creative economy include the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Cottonwood Center for the Arts, the Downtown Partnership and the Pikes Peak Arts Council.

More than most, creative businesses thrive on the sense of community that such organizations provide.

Personally, I hope to see more instances of creative entrepreneurs influencing the broader business and governmental sectors - more than producing public art, even including artists on boards that help shape public policy.

Creative mindsets yield fresh solutions to old, stubborn problems.

Just ask the many small companies that have focused innovative thinking as an attribute when hiring.

Finally, the passion quotient in the creative economy cannot be overestimated. Artists make art not only to survive but also to satisfy that inner need. Those who can channel that into their everyday jobs are the happiest of workers.

More power to them.

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Send Gazette Business Editor Ted Rayburn your ideas on business and the southern Colorado economy at 636-0194 or ted.rayburn@gazette.com.

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