A Nov. 9 summit aims to find out. By Erin Z. Bass
In 2003, Southern Business & Development magazine named Lafayette one of the 10 “Coolest Cities in the South.” In 2006, Entrepreneur magazine named Lafayette a “Hot City for Entrepreneurs,” and in 2008, SB&D followed up by calling Lafayette one of the “Top 10 Great Innovation Markets in the South.” Since then, the Hub City has also been touted as best for job growth, music, food and digital media.
All of these accolades play into Lafayette’s desire to grow into a “cool town,” a term coined by economist Richard Florida, and attract a “creative class” of residents. Florida defines this “creative class” as scientists, professors, poets, architects, designers, artists, musicians and educators whose function in society is to create new ideas, technology and new ways of thinking. In the way of other cities like Austin, Asheville, N.C., and Athens, Ga., Lafayette has the opportunity to become an economic leader by offering an environment that attracts creative people.
Some would say Lafayette has already achieved “cool town” status and can rest on its laurels, but Colin Miller isn’t so sure. “Are the statistics matching up with the rhetoric?” the 27-year-old asks.
Miller is part of the founding committee presenting the Creative Economy Summit at the LITE Center Nov. 9. A former actor and photographer, he now works as field director for Forum for Equality to promote gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, something he says is an integral part of being a “cool town.”
“These issues are as cultural as they are economic, political [and] technological,” he says. “We, as a region, have a history of diversity here. It’s where our culture comes from, but are we truly as accepting as we think we are?”
Along with other committee members — including architecture professor Hector LaSala; Lafayette League of Women Voters past president Sally Donlon; Emee Morgan, artist and daughter of the late Elemore Morgan Jr.; and Amy Waguespack, actress and artistic director of Acting Up In Acadiana — these are the types of questions Miller wants to put up for public discussion next week.
The summit’s mission is to discuss the importance of creativity, diversity and innovation as major driving forces of economic growth and outline how Lafayette can address those factors and reach its full potential. Individual talks by Joe Traigle, president of Sterling Studios in Baton Rouge, Phanat Xanamane, whose Envision daBerry project is helping revitalize one of the poorest areas of New Iberia, and filmmakers Conni Castille and Allison Bohl will be followed by a panel discussion among several other local business people.
While Miller approaches the conversation more from a political and tolerance angle, Morgan and Waguespack ultimately just want to be able to make a living in Lafayette and help other artists do the same.
Waguespack lost three of her acting company members to New York and Austin last year, and she expects her daughter will also move away when she graduates from college.
“We have a lot of the creative elements, but I think we need to be more diverse, greener, bluer,” she says. “I think we need to have this conversation and not just pat ourselves on the back for how cool we are. There are things we still need to do to get there.”
Morgan recently graduated from art school in New York and moved back home to Lafayette. She’s been working with the visual arts endowment set up in her father’s name but hasn’t been able to find a job yet.
“All of our arguments go back to economics,” she says. “If you attract people by saying we’re open to new ideas, you’ll attract more people who are likely to be entrepreneurs and more qualified for the kinds of industries that are developing in our country.”
Miller and Morgan want to make it clear that they’re not saying Lafayette isn’t a great place to live. “There’s nothing better than people praising this place,” says Miller, “but people like me and Emme, we’re young people who have an entrepreneurial way of looking at things, a background in the arts, and wonder if we can support ourselves here.”
They also don’t expect to solve all of Lafayette’s creative problems in one night. Quarterly discussions are planned to follow the summit, and the group hopes to attract other people who want to join the conversation.
“What we’re talking about here, it sounds very big,” admits Miller. “We’re talking about a paradigm shift that, in the short term, might seem pretty difficult for Lafayette, but I believe in Lafayette. We have an authenticity here. We don’t want Lafayette to become Austin, we want a better Lafayette.”
The Creative Economy Summit will be held from 6-9 p.m. at the LITE Center Nov. 9. Suggested donation is $10 and $5 for students and seniors. Visit www.ceslafayette.com for more information.
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