Kim Chestney, founder of CREATE! Festival, says a thriving creative business depends on intuition.
In 2017 roughly 3.5 million people in the United States were employed in the Creative Industries by over 674,000 businesses, ranging from museums and symphonies to design and advertising firms — and this is an extremely conservative approach to documenting those currently employed in creative fields. In contrast, the political and economic juggernaut Walmart employed only 2.3 million people globally in that same year. Still, why should we care about the Creative Industries at all? Because as we move from the information age into an age of imagination, creative businesses and artist entrepreneurs may become the driving force behind an automated and mostly digital economy. And the key to harnessing this power comes down to our intuition.
At least that’s how Kim Chestney, the founding director of Pittsburgh’s CREATE! Festival and recent addition to the advisory council of Americans for the Arts, sees it. And through her book, The Psychic Workshop, she argues that we can “either learn to use our intuition to create new, powerful and world-changing work, or get left behind by the people who do.” Of course, she’s not the first to list intuition as essential for both the arts and sciences. Einstein himself declared that “the only real valuable thing is intuition.” And Steve Jobs encouraged recent generations to “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” In fact, Jobs was a champion for the intuitive nature of creativity in terms of societal and technological advancement, producing the golden years of Apple through his visionary lens.
Intuition, Kim asserts, has become our new holy grail, an elusive vessel to fill as a means of differentiating mankind from machines. It is our own personal source of genius — and what often separates good from great. And it is also proof that our critical thinking abilities, algorithms and data can only take us so far. Yet, as she points out, “Intuition, like any skill or talent, must be elucidated and refined through use and practice. The more we use it, the stronger it becomes. And the more intuitive we become, the more creative and innovative our world becomes.”
In other words, intuition is the true power behind both creativity and innovation, two key concepts fueling the economic force of the Creative Industries. As Kim explains, creative businesses play a crucial role in revitalizing both urban and rural regions. “Cities like Detroit and Toronto have robust economic strategies based around the Creative Industries because we know that artists bring new energy to neighborhoods,” she says. “But this also raises complex questions about gentrification and displacement. We have to be careful not to ‘use’ artists as a means to an end but to incorporate their power into long-term strategies.” Kim does this by focusing her efforts on empowering artists and creatives to make a living by following their intuition, reinvigorating our culture in the process.
In fact, Kim’s ultimate goal is “to obliterate the term ‘starving artist’” while helping creatives empower themselves, start new businesses and make money without sacrificing their art. However, this comes with challenges. “One of the biggest misconceptions about the Creative Industries is that artists are not entrepreneurs,” she says. “And there is resistance to this idea on both the business side and the arts side: the business side often thinks artists can’t make money or contribute practical value; the arts side, in many cases, rejects the idea of ‘selling out’ to make money.” Her response to this struggle has been two-fold.
First, she founded the CREATE! Festival held in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as an annual celebration of the transformative power of creativity. Over 1,000 creatives and entrepreneurs attend, hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, Three Rivers Arts Festival and others. Held each spring since 2009, this event includes workshops, performances, awards and showcases for the year’s most innovative work in the Creative Industries, including the Innovation Salon, an interactive art and technology exhibition.
In 2014 Kim collaborated with the University of Toronto and Carnegie Mellon University on a Creative Industries study, which revealed that companies that worked collaboratively with other companies, specifically those that were different from one another, were statistically more likely to succeed. This crucial concept of connectivity became the guiding force behind Kim’s next project: the Co-CREATE Business Ignition Program. “Since creativity and innovation are directly linked to our ability to connect, share and learn from people who are different than we are, we decided to build our program around that very concept.” What they did was put six very different early-stage creative businesses — all from different backgrounds — together for nearly a year in a completely immersive co-creative environment. The result? “We were amazed at how much they learned from each other…. This is a revolutionary model that, I believe, will supersede traditional mentorship and training strategies.”
But even with a goal of connectivity, creative businesses and artist entrepreneurs must also find their own unique purpose if they plan to grow a business and make money, rather than be creative for creativity’s sake. She encourages artists to ask themselves: “What can I bring to the world that no one else can? How can I help, move or touch people with my creative work?” She encourages creatives to “identify that need gap, and then hustle!” And that appears to be the chasm to cross between being a mere creative and being a creative business owner. “As an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared to hustle: to get out there and meet people, promote your work, develop partnerships, share your ideas — and, while doing all of that, manage the day-to-day business and create your products! It’s great effort for great reward; and in the end, we’re investing in ourselves. But if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”
It’s evident that, for Kim and her team, this belief is central to their efforts. “We’re out here every day, putting these ideas into action: experimenting, often failing (forward), to gain tangible insight into how this industry needs to be elevated.” And, partly, that’s why she wrote The Psychic Workshop. “I wanted to help people connect with the part of themselves that fosters creativity and innovation. Well-being, happiness, peace, enlightenment — all of that is on the other side of intuition. Of course, as we discovered, intuition is a word that many people just don’t understand. Call it ‘intuitive’ or ‘psychic’ or even ‘predictive’; regardless of semantics, it is time for us as individuals and a culture to connect with the part of us that is beyond critical thinking, data and algorithms.” As for the economic power of this mind-set? “All of it comes back to intuition in the end — the Creative Industries, art, business, technology, global evolution, personal evolution, love, enlightenment — all of it is directly connected to our intuition. So, yeah, intuit or die.”