Creativity, Diversity, Inclusion

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Last week I wrapped up an entire year of daily posting in my other blog, Creating Stuff. This daily exercise, during a global pandemic, is one of the things that kept me sane in my splendid isolation. Supporting Tiki artists by buying their work is another. Engaging with my workplace’s efforts to support Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) is a third. How does this all fit together?

This morning, as I was cruising Facebook, I read a post where somebody listed a ranking of “Essential” and “Non-Essential” occupations. Artists were at the top of the latter list. Disappointing, but not surprising, as our society tends to value people who make a lot of money over those who engage in the so-called “soft skills.” What this view neglects is that those people in the Creative Class are the ones who make life bearable, nay, enjoyable, for the rest of humanity to thrive in!

I borrow the term Creative Class from author Richard Florida, who penned a book, The Rise of the Creative Class, in 2002. Three years later, I was fortunate to hear him speak at a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation event, an organization I volunteered with. In a nutshell, Richard Florida argued that the Creative Class of people were essential to driving economic development, particularly pertaining to the return of our vibrant urban cores, cities.

As artists, entertainers, and other creative types flock back to the downtowns, the entrepreneurs and businesspeople were sure to follow. The lure of a better quality of life would be enough to entice people to move into the more urban areas, where they would raise their children and support the Creative Class who were already supporting them.

This has certainly come to pass in the Lehigh Valley over the past 15 years, where our cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton have seen a renaissance in their downtowns. Development projects like the PPL Center arena in Allentown, the SteelStacks complex in Bethlehem, and the Lafayette College Arts District in Easton are great examples of sports/entertainment, music, and art driving economic development. These and other projects have created jobs, spurred the opening of restaurants and stores, and most importantly, brought people back out of the suburban shopping malls and into the downtown districts.

Sadly, one of the things I remember about that LVEDC meeting back in 2005 was a boycott of it by certain older members of the economic development community. You see, one of Richard Florida’s more controversial ideas was the gay index, one of several measurements he developed to rate living areas. The higher the concentration of gay people in a city, the more likely that city was to have a creative core and attract development. Well, this idea didn’t sit well with some of the founding fathers of the Lehigh Valley’s redevelopment efforts. So much so that they chose to skip the LVEDC meeting rather than sit through Richard Florida’s great presentation. How very sad.

The good news: most of those homophobic old fucks are now dead. They’re probably rolling over in their graves, because many of the successful new businesses in the Lehigh Valley are owned by gay people. In fact, the region’s leading arts and culture organization, ArtsQuest, is led by an openly gay woman, who happens to be a good friend of mine. Kassie Hilgert is the president and CQO of an entity that generates millions of dollars in economic and community development for our community. God bless you, Kassie. We know what the “Q” truly stands for. 😎

Talk about diversity! I’m so proud to be a part of this. I’ve been a community volunteer with ArtsQuest for years, and now I’m also volunteering with the company I work for, Constellation/Exelon, to help spread the gospel of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our organization. Exelon was out in front supporting the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, after the senseless killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. We have also long been supportive of equity initiatives for women and the LGBTQ+ community in our workplaces.

In 2021, I’m working with good people within Exelon as part of our Culture and Education initiative. My part in this is to help create and facilitate a series of uncomfortable conversations we call Opting In, which will be offered to all Constellation employs this year. We will tackle DEI topics such as Being An Ally, Privilege, Social Justice in the Sports World, and many more. I can’t wait to get started, and I will continue to be an ally to those groups who have been discriminated against and treated inequitably.

These worlds colliding of creativity, diversity, and inclusion truly makes me happy.

P.S. – I neglected to mention my support of the Tiki artist community, which has been significant over the past year. Obviously, this also makes me very happy. Here’s a sneak peak of the latest piece of art I should soon be displaying proudly in the Tiki Lounge, compliments of Mark Thompson. Mahalo, Mark, and aloha, Panda’s Zen!

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