The Importance of Creatives in Wichita

In virtually every field, creatives, well, create, whether it's new ideas, new methods, new art or new stories. What does this look like in Wichita?


WHY CREATIVES MATTER

No matter what field they might be in, creatives, well, create, whether it's new ideas, new methods, new art or new stories.

This process of creation isn't just vital for our businesses; it's vital for our city as a whole. That means more creatives, more progress.

Watch this video to learn more about who these creatives are, and the types of jobs built specifically for them here in Wichita.


WHAT IS THE CREATIVE CLASS?

The "creative class" is a term coined by economist and social scientist Richard Florida to describe a socioeconomic class comprising about 30 percent of the American workforce, including scientists, engineers and others whose main role is to identify and solve problems through creativity.

Within that group, Florida says there are people "fully engaged in the creative process." These are artists, designers, writers, photographers and others whose primary purpose is to create.


"I feel like creativity has a very big presence here in Wichita," says Justin McClure, executive creative director at Justin McClure Creative, a production studio specializing in video and motion design. "Especially in the last 10 years, it's really starting to ramp up."

Wichita isn't alone. With the advent of technologies like social media, a company isn't just a technology company. It's also a content creation company with the opportunity to share its own story directly with customers. This has led to a post-industrial boom in creative careers that Florida projects will continue.

I feel like creativity has a very big presence here in Wichita. Especially in the last 10 years, it's really starting to ramp up.Justin McClure

This has also led to a shake-up of the traditional creative industry, McClure says.

"There's nothing typical about creative right now," he says. "Look at any business that has more than six people, and one of them is going to be their 'creative person.'"

McClure's studio has been in operation for the past 11 years. In that time, McClure has seen a lot of shifts in how advertising agencies and individual companies work. While agencies used to hire out almost exclusively to production companies like McClure's, they're now bringing much of that work in-house. Similarly, many companies are creating their own in-house creative teams, foregoing traditional agencies.

"So you have creatives who are everywhere," McClure says. "It's not just in the agencies. It's not just at this design firm; it's in-house, and it's everywhere."

With these changes, opportunities for creatives are virtually endless, but they can vary from city to city.


CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY IN WICHITA

As a historically manufacturing-based economy, Wichita isn't necessarily known for cultivating and attracting the creative class. Instead, Florida points to cities like San Francisco, Boston, Austin and Seattle.

He lays out three T's that attract creatives — and the companies that need them most:

TALENT, or a highly skilled and educated workforce.

TOLERANCE, a diverse community that is open to many types of people and lifestyles.

TECHNOLOGY, or the basic infrastructure needed for innovation.

So how does Wichita do in these areas?

When it comes to talent, few companies in Wichita hire as many creatives as Signal Theory, an advertising agency that has a decades-long history in Wichita under their former name, Sullivan, Higdon and Sink, and also has a presence in Kansas City.


"We've had a very intentional effort looking at the talent pipeline that we can cultivate and create and feed and nurture because talent's our biggest asset," says Lathi de Silva, managing director at Signal Theory. "To us, the creative community is something that we would like to see grow."

With a strong concentration of agencies, production companies and in-house opportunities at larger companies like Koch Industries and Cargill, Wichita has a good pull for creatives. But Wichita isn't necessarily the city these types of professionals tend to seek out. This has made recruitment that much more important for agencies like Signal Theory.

"I think one of the ways that we're trying to support the creative community is by offering a great place to work," de Silva says. "To us, that means making sure that we have challenging assignments, great clients and great brands. But, also making sure that [employees are] getting to do the kind of work that's really giving back to them."

So far, de Silva says their pitch seems to be working. They've attracted candidates from bigger cities, including Salt Lake City, Dallas, Seattle and Chicago.

I think one of the ways that we're trying to support the creative community is by offering a great place to work. To us, that means making sure that we have challenging assignments, great clients and great brands. But, also making sure that [employees are] getting to do the kind of work that's really giving back to them.Lathi de Silva

McClure says it's this type of recruitment from other cities that needs to be prioritized over keeping talented Wichitans here.

"To say that our main goal is to keep folks here ... I think is the wrong approach," he says. "When you're 21, 22 or 23 years old, it flows through your bloodstream to go explore. Go see new things, meet new people, go do, go experience other things. And that's our calling as human beings, we want to go do those things."

That being said, McClure says Wichita needs to focus on having opportunities for these types of professionals when they choose to come back.

"We're working with Discovery Channel and SciFi Network, and I think that's an attraction," he says. "I think you have to have those types of brands because that's why they're leaving in the first place. They're gonna go experience bigger things. They want to go do big things. And if we can have those big things here in town, that makes it a little bit easier."

Having opportunities for creatives to forge a career in Wichita is vital to attracting them to our city. But we also have to have an infrastructure ripe for innovation.


CREATING A CULTURE FOR CREATIVITY

Our concentration of jobs for creatives may help answer the talent portion of Florida's three T's, but that leaves two others: tolerance and technology.

When Florida first released his findings in 2002, technology was far from where it is today. Most cities have a basic infrastructure that allows for innovation, although some do better than others, and rural areas still lag.

Still, the rate of change in technology has a huge impact on the creative process and even the ideas of what creatives actually do.

"In fact, we have titles today that we've never had 20 years ago, 10 years ago, I might even say five years ago," de Silva says. "You know, you have the idea of a creative technologist or digital immersion director. Those are all titles that are responding to the market."

For someone like McClure, change is the only constant as he adapts his company to the latest tech.

"These students are doing things that I don't know anything about, and it's in my industry," he says. "Having those abilities, having those assets and learning that technology is only going to expand and make other facets of other companies. ... I think a lot of businesses are like that. So that's very important."

We have titles today that we've never had 20 years ago, 10 years ago, I might even say five years ago. You know, you have the idea of a creative technologist or digital immersion director. Those are all titles that are responding to the market.Lathi de Silva

Finally, we have tolerance, which is perhaps the most mysterious of the three T's. It's culture, it's diversity, it's inclusion and it's in keeping an open mind. It's in allowing room for many different lifestyles and work styles without judgment.

"Everything we do as a community is being driven by creatives," McClure says. "So it is truly the soul and the heart of the city, and I think you've got to let that breathe, and you've got to let that manifest and take over because that's what makes a city unique. That's what makes people want to live here."

It's what makes places like Austin and Portland "weird." It's what makes the Bay Area so attractive to venture capital investors. It's also what attracts more creatives to continue pushing the envelope and innovate new ways to do life, work and art.

McClure says it's like his kid drawing on the walls. At first, he wants him to stop, then he realizes it turns his room into a creative expression.

"It makes it your room. This is what's gonna make it unique," he says. "It breathes life into our community."

In Wichita, we need more walls to draw on and more people to contribute to the drawing, regardless of where they fall on the creative spectrum.


NEXT STEPS:


For a simple look at the perception challenge, check out this short video


Learn more about the Four Challenges


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