BEVERLY — After moving from Seattle to take a position at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Lucas Spivey soon discovered something was missing for local artists: working exhibition space. So he created 17 COX.
"There is no shortage of artists or audience in Beverly," Spivey said. "I saw a need for a private gallery space, and there was a market for it. In a sense, I found a niche within the community."
Spivey is not the only one who has noticed the North Shore's creative culture and opportunities. Despite the national economic downturn, the region's creativity is on the rise, helping the local economy and enriching the quality of life. According to a recent study from the Enterprise Center at Salem State University, there are more than 2,200 creative economy businesses on the North Shore bringing in more than $3 billion in revenue.
Spivey, 27, founded 17 COX in October 2010 with the intention of highlighting the experimental or underrepresented ideas of the struggling or established artist. Based in the warehouse of a former taxi dispatch on 17 Cox Court in Beverly, the gallery got its start with the help of numerous local volunteers, including Spivey's landlord, who provided rental credit for renovation supplies.
"It's not a traditional gallery," Spivey said. "I don't even want to call it a gallery; it's more a laboratory workshop, a mixing pot for local, regional and national artists."
But the creative economy is not constrained to the arts. It also includes any business using creativity to produce wealth and generate revenue for the community, according to Christine Sullivan, CEO of the Enterprise Center at Salem State University.
Brenda Smith, professor and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Endicott College, agrees, and is leading the next generation of what she calls, "culture cultivators." Smith offered her first entrepreneurship class to non-business students this year.
"My class was full of students who will enter into the creative economy," Smith said. "I had artists, graphic designers, photo journalists, they all wanted to know how to run a business, and they were the best students I've had."
Such investments in the area have not gone unnoticed. On March 20, the Massachusetts Cultural Council named Gloucester's Rocky Neck and Rockport to its five first cultural districts, according to the MCC's website. Requirements for a cultural district include attraction of artists, encouragement of business and cultural development, enhancement of property value, and establishment of the district as a tourist destination.
Tourists, in and out of state, visit Massachusetts for its arts, natural resources, architecture and historic ties. The state's cultural tourism generates $15.6 billion in spending and provides more than 128,800 jobs in a variety of fields.
As an extension of the MCC's mission, each town on the North Shore also has its own cultural council funded by a percentage of the state budget, intended for local cultural endeavors that help build civic pride and foster local business.
Gail Eaton, chairwoman of the Beverly Cultural Council, said the town is making art accessible and affordable to the community, quickly becoming an artist destination that leads to more economic stimulation.
"People really care about the arts and culture in Beverly," Eaton said. "Art makes the quality of life more interesting, people's property is valued higher and people learn to take pride in their community."
For businessmen like Steve Feldman, owner of Gulu-Gulu Cafe in Salem, art is the business. Like Spivey, Feldman wanted to create something that didn't exist but met the needs of the many creative residents he knew. He said he doesn't consider Gulu-Gulu solely a restaurant, bar or gallery, but each supports the other.
"It (art and business) keeps building and influencing the other to create community and foster relationship," Feldman said.
Both Feldman and Spivey reflect a growing trend of business built on the North Shore's creativity, bringing what many believe will be lasting economic and communal benefits.
"Creativity is integral to any community because it gives meaning," Spivey said.