PITTSFIELD -- What would the Berkshires look like without its creative economy?

The thought gave the willies to everyone on a four-person panel Thursday at the Lichtenstein Center. One freely imagined a post-apocalyptic landscape straight out of sci-fi.

The panel instead focused on building this sector of the local economy, which grew in importance with the decline of manufacturing. In fact, former warehouses and factories have become an integral part, housing art museums in North Adams and performing arts studios elsewhere.

According to Van Shields, executive director of Berkshire Museum, the local creative economy is still more important to the area today.

"Here in the Berkshires, it’s just absolutely critical to our economy at this juncture, maybe in a way that it never has been before."

Stephen Sheppard, an economics professor at Williams College, equated an economy to a forest -- if it’s composed of all the same sort of tree, a single disease or pest can wreck it.

"A forest does better when it has a diversity of trees," he said. "Pests can come along and some get wiped out, but others survive and grow to fill the niches. Economies are the same way. A diversity of industries is more conducive to economic growth and prosperity."

The creative economy, Sheppard said, can serve as the rising tide that lifts all boats.

"It’s a good foundation for a diverse range of industries," he said.

Two other panelists, state Creative Economy Director Helena Fruscio and New England Foundation of the Arts’ Dee Schneidman, focused on the sorts of local and government connections that can promote growth in this sector.

Essential are collaborations between municipal governments, businesses and artists, designers and cultural institutions, Fruscio said.

MassDevelopment does its part to promote these by helping fund makerspaces -- or shared buildings that serve as "incubators" for businesses, Fruscio said.

"There’s tools and a community of people working around them -- 3D printing, robotics, woodworking, metalworking, fashion, cooking -- it’s basically clustering in a space," she said. "You need to have the ecosystem and people who are really invested in helping the entities that are working there develop."

Schneidman said the time seems right for more of such collaborations to break through.

"There have been enough successes around the country, and in New England specifically, so there’s less convincing to do to convert a mayor or a city councilor than there was when Mass MoCA was built," Schneidman said. "This is really an opportunity for communities looking for ways to create jobs, keep students and build partnerships."

To reach Phil Demers:
pdemers@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 281-2859.
On Twitter: @BE_PhilD