Educational partnership seeks to mold creative efforts into business successes

By Michael S. Lee | from pbcommercial.com

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Economic Research and Development Center and Little Rock-based The College of Aspiring Artists sponsored a program Wednesday outlining the parameters and possibilities of a partnership intended to assist students with turning creative ideas into successful business models.

Titled “Education, Jobs and the Creative Economy,” the program featured TCAA CEO Rev. Arthur L. Hunt Jr., who along with UAPB-ERDC Director Henry Golatt outlined a plan of action that they said is a natural extension of the vision for America given life by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963.

“With this partnership we aim to take the strength of recruitment from the TCAA Aspiring Artists Network and then retain those artists through the support of the UAPB-ERDC business incubator,” Hunt said. “We will allow these student artists to earn while they learn. They will receive compensation for their work.”

Hunt said the students will be involved in the program in time increments of six months, one year and two years.

“In athletics young people have an incubator for their talent and that is their school athletic programs,” Hunt said. “Creative people haven’t had that. That is what this is for. We are going beyond the traditional pathways for education with this program and exploring new educational models.”

Hunt defined the creative economy as the enterprises and people involved in producing and distributing goods and services that derive their value in the marketplace by appealing to consumers at the visual, intellectual and emotional levels.

Incubating ideas into business

Golatt said the creation of the UAPB business incubator in 2006 was intended to provide aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout Southeast Arkansas with the organized support needed to realize success.

“What we have found in the past seven years is that a lot of the businesses that we incubated here were of a creative nature,” Golatt said. “We are trying to connect the dots from dreams, visions and inspirations to their realization. We encourage innovative business models that subscribe to the theory: Tap in where you can fit in.”

Golatt said businesses developed in the UAPB incubator run the gamut from a woman who created her own version of trail mix to a singer who has now released her music through Apple iTunes.

“We located the incubator in downtown Pine Bluff because we want to help to revitalize our downtown,” Golatt said. “We are in the process of creating an entertainment district in Pine Bluff. Any city with an active creative economy has a venue where a creative economy can flourish.”

Golatt said the business incubator is working to create economic development for Pine Bluff and all of Southeast Arkansas.

“Pine Bluff is a trading center for Southeast Arkansas,” Golatt said. “People from the smaller cities come to Pine Bluff to trade. We have a role around how do we inspire hope and live out the dream. As a historically black university we have a responsibility to do this like never before. We must take this opportunity to march forward with destiny before us and determination behind us.”

Hunt said the observance of the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech must be about putting his words into action.

“This is a powerful day,” Hunt said. “Today is about dreams and visions made real. In the past 50 years we have overcome. Business incubators like this are important to help young people realize their dreams. Creativity becomes increasingly important as the jobs that once provided employment to southerners have moved on to China and the Philippines.”

Hunt said the partnership between UAPB and TCAA begins with a three-month trial period.

“We hope to have a plan developed by the end of the year,” Hunt said.

Grassroots support

Larry Willams, executive director of the Delta Citizens Alliance, provided an overview of how his grassroots organization is participating in the development of the creative economy in Arkansas.

“Our mission is to link and connect citizens of the Delta region with the rest of the nation and the world in order to foster healthy, vibrant, prosperous and sustainable communities in the Mid-South Delta Region,” Williams said. “DCA works with vulnerable individuals, groups and communities who are aspiring for a better life but who are having difficulty due to a lack of information, knowledge and/or resources.”

Williams said DCA is participating in the partnership between UAPB and TCAA as another avenue of hope for people in the Mississippi River Delta region of Arkansas.

Access to education

Christa Ellen Washington is a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and delivered the keynote address.

“I am interested in ensuring that Dr. King’s vision of the right to an education for all is not eroded by traditional models of higher education that continue to get more expensive,” Washington said. “I am excited by the potential to expand a type of online education made up of what are called massive open online classes. This model was first used by Harvard University and is now offered by many universities although there are as of yet no historically black colleges and universities on that list.”

Washington said the courses allow for learning at an individual pace and are geared toward mastery.

“This computer-based learning bridges many disciplines,” Washington said.

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