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"Creative Capital is a currency in an economy of meaning. It is a driver of quality of life, social connectedness, civic engagement, and youth development."

"Creative Capital acts as a sort of connective tissue bridging cultures, generations, domains and disciplines"

What is Creative Capital?

Creative Capital is a conceptual framework for characterizing what makes a cultural sector vibrant. Fundamentally, it is an articulation of what success looks like in the long-term, and therein provides a basis for cultural planning.


WolfBrown has developed the idea of Creative Capital over the past eight years, through a variety of research, evaluation and planning projects, most recently in Dallas, Boston and Santa Barbara.


A growing body of research and theory points to several elements of Creative Capital that are found in every community, to different degrees (in no particular order):

  • Visible signs of creativity in the community – including, but not limited to, public art

  • Financially stable cultural organizations with sufficient capital to adapt to changing conditions

  • Strong and active leadership capable of strategic thinking both at the institutional level and at the community/ecosystem level

  • Strong creative learning systems for children and adults

  • Youth and families engaged in generative, creative activities at home and in the community

  • Public policies that attract creative people and creative businesses

  • A strong cluster of creative industries that provide work opportunities for cultural practitioners and creative entrepreneurs

  • Positive social norms around creativity – the attitudes and belief systems that allow creativity to flourish


Just as financial capital is a currency in an economy of money, Creative Capital is a currency in an economy of meaning. It is an intangible asset that has very tangible and diverse expressions. 

In everyday terms, what does Creative Capital look like?

  • A grandfather takes his grandchildren to a botanical garden to share his love for plants and trees

  • Residents meet to discuss how young designers, artists and scientists can get involved in improving the neighborhood’s street life and visual landscape

  • A teacher keeps her classroom open after hours as a crafts studio for interested students

  • Cultural institutions promote each other’s programs

  • A city government encourages youth by providing free public transportation to/from classes after hours and on weekends


When Creative Capital is shared broadly across a community, it is a driver of positive civic and social outcomes like quality of life, social connectedness, civic engagement, and youth development.


We define Creative Capital as “a network of understandings, values, activities, and relationships that individuals, organizations, and communities develop when they share what earlier generations have imagined and when they, in turn, generate and pass on what they imagine.”


Creative Capital, therefore, acts as a sort of connective tissue bridging cultures, generations, domains and disciplines:

  • Individuals with Creative Capital lead richly expressive lives, solve problems, and participate in civic life;

  • Parents and caregivers with Creative Capital are raising the next generation of innovators;

  • Institutions with high levels of Creative Capital are both imaginative and relevant;

  • Neighborhoods with Creative Capital forge social cohesion out of diversity;

  • Cities with high levels of Creative Capital are culturally vibrant and inclusive.


In short, everyone has a role to play in nurturing and sustaining Santa Barbara’s Creative Capital.


Value of the Creative Capital Framework


The value of adopting a framework for cultural vitality lies in its inclusiveness, its flexibility, and its usefulness. 


A successful framework establishes core values, allows a full range of stakeholders to see themselves as part of a larger whole, motivates action, and creates accountability.


In adopting this framework, Santa Barbara’s cultural leaders are making a fundamental statement about the critical role that culture plays in the quality of life of every resident of Santa Barbara County. They are committing to a view of cultural vitality that…

  • is rooted in the creativity of its citizens, from youth to seniors,

  • supports creative activities in homes, neighborhoods, schools, libraries, and parks, as well as major venues,

  • draws on the diversity of the many cultures contributing to the liveliness of the county,

  • builds cross-sector partnerships to build and sustain the county’s cultural vitality, and

  • views culture as a source of energy and innovation that can inform all aspects of the county’s life.

Creative Capital is radical in the sense that it recognizes and values the entirety of the arts, cultural and creative ecosystem, not just the institutionalized and professionalized parts of the ecosystem. It does not privilege one set of cultural values or traditions over another, but rather reflects the realities of an increasingly intercultural society.

Content comes from Creative Community Phase 1 Summary Report, November 2015, WolfBrown.

For Further Reading

Above photos: "Lightning Gate," steel sculpture by Michael McMillen, 1990, Rincon Beach upper parking lot, (Photo credit: John Ogilvie) and Santa Barbara Solstice Celebration mask artists at work at the Community Arts Workshop in 2016 (Photo credit: Casey Caldwell).

Project funded by

the Santa Barbara Foundation


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