Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



Communities throughout the U.S. need to attract and retain businesses and talent to grow and to thrive. One approach to economic development which has gained traction in recent years is the concept of a “creative economy,” which suggests that investing in creative occupations and industries is integral to support economic and culturally vibrant cities.

Although the implementation of creative economy initiatives has successfully boosted economic development in some cities and regions, critics have argued that a focus on the creative economy is fueling urban inequality, focusing primarily on college-educated professionals and ignoring the needs of blue collar and service workers. Recent research on the creative economy has pointed to a growing racial divide, with African Americans being significantly less likely to occupy key jobs in the creative economy.

Although the City of Boston has made efforts to incorporate community feedback into the development of the creative economy, residents have expressed concerns about growing inequality and gentrification. With significant state and city investment in building the creative economy, inclusion of communities of color must be prioritized and incorporated into policy design and implementation.

Boston’s Dudley neighborhood was recently declared an Arts Innovation District by the city of Boston, making it critical to engage its diverse residents—one of the Commonwealth’s greatest assets—so that they are not left behind in the new economy. To level the playing field and to increase pathways into the creative economy for young people of color from low-income communities, the University of Massachusetts Boston Center for Social Policy (CSP) conducted Participatory Action Research (PAR) in partnership with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) to provide training for youth-led research that engaged youth artists, and community organizations in Dudley.

The goal of this participatory, youth-led action research was to uncover community assets and barriers to career pathways in the creative economy, and to propose recommendations for the inclusion of local youth from the Dudley neighborhood in the creative economy. Using focus groups and a survey, we explored how youth and artists defined the creative economy, including their awareness of jobs and opportunities; perceived barriers to accessing jobs and careers; and generated policy solutions to increasing youth inclusion in the creative economy.

The partnership between DSNI and CSP revealed workable, community-led solutions.

Policy recommendations include:

  • Promote a community-driven definition of the creative economy;
  • Develop pathways to the creative economy through school-based learning, and increase funding for arts in public high schools;
  • Invest in spaces for artist development and performance venues that have wide recognition;
  • Support mentoring relationships between youth interested in the arts and working artists;
  • Develop artist-in-residency programs and financial support for artists;
  • Pilot creative procurement and arts purchasing strategies.

The process of co-learning summarized in this report is intended to inform collective action and provide recommendations for sparking enhanced inclusion into the creative economy in Boston and across the Commonwealth.


We are grateful for the support of the University of Massachusetts Creative Economy Initiatives Fund, Edmund Beard of the University of Massachusetts President’s Office, and our colleagues Françoise Carré, Brandynn Holgate, and Jack Li of the Center for Social Policy, University of Massachusetts Boston McCormack Graduate School.

We also greatly appreciate the contributions of Dudley Square artists and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Youth Research Team: Peter Guillen, Shakim Grant, Learie Cabey, Jonathan Lovemore, Sydney Raye, Lorraine Williams, Edwin Kollie, Esmeralda Hernandez.

Community Engaged/Serving

Part of the UMass Boston Community-Engaged Teaching, Research, and Service Series. //



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