Core Sectors

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Creative Economy

As outlined in the DC Creative Economy Strategy (2014), the creative economy in DC comprises four areas that span different core sectors of the DC economy: arts & heritage; culinary arts (i.e., restaurants); information & technology (largely focused on media); and professional services (specifically, creative professional services, such as architecture, graphic design and fashion design).1 These sectors account for 124,000 private sector jobs, or 16% of DC employment.2 Due to data limitations, it is important to note the following:

  • These job numbers overlap with those presented in the retail, media, technology, and professional services sector.
  • This estimate does not include creative occupations that make up small fractions of other sectors – for example, distilleries and breweries, which fall under wholesale trade, and other types of maker activities, which may be classified as manufacturing. It is impossible to disentangle such activities from available data, so they are not accounted for in the graph below, but from an economic development standpoint, we consider them important components of DC’s creative economy.

Growing the creative economy not only has direct positive economic effects; it also adds to the District’s ability to attract young talent and innovative companies and helps establish a District branding and identity beyond being the nation’s capital.creative-economy

Visit the initiatives page and filter Core Sector by “Creative Economy” and “All” to see initiatives that support this sector. 

Major Trends Affecting the Sector and Implications

Cultural organizations have unique space needs

Trends: Arts and cultural organizations in the District require affordable space for artistic use, as well as infrastructure that supports cultural production (e.g., high-speed broadband that can support video live streaming).

Implications: To improve access to affordable space and resources, DC could make it easier for cultural businesses to find resources – for example, by creating a registry of space available and encouraging organizations with available space to make it available for cultural purposes.

Limited industrial land and space constrains growth of the creative economy

Trends: Various segments of the creative economy, such as breweries, distilleries, certain makers, and others, depend on industrial-zoned land and spaces, such as warehouses. The District has very little industrial-zoned land compared to neighboring jurisdictions and peer cities, and what does exist is shrinking due to conversions to other uses. In addition, there is a supply-demand mismatch of industrial space – existing spaces are substantially larger than what is sought by users.3

Implications: The reduction of industrial-zoned land and inaccessibility of small-footprint industrial spaces constrains the growth of the District’s creative economy. Preserving industrial-zoned land and finding ways to make large-footprint industrial spaces usable to consumers with lesser needs could help alleviate these constraints.

Regulatory hurdles make things difficult for small, under-resourced cultural organizations

Trends: Creative organizations face regulatory and permitting hurdles that are difficult to address given their small size.

Implications: A District bureaucracy that is easier for small organizations to navigate could benefit not just cultural organizations but also small enterprises more generally. For example, improved coordination between the various procurement arms and schedules of the DC government (e.g., CBE, DC Supply Schedule, etc.) could help smaller businesses in the creative economy.

  1. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Creative Economy Strategy for the District of Columbia. 15 July 2014. <>
  2. Data analyzed from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  3. District of Columbia. Ward 5 Industrial Land Use Study. 2014. <>