CAP1.jpgOn Tuesday, Comcast partnered with the Center for American Progress, a leading Washington think-tank, to host a panel discussion on "The Creative Economy: How to Keep the Fuel of Creation and Innovation Burning." We have built our success on providing our customers with the greatest possible access to the fruits of American creativity in entertainment, news and information, and we want to see this nation's leadership in creativity sustained - not just to build our business, but to build the American economy.

Moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS' NewsHour, the panel included Paris Barclay of the Directors Guild of America; New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman; Bill Ivey of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University and former chairman of the NEA; and Stephen E. Siwek, Principal of Economists Incorporated and author of Video Games in the 21st Century: Economic Contributions of the U.S. Entertainment Software. The discussion ranged from understanding the nature of the creative economy and how to keep it healthy, to the role of the U.S. education system in promoting creativity, and the most appropriate and effective role government can play in stimulating creativity.

Siwek described the Creative Economy as a broader marketplace that includes anyone creating intellectual property - a segment that accounts for 11% of GDP. Friedman took an even more expansive view of the importance of "creativity" in all aspects of American business. He argued that America's primary competitive advantage on the global stage is the diversity of thought that comes from our melange of cultures and backgrounds.

There was a range of ideas on the government's role in, as Friedman put it, "harnessing [America's] creative energy." The role that copyright laws play was a key part of the debate - while Barclay and Siwak stressed the importance of protecting investment in and creation of American movies, music, books and other creative content through effective enforcement against piracy, Ivey argued that copyright protection can sometimes go too far as to constrict the creation of new works. Ivey also advocated the creation of a federal Department of Cultural Affairs to work to align federal policy to support the cultivation of creative industries. (It's worth noting that some cities and states have already taken similar steps: in 2008 Massachusetts passed legislation implementing a statewide Creative Economic Council, and Philadelphia has an Office of Arts, Culture & Creative Economy.)

Finally, there was a very interesting exchange about the need for schools to cultivate both the left and right brain. The need to improve science, technology, engineering and math skills, as President Obama highlighted last week, is inarguable, but several panelists noted that America's edge over the rest of the world is maintaining the kind of culture in which the "right brain" - the creative hemisphere - will continue to flourish.

At Comcast, we've seen the connection, and we've acted on it through some of our community investment programs, with a particular focus on after-school involvement. The Comcast Digital Connectors program, in partnership with One Economy, offers young people in predominantly low-income communities the opportunity to develop skills in digital media and the Internet, then gives them the chance to use these skills for creative expression. This highly-regarded program recently celebrated its first anniversary, and the number of communities in which we support it continues to grow.

To paraphrase one of Tom Friedman's comments: anyone anywhere on the planet can learn a skill, but what differentiates you in the marketplace is whether you can add value. That's the mission of our 21,000-and-counting Digital Connectors graduates - to make them valuable contributors to the creative economy that is so essential to America's success in this century. The Creative Economy event can be viewed here, I hope you find it as interesting as I did.