What do you think when you hear young professional? Do you see a young man in a starched white shirt and tie? Or a mid-20s woman with a briefcase and a Bluetooth? What about when you see a musician jamming away on his guitar? Or a slam-poet rhyming through her latest piece? They, too, have spent hours honing their skills and perfecting their pitches; but too often those skills don’t go on a resume, and their pitches won't be heard in a board meeting.
The Oklahoma arts industry creates $29 million in state and local tax revenue. This ill-acknowledged professional sector also creates a tourist destination in a widely accepted aerospace-and-energy city. Tourism is one of the largest business sectors in the United States, by the way. In order to be considered a vacation destination, Tulsa's creative professionals must be taken just as seriously as traditional young executive. When visiting Pittsburgh, I learned that the economic impact of the arts is more lucrative than the city's three professionals sports teams – Steelers, Pirates and Penguins – combined. The city understands this impact by investing one percent of its sales tax income to the arts.
The truth is, when we say young professional, what we’re really talking about is young talent. How can we, as a community, retain and attract all young talent, including the young, vibrant, creative people?
Young people must feel that they can pursue their creative dreams here, not just in New York or L.A. In the last few years, Tulsa has risen to the top of the national music scene. Festivals like the Center of the Universe and venues like Cain’s Ballroom bring world-class music of all genres to this city while also highlighting our local talent. However, we still need to change the minds and perceptions about young artistic professionals in Tulsa.
The truth is that creative entrepreneurs feel left out of the young professional umbrella. Is it because traditional young professionals haven’t included them, or is it because they haven’t learned to embrace the title for themselves?
Take Colleen McCarty, for example. By day, she works 9 to 5 as a communications specialist. But after the 28-year-old's husband and daughter go to bed, she writes. McCarty launches her debut novel, Mounting the Whale, in December to a burgeoning fan base.
“People who have read the book love it,” she says. “It’s about the Pierce family; a dysfunctional brood who learns their sister has been kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. The wealthy family borrows a $50 million yacht for a half-cocked rescue mission. Think The Big Lebowski meets The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.”
McCarty says Tulsa writers have challenges.
“When you send out a query letter to an agent, they’re in New York," she says. "They see your address on the front of the query, and there’s a perception that someone from a ‘flyover state’ is less capable than someone living in, say, Brooklyn.”
Although Oklahoma is home to great writers, including S.E. Hinton, P.C. Cast and the late Ralph Ellison, there is still a stigma.
“There are many pluses to living here, though,” she chimes in. “I would never have been able to afford to work with the best editors and book designers if I lived in New York."
McCarty says another Tulsa bonus is that local businesses have embraced her book. Her launch party will be hosted at a local coffeehouse, and three local businesses agreed to stock the novel.
“It is really great to see an organization like TYPros create an Arts and Entertainment initiative,” she says. “Being a young professional shouldn’t be about status or take-home pay – it’s a shared support system. It’s a dynamic, ever-changing community that should make young people stop and say, ‘Maybe I don’t need to move to the coast. Maybe I can make it in Tulsa.’”
Isaac Rocha is the 2014 Chair of Tulsa’s Young Professionals, an organization created to attract and retain Tulsa’s brightest young talent, the region’s next generation of leaders. Isaac writes about current issues affecting young professionals, challenges facing the TYPros mission, and other musings from a Tulsa YP. For more information about TYPros visit: www.typros.org.