Creatives and entrepreneurs have made a huge impact on Birmingham, helping attract positive attention to the city’s food, music and other amenities, as well as its tech scene.
“More than any other single force, it was the growth of our creative sector that drove Birmingham’s recovery after the Great Recession,” Buddy Palmer of Create Birmingham told Iron City Ink in January.
That sector gave the Magic City “a new authentic and exciting presence — one recognized in major national media outlets,” said Palmer, who has since retired.
He left Create Birmingham — a nonprofit arts and cultural advocacy and planning organization — on Aug. 1 after serving for 13 years as president and CEO.
There is an argument to be made that Create Birmingham has done as much as any organization in Birmingham to spur the development of artists, restaurateurs, techies and other entrepreneurs in the commercial and nonprofit creative sectors.
Led by new president and CEO Meghann Bridgeman, Create Birmingham supports workforce development, entrepreneurial ventures and job growth in such industries as the performing arts, visual arts and crafts, culture and heritage, media and film, design and culinary arts.
For example, Create Birmingham offers Film Birmingham, a one-stop shop for the city’s film industry; CO.STARTERS, a program for creative entrepreneurs; and Birmingham365, an online events calendar.
Since the pandemic began, the organization has also offered lots of online training and workshops, including the recent “Business of Creating” series.
Bridgeman, who took over July 15 and worked closely with Palmer to ensure a smooth transition, has a diverse background in performance, arts administration and workforce development.
She sees the job at Create Birmingham as a perfect fit for her.
“It’s just a perfect combination of my skills and passion, and I think anytime you bring those two things to the table with open ears, something good can come out of that,” she told Iron City Ink.
Bridgeman is also “really future facing” and brings “invaluable experience with equity and workforce development,” said Tonia Trotter, Create Birmingham director of communications.
“I was so impressed with her,” Palmer said, referring to the two and half weeks he and Bridgeman worked together during their summer transition.
“I think she has the right personality,” he said. “She’s got the right skills and the right background.”
Bridgeman also has the “right sensibility” to understand where Create Birmingham came from and help it move to the future by working with the community “to figure out what the future needs are and how Create Birmingham can play a part in filling those needs.”
A Huntsville native and a dancer, Bridgeman attended middle school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts but completed her high school degree through a University of Indiana distance learning program while dancing at Alabama Ballet.
After moving from performance into arts administration, Bridgeman spent a decade as the artistic director and chief operating officer of the San Angelo Civic Ballet in San Angelo, Texas.
She also earned degrees in sociology and philosophy at Angelo State University in about 2010 while running the ballet company.
During her dance career, Bridgeman filled a wide variety of roles — student, professional dancer, director, teacher, administrator and choreographer.
“So in playing each role, I fully understood from start to finish what it takes to make a dancer, to run a dance company, to have a vision of the choreographer,” Bridgeman said. “It just gave me a full tool chest, a really well-informed perspective of performance art and how we nurture it and sustain it.”
At Southern Methodist University, Bridgeman earned both a master’s degree in arts administration and an MBA, continuing to broaden her knowledge and experience.
“It was the marriage of both worlds, and I felt at home bringing in my arts and culture background while being immersed in the corporate environment,” she said in the Create Birmingham newsletter.
Bridgeman later lived in Dallas and served as vice president of social ventures for Per Scholas, based in The Bronx, N.Y., a nonprofit that works to promote economic equity and provide employment for undervalued talent in the tech sector
In the Create Birmingham job, Bridgeman saw a “miraculous combination of my passions and my skills set.”
When she talked to Iron City Ink in August, Bridgeman said she was still settling into the job and becoming reacquainted with the city.
However, she suggested local arts and culture sectors that perhaps deserve some more promotion, including visual artists, writers and people who run makerspaces.
The film industry could also grow in the city, Bridgeman said.
“There might be some interesting opportunities for growth there as we see Georgia becoming increasingly saturated,” she said, noting that downtown Birmingham has many intact historic buildings for use in filming.
Overall, she is optimistic about the future.
“I think the arts and culture sector will continue to attract more attention,” she said.
Regarding her immediate goals as head of Create Birmingham, Bridgeman said she wants to take a “listening tour and meet my fellow creatives, entrepreneurs, business owners, leaders, individual artists”
She said she’s been focused “on reaching out and meeting different members of the community, as well as folks in economic development.”
In addition, Bridgeman and the staff and board will look at Create Birmingham’s five-year strategic plan.
“I want to understand what the needs of the community are and how we can increase our scope without losing any of our depth,” she said, referring to the organization’s valuable one-on-one time spent with creatives and entrepreneurs.