In today's economy, Kevin Derrick is lucky to have a job as an interior designer. Not leaving anything to chance, Derrick also moonlights as a studio director, creative consultant, and furniture designer.

Sure, he's feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. The marketing, advertising, and retail worlds that employ creatives like him are suffering.

But artists like Derrick also have built-in mechanisms for survival: their own creativity.

"We are moving into the economy of the free agent," says Richard Florida, the author of Who's Your City and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. "Whether you have a government grant or you work for a company occasionally, you have to take control of your life."

To weather the layoffs and canceled contracts, diverse income sources make sense.

Take Derrick: Juggling his multiple career responsibilities means merging his personal life into the professional. Grabbing coffee in the morning is a meeting to advise an old classmate on career direction. Cooking dinner at an investor's house is securing funds for a new product line.

"My life is: Wake up, then it's a work-live situation until I go to bed at night," says the 32-year-old from Center City.

The environment

Rachel Zimmerman, a partner in the graphic-design firms Studio Z Designs and Studio Z Exhibits and founder of the visual arts nonprofit InLiquid, has seen her creative peers hit hard by cuts in advertising, often first to go from a budget-tightening company.

"There's a lot of rethinking about what's necessary, what works and what doesn't work," says Zimmerman, 41, of Old City. "That automatically trickles down to the creative economy."

Studio Z Designs and Studio Z Exhibits, which Zimmerman runs with her husband, hasn't laid off any of its three full-time employees. Restructuring at InLiquid, however, is imminent, Zimmerman says.

While there was a reprieve during holiday sales time - boosted its efforts to sell members' artwork - the end of January meant a return to cold, hard reality.

In mid-December, Hilary Jay saw design projects holding steady compared with other employment sectors. Yet six weeks later, the director of the Design Center at Philadelphia University called the layoffs for local creative professionals "epidemic."

"It's this constant pit in my stomach," says Jay, 46, of Center City. "People are looking for ways to justify their existence in a firm. They have to show why they're valuable, and why they're indispensable."

Many arts-oriented jobs that would have opened up for younger artists are still filled - many with baby boomers pushing back retirement plans because of decimated nest eggs.

Getting creative

Being inventive comes in handy in a bad economy, and creative people are finding solutions to sluggish times.

They are taking on every project that comes along. Or they're becoming more discriminating by honing a specialty niche. They're merchandising visual works of art, not easy in a climate where shopping is becoming a lost art.

Maryann Devine, owner of the arts marketing firm smArts & Culture, says that a lack of opportunities will never keep artists from following their passion.

Artists "are used to living on the edge," says Devine, 44, of West Philadelphia. "Maybe they're not going to get the same kind of commissions . . . but they're going to want an audience."

And low-cost outlets, such as Facebook or conversational blogs, still exist for artists to reach that audience, says Devine. She also advises creative leaders to start collaborating more to promote their work.

Jane Golden, executive director of the city's Mural Arts Program, is brainstorming to compensate for the $500,000 budget cut her nonprofit organization faces in the coming fiscal year.

Saturday sessions with her staff resulted in the expansion of the program's walking, bicycle and trolley tours to 500 a year. And by enlisting Temple University graduate students to draft a business plan, Mural Arts is minimizing layoffs of part-time employees.

At Night Kitchen Interactive, an agency that creates marketing for museums and arts and cultural organizations, the staff was once very selective about answering requests for proposals. But president Matthew Fischer says his team now reacts aggressively to what comes in.

Still, Fischer, 39, of Northern Liberties, predicts that his South Street-based firm will remain stable because it grew slowly and built a base of reputable, long-standing clients. This strategy also kept Fischer's 10-year-old agency afloat during the dot-com bust that sank many of his interactive competitors.

"The best thing to do is to have a good diverse client base and work with organizations who are fiscally sound and conservative at this point," Fischer says.

Philadelphia's strengths

Since the dot-com boom and bust, Richard Florida has studied "the creative class" and believes that metropolitan regions with large numbers of high-tech workers, artists, and musicians have a brighter economic future.

Florida points to Philadelphia's strengths: affordability, strong mass-transit system, respected universities, and location between Washington and New York City.

Philadelphia's strength in the pharmaceutical and health-care industries, as well as its conservative marketplace relative to New York and its comparatively secure real estate market, also will help to stabilize the regional economy, says Fischer.

Philadelphia also has the efforts of nonprofit economic development organizations like Innovation Philadelphia, which helps the region's for-profit creative industries by hosting networking events and offering resources like the employment Web site Philly Creative Jobs. Its February panel discussion, "Running on Empty: Making a Little Go a Long Way," featured experienced entrepreneurs' and business owners' strategies for finding success in a recession.

Innovation Philadelphia executive director Kelly Lee says that, like most, her organization has downsized staff and outsourced design and information technology projects. Still, she sees creative industries as one of the region's largest economic generators, counting 56,000 for-profit creative-economy firms in the 11-county area.

Charnelle Hicks was one of the panelists scheduled for the Innovation Philadelphia event. As founder and president of the Center City-based urban and environmental planning firm CHPlanning, she sees the downturn as an opportunity for people to get creative on a personal level. Some of her friends, laid off from large corporations, have reinvented themselves and started smaller, independent entities.

"We have a real advantage to take creativity and skills and apply them not just to an employer, but to finding new avenues to express ourselves and make a living," says Hicks, 42, of Perkiomenville. "It takes a leap of faith, the kind of leap of faith that creative people bring to a project or to a city or to their lives."


To protect themselves from the recession, creative professionals are finding creative ways to supplement their incomes.

Kevin Derrick, 32, of Center City

Interior designer for BahdeeBahdu, a studio, showroom and gallery for lighting, furniture, art, and design. Also designs furniture.

Shelley Spector, 48, of South Philadelphia

Owner of SPECTOR Projects. Also sculpts, curates, and teaches.

Jane Golden, 52, of Art Museum area

Executive director of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Recently began marketing mural merchandise.

Rachel Zimmerman, 41, of Old City

Executive director and founder of nonprofit InLiquid. Recently expanded design firm to cater to legal and health-care organizations.