The Creative Economy in McLean County, IL

Supporting the local creative economy is identified as a goal in both Bloomington's and Normal's comprehensive plans.

The local creative economy is a vital component of community and economic vitality and is an engine of vibrant growth. A robust creative economy provides important factors to the community such as jobs, revenue and quality of life. The creative economy is inclusive and promotes diversity, tolerance, and appreciation.

Artists, cultural nonprofits, creative businesses and those who work in creative occupations make and distribute cultural goods and services that add to the character of a community.

Those in the creative sector often find interesting ways to re-purpose old buildings or blighted properties, or add character in other ways such as painting murals or opening up a local restaurant.

The creative economy is usually heavily grassroots and harbors entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the small businesses in our local economy likely fall under the creative economy. For example, our local brewery scene has ramped up in the last 3 years. These brewers likely started by brewing at home and eventually decided they wanted to take their brewing a step further and started a business. Our local breweries are thriving and add character to our community. 

Mural in Uptown Normal

The purpose of this data story is to paint a picture of the status of our local creative economy in McLean County, IL. We have broken down McLean County into a few geographic regions and we have used other similarly sized counties in Illinois for comparisons.

This story is designed to be used by stakeholders like elected officials, city staff, or those who are working in the creative economy to analyze our creative economy and make data-driven decisions related to it. 

Let's dig into the numbers.

Eaton Studio Sculpture

Abraham Lincoln Bench, Downtown Bloomington

Top Creative Occupations in McLean County

Location quotient (LQ) is a way of quantifying how concentrated a particular industry, cluster, occupation, or demographic group is in a region as compared to the nation. It can reveal what makes a particular region “unique” in comparison to the national average. (Definition from Emsi)

The national location quotient for all occupations is 1, so an occupation with an LQ above 1 means it is more concentrated in our region than it is nationally.

Sprague’s Super Service at 305 Pine, Normal, IL.

Median Hourly Wages

About half of the 71 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes we identified as being in the creative sector earn median hourly earnings above the median hourly earnings for all sectors in our Bloomington MSA, which was $19.53 in 2018. 

More than half of our creative occupations earn above the median hourly wage for the United States, which was $18.58 for all sectors in 2018.

See the list of median hourly earnings for our creative occupations below.

Source: Occupational Employment Statistics May 2018 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates (Bloomington MSA) (National)

Source: Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). Note that there are four categories of worker included in the median hourly earnings data: QCEW, Non-QCEW, Self-Employed, and Extended Proprietors. These four categories include full-time, part-time, self-employed and freelance workers. For a more in depth description from EMSI of who is included in each category click here

Most Popular Creative Occupations by Sex

Mural on east side of 8 Bit Arcade Bar; 236 E. Front St., Downtown Bloomington. Image by MoneyforCoffee from Pixabay

Creative Vitality Index

The Creative Vitality Index compares the per capita concentration of creative activity in between a region(s) and a base region. In this case, each of the geographies in the graph below is being compared to the CVI index of the United States, which is 1. The CVI index is read similar to way a location quotient is read. 

Since the baseline is 1, a CVI index above 1 indicates that the creative economy in that geography is more robust than that of the United States as whole. On the other hand, a CVI index below 1 indicates the creative economy for that region is less robust than that of the United States. 

The CVI Index is comprised of data on creative industries, occupations, and cultural nonprofit revenues and is indexed using a population-based calculation.  More information on the CVI Index can be found here

Eaton Art Gallery, 411 N. Center St., Downtown Bloomington

Normal Theater, Uptown Normal

Supporting the Local Creative Economy 

Steps have been taken locally to support our local creative economy. Read some examples of those steps from Bloomington, Normal, and ISU below:


Uptown Normal is the center of arts and entertainment throughout the year. Its signature outdoor events include the Sugar Creek Art Festival, the Sweet Corn Circus, Craft Beer and Jazz Festival, and Make Music Normal, along with many outdoor music performances within the Uptown Circle. In addition, the Normal Theater offers live music, comedy events, and a variety of classic, art house, and independent films. Uptown visitors have excellent access to fine art as well, with a rotating art display at the Normal Public Library, a permanent installation at Uptown Station, and ever-changing art shows at the Illinois State University Galleries. All venues are free and open to the public.

- In 2004 the Town of Normal’s Children’s Discovery Museum opened its doors in Uptown Normal. The museum is a hub for creativity and lifelong learning, supporting many programs in the arts and sciences. The museum hosted its two millionth visitor in summer 2019! Since 2016 the museum has been part of the Town’s newly created Cultural Arts Department, which also encompasses the Town’s historic Normal Theater.

- In 2008 the Town of Normal relocated its popular outdoor theater from the west edge of town to a central location adjacent to the heavily utilized Constitution Trail. Called the “Connie Link Amphitheater” in honor of a beloved local theater director, this venue hosts two high school musicals every summer in addition to many free music performances and outdoor movie screenings.

- At the northeast corner of Beech and Pine, one can find the historic Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children’s Home, a former orphanage dating back to the Civil War. Contained within this 58-acre property are The Refuge Food Forest, community gardens, Heartland Theater, a display of historic artifacts and photographs, and the National Register Normandy Village cottages. This site is also located on historic Route 66, with several historic structures to the west along Pine Street. Most notably is a restored 1930s-era gas station called Sprague’s Super Service at 305 Pine.

- The Illinois Art Station provides children and youth art workshops in collaboration with community partners. These on-site art workshops provide creative art expression through a variety of mediums with a developmental focus for children in the community.

- The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is a professional repertory company that produces three mainstage productions, free family-friendly performances, and numerous community endeavors over the summer at the state-of-the-art Elizabethan-style theater at Ewing Cultural Center.

Illinois State University

- The College of Fine Arts and University Galleries provide multiple opportunities for cultural enrichment of both University students and community members alike through exhibitions, recitals, concerts, and theatre performances.

- Gamma Phi Circus is the oldest collegiate circus in the nation. From its beginning in 1929, Gamma Phi has established itself as a unique performance troupe, supporting acrobatic and circus arts in higher education, and continuing the legacy of circus history in the state of Illinois.

- Established in 2005, the Illinois State University Horticulture Center in the Department of Agriculture is a place for horticultural research, learning, and exploration within the community. The Horticulture Center has nutraceutical, literary, native prairie, and children’s gardens among others. The Center hosts 4,000 community visitors each year with programming and special events which often partner with other community organizations.


- 2016: Bloomington adopted an ordinance that provides for production and retail from local artisans (brewers, glass blowers, etc.). It is a stepping stone to promote scaling up of start-ups, to take people from their home to a brick and mortar. 

- 2019: Bloomington adopted a cultural district, and the Downtown District added murals, public art, and painted several utility boxes. 

- Downtown Bloomington now has incubator spaces for artists at 417 N. Main St., and DT is anchored on three sides by performing arts venues: the BCPA, Castle Theater, and Grossinger Motors Arena. In the heart of DT Bloomington are intimate performance venues like Nightshop, Six Strings, the Bistro, and Jazz Up Front; offering an range of entertainment from punk music to country, jazz, and drag. 

- Downtown works hard to host a number of annual festivals and holds the farmers' market which supports local farmers, artists and the budding cottage food industry (a culinary art). 

Boundaries of the Downtown Bloomington Cultural District


BN Historic Districts and Cultural Assets

The map below details the historic districts, public art pieces, landmarks, and arts and culture centers within the urbanized area of McLean County. Click on the arrows in the top left of the map to see what the icons mean and click on the icons themselves to find more information about the indicated location.
The points below are based off of information collected for each municipality's Comprehensive Plan and therefore, may be out of date. We'd love information and pictures of any of the points below or any we might have missed! Email to

Route 66 information coming soon!

For more information about historic assets in Bloomington and Normal, please see their pages on historic districts. 

Bloomington Historic Districts

Normal Historic Districts

Boundary Map

CVSuite, the software used to analyze the data, uses ZIP codes boundaries instead of corporate limits. Explore the interactive map below to see which zip codes are included in each of the geographies within McLean County. To filter, click on the double arrows in the top left of the map. 

Unless otherwise specified, the data used on this story was generated using The Creative Vitality Suite software. The Creative Vitality™ Suite was designed and developed by the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), a regional nonprofit arts service organization, experienced research organization, and developer of technology solutions for the arts. Data is provided to CV Suite from EMSI, whose sources include QCEW; County Business Patterns, Current Employment Statistics, BEA, NIOEM, ACS, and Railroad Retirement Board Statistics. Contact the McLean County Regional Planning Commission for any questions related to the data. 

Footnotes: See the footnotes for this story here, including which occupations and occupation groups are included in the analysis.