Chamber CEO fuses arts with business to spur growth

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 2, 2014

Ara Topouzian, president and CEO of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, has a keen sense of what drives economic development.

“Economic development consists of a lot of different areas,” he said. “We need to pay attention to the arts and cultural community. It’s a growing sector. We have some of the most talented artists, musicians and writers … statewide. We’ve got a lot here we take for granted. Manufacturing, automotive and technology — all these have an economic impact. Arts and culture have an impact, and it’s growing.”

This past spring, the Troy Chamber of Commerce appointed Topouzian as president and CEO.

From a field of 65 candidates, the Troy Chamber of Commerce, with 700 members, selected Topouzian to be the president and CEO, a post last held by Michele Hodges, who left the chamber in January.

Topouzian graduated from Wayne State University in 1993 with his bachelor’s degree in journalism, and he said he found that jobs in that industry were tough to find.

He started a couple of small businesses in Farmington Hills, including a music business, American Recording Productions. He said he got involved in the Farmington/Farmington Hills Chamber of Commerce and served as program director for the Farmington chamber, then president and CEO. After that, he served as economic development director for the city of Novi.

Topouzian, an Armenian American, plays the kanun harp and has performed at music festivals and venues across the United States. He was awarded a 2012 Kresge Arts in Detroit artist fellowship for his mastery of the harp, an unrestricted $25,000 competitive fellowship that aims “to advance the artistic careers of Detroit-area artists living and working in the tri-county area, as well as elevate the profile of the area’s artistic community,” according to he Kresge Foundation.

“It was a game-changer, musically,” he said.

Recently, ArtServe Michigan, a statewide nonprofit arts and cultural advocacy organization, announced that Topouzian was elected to the 23-member board of directors. He will serve a three-year-term as he continues his full schedule with the Troy Chamber of Commerce. According to ArtServe, “the nonprofit advocacy organization is dedicated to cultivating the creative potential of Michigan’s arts and cultural sector and creative industries to enhance the public health and well-being of Michigan, its people and communities. ArtServe advocates for the power of the creative economy in Michigan, and provides leadership and professional development for artists, creative practitioners, and arts and cultural organizations.”

“We had gotten to know Ara with the Kresge fellows,” said Jennifer Goulet, president and CEO of ArtServe.

Goulet said a 2014 report shows that the creative industry sector — which includes architecture, design, advertising, publishing/printing and film/audiovisual/broadcasting — comprises 75,000 workers and almost 10,000 businesses, and generates $3.6 billion statewide in total wages.

“The report highlights the significance this economic sector plays as part of Michigan’s comeback,” Goulet said.

“We were looking to bring new individuals to the board leadership, and we were very interested in Ara,” she said. 

She noted that with Topouzian’s career in economic development, he would bring expertise and unique perspectives as an experienced practicing artist to advance the agenda of ArtServe.

“We’re thrilled,” she said. “He’s already rolled up his sleeves.”

ArtServe will present a program at an upcoming quarterly economic development forum for the Troy Chamber on how arts and culture impact economic development.

“I was honored to be asked,” Topouzian said of his position on the ArtServe board. “It’s a win for Troy.”