Archive for May, 2010

How new is the new creative economy and is it really shrinking?

In the first of an occasional Friday series on the language of policy we take a look at when and how ‘creative economy’ entered the lexicon of policy wonks, politicians, academics and the chattering classes (apologies if you feel you don’t belong to any of the foregoing!).

Many people think John Howkins coined the term with his 2001 book The Creative Economy but in fact it was in use considerably earlier than that.  Ten years earlier in The Times (April 13th 1991) Neil Kinnock was reported as indicating “Labour was proposing a move towards a ”learning society”, the only sure foundation of a creative economy. Labour’s technology trusts would bring together universities, industrialists and financial institutions. They would try to commercialize ideas developed in universities and by other public bodies, giving inventions a real chance of being manufactured in Britain.” 

The following year, 1992, Chinese Central committee member Yang Jike opined that: “the combination of science and technology with creative power results in a creative economy and a restructured economy; and the combination of science and technology with information results in an information economy and a policy-making economy” ( Xinhua news agency domestic service 7 Nov 1992)

A year later neighbouring Japan was looking forward to the Creative Economy in a Government sponsored report calling for “Formation of a Domestic-Demand-Led Economy and a Sophisticated, Creative Economy” as one of five core principles for economic reform. (The Daily Yomiuri, December 18, 1993)

Closer to home in 1995 an Irish Times opinion piece calling on the Irish Government to end subsidy of Temple Bar area (now somewhat synonymous with stag and hen parties but intended to be a dynamic cultural quarter) suggested: “The rest of the creative economy upon which the expensive edifice of government rests will have to fork out to pay for the tax-holiday of those in Temple Bar. There’s no such thing as a free lunch no such thing as a free tax-break. Somebody will always pay the revenue missing.”

Things really hotted up (in the UK) with Labour’s 1997 election and in a critique of the Arts Council of Great Britain (and in terms familiar to us from the debate over the establishment of Creative Scotland) the Guardian’s Johnathan Glancey observed: “For [Culture Minister Chris] Smith and New Labour it [the Arts Council] represents a top-down approach to the arts that seems not only out of step with Government thinking, but a long way removed from the way that the creative economy’ works in 1997. It does seem remarkable that full-time career bureaucrats, based largely in London, have the power to channel funds to one artist or group of artists and away from another. The paperwork, committees, in-fighting and jostling for position involved seem utterly divorced from the artistic process. Far better to be funded or commissioned by a maverick private patron, perhaps, than by committees. Great art is not the product of consensus, but of confidence, risk-taking and even recklessness.

Smith gave a speech on the Creative Economy at that Autumn’s Labour conference (though ‘Cool Britannia’ was the tabloid’s preferred term) and Tony Blair used the pages of the Mirror to say “Government can help build a creative economy fit to take on the world in the new Millennium.” (3/10/1997)

Back on home turf  (and eerily presaging Andrew Dixon’s recent tour)  in 1999 ‘ART CHIEFS HIT THE ROAD WITH MISSION TO LISTEN’ was the headline in The Scotsman (August 11th) reporting the launch of the national consultation on cultural strategy that has led, via many twists and turns, to where we are today, mere months away from the formal launch of the agency charged with making Scotland’s creative economy both bigger and better.  Eleven years back  “The value of the arts to Scotland’s economy is also stressed in the consultation document, Celebrating Scotland. The “creative economy” has been estimated by Scottish Enterprise as generating GBP 5.3 billion a year and sustaining 91,000 jobs.” 

Interestingly, if rather worryingly,  ten years later the Government told us “The creative industries in Scotland has an estimated turnover of £5.1 billion in 2007 and employed 60,700 people .” – not exactly good news if the data is truly like for like, which of course it almost certainly isn’t. (see Creative Industries, Creative Workers and the Creative Economy: A review of selected recent literature. )

Always ahead of the curve (and keen to work football into any discussion) Channel 4 nations and regions chief Stuart Cosgrove (rightly) berated the meeja/policy wonk’s determined focus on the issue of  ‘a Scottish Six’ (O’clock news)’  as a distraction from wider issues:

This month, Scotland’s two biggest clubs, Rangers and Celtic, will commission more media work than most broadcasters. They are vital to Scotland’s creative economies – building websites, driving e-commerce, pioneering live beam-back television, planning pay-per-view channels and commissioning sell-through videos for the Christmas market.”  (‘So who do you think controls the future of Scottish broadcasting?’ Scotsman 3/12/99)

As we entered the 2st century the term really took hold of our politicians’ imaginations: 

Scotland’s creative industries, already worth £5 billion every year, are to receive £25 million worth of investment as part of a new strategy, MSPs heard yesterday. The pledge was made by Nicol Stephen, deputy minister for enterprise, speaking during a debate on the creative economy. Mr Stephen said that the executive wanted to see the sector grow, year on year, by 10 per cent. Acknowledging that the sector was both “wide” and “diverse”, Mr Stephen explained that it encompassed industries as wide ranging as architecture, computer games and advertising.” (The Scotsman, 28/9/00)  By this point the number of people employed in the sector was miraculously back up to 100,000 (unlikely) – or he was using a different definition (likely).

Not everyone in Scotland at the turn of the millenium was so enamoured of the Creative Economy though. 

The debate on the “creative economy” is typical of this Government’s flatulent filibustering when it has nothing new to say but needs to deny debating time for more important issues like the SQA shambles. I ask Rhona Brankin if the Government will invest scarce public funds in a so-called film studio at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay when developers are already willing to make a huge private investment for a film studio of international scale elsewhere in Scotland. A polite body swerve is her response.” (Brian Montieth. MSP’s Parlimaemtary diary in the Herald 9/10/2000)

So the term ‘Creative Economy’ has been in fairly widespread use for the best part of twenty years and it seems we still dont know for sure just how big it is or how many people work in it and therefore how fast it is growing.  Another argument (if any were needed) for someone (Creative Scotland?) to knock heads together to establish a data collection, research and analysis unit fit for the creative economy of this century rather than the nineteenth. 

Have a good weekend!

Putting Creative Scotland in its place

Andrew Dixon’s first tour of Scotland arrived in Glasgow today for the latest in Creative Scotland’s open forum series, the first to feature the newly installed CEO.  Developing themes which he has in the past few weeks aired in a variety of settings from Ullapool’s Ceilidh Place to an RSA event held in the offices of solicitors Anderson Strathearn, Dixon gave pride of place to, well, ‘place’.

The importance he attaches to the development of places (alongside branding and a culture of investment rather than subsidy)  is perhaps not all that surprising given Dixon’s previous role leading the Gateshead initiative. It might also be seen as an effective way to balance the emphasis we’ve seen to date on Creative Scotland being an artist and practitioner-led organisation with a broader sense of community benefit and participation in arts and culture.   Beyond that laudable aim however, one can also see a certain tactical and rhetorical shrewdness in emphasising how particular communities, localities or regions engage with arts and creative industries.  It immediately brings into focus the critical importance of partnership with local authorities, Scottish and Highlands and Island Enterprise, and all the other national bodies that spend the 70% of the Scottish Government’s cultural budget that CS doesn’t control.  

Clearly Creative Scotland isn’t responsible for supporting the totality of cultural production, arts access or creative industries development from the Borders to Shetland.  Given its assigned leadership role in the Scottish Cultural Industries Partnership though, staking a claim to improving the cultural life of Scotland as a whole by marshalling the disparate players in the culture and creativity game into a cohesive team could translate into material benefit if it leads to clear visions, suitably resourced and managed, of how places as diverse as Kilmarnock and Killin can join equally in the benefits of a Creative Scotland.  But as Dixon noted, in these strained fiscal times, CS will require clearer priorities and ways of measuring success than we have seen before.

Interesting times indeed…

“Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action but not the execution of any human design…”

Adam Ferguson, Essay on Civil Society, 1767


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