Edinburgh gets creative in Toronto

Finally the Edinburgh Creative Industries Trade Mission has (despite the attentions of some rather zealous customs officers) arrived in Toronto.   Led by Jim Galloway from the Council’s Economic Development Dept. and Creative Edinburgh Chair Mark Gorman ( of ‘Think Hard‘) supported by Janine Matheson, one of Creative Edinburgh’s two co-directors, the delegation is a  mix of the city’s creative companies plus me from the Institute for Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University, our mission to find out what makes Toronto one of the most dynamic centres for creative and cultural industries in the world and what opportunities exist to connect our respective sectors to mutual benefit.

 The rest of the group are: David Calder, Editor of online publisher Caledonian Mercury; Mike Stevenson, MD of  future thinking consultancy  Thinktastic; Kate Ho, MD of Interface 3 Digital & Tigerface Games; Jim Rae, CEO of creative digital document outfit Elevate You; David Sapien from “stealth education” games maker Me and The Giants; and Stuart MacDougall from Pufferfish whose spherical digital displays are the ‘must have’ centerpiece for events, launches and happenings.
Reading the Ontario Government creative clusters report on the flight over reveals some interesting parallels in the challenges faced by our respective creative and cultural sectors, despite the obvious difference in scale when comparing Toronto (123,000 people working in the creative industries) with Edinburgh ( 20,000 incl. the Lothians) or even with Scotland as a whole (84,000).   At a macro level the obvious comparison is that both are predominantly English-speaking semi-autonomous nation/regions highly integrated with and thus susceptible to  ‘combined and uneven development’ in relation to their Southern neighbour.  There are of course pros and cons to such proximity with access to the US market (or UK in Scotland’s case)  and inward investment being the obvious pros, but by the same token difficulty in growing or maintaining a domestic market/audience, talent and skills drain to the metropolitan neighbour and the ever-present tendency to ‘inferiorism’ amongst cultural producers and consumers tastes and aspirations i.e preferring to ape the US (UK) over a distinctive Canadian (Scottish) offering.
So against that background our respective creative industries share:
  • difficulties in accessing finance 
  • despite a ready supply of talent and skills in the start-up stage, difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled personnel in the growth stages
  • impact of consolidation and vertical integration (by non-local firms) as growing companies are acquired and in many instances control of them migrates elsewhere along with their profits, even though the the level of employment and spend in the region increases (independent TV in Scotland is a good example of this process at work)
 Two of the key challenges and opportunities facing both Toronto/Ontario and Edinburgh/Scotland include:
  • globalisation, with more competition in areas that were previously less susceptible such as domestic advertising, design, digital marketing, music and publishing
  • innovation and the importance of not falling behind in new forms/combinations of content, distribution and platforms to business models.
One interesting example of how  Ontario’s creative sector is responding to these challenges and one which is very relevant to Scotland is ‘arts + crafts records‘, an artist owned label that has opened offices in Europe and mexico to grow their international sales.
On the innovation front Toronto’s higher education institutions appear to be driving meaningful collaboration in R&D,  with Sheridan College’s Screen Industries Research and Training centre (SIRT) and Ryerson University’s Transmedia Centre just two examples of that in practice.  SIRT was established within Pinewood Studios Toronto in 2010 to support collaborative innovation in film, TV and games and we’ll have more on them and Ryerson after our visits to them and to Pinewood and SIRT later in the week…
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