(Originally published as discussant notes for the The Cultural and Creative Industries: Pathways Beyond Economic Growth seminar series)
This last year has served to highlight the vital, non-economic, value we place on culture and the creative industries, and their role in our daily lives. Research by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and the Intellectual Property Office, for example, found that the vast majority of people (90% in the case of music) suggest culture has helped them to deal with challenging life circumstances, such as those that had arisen with COVID-19. We have seen incredible examples, from across the world, of creative businesses stepping in to help local communities through these tough times. Support for campaigns like #WeMakeEvents and RedAlert, and the UK Government’s £1.57bn Cultural Recovery Fund emphasise the importance we place on arts and cultural institutions and live venues surviving the crisis; being there for us once the pandemic has passed.
But at the same time, Covid-19 has brought to the fore the precarity evident in parts of the sector. A growing body of research emphasises the fragility of business models, unsustainable working practices and vulnerability amongst the creative workforce (Comunian and England 2020, Eikhof 2020, Banks 2020). There are concerns that the pandemic has laid bare, and potentially worsened, long-running structural weaknesses evident in the creative and cultural sector.
So against this backdrop, it is an important moment for us to consider how we might rebuild a creative economy that is better valued – recognising the importance of culture and creativity in learning, in the economy and in communities. How we can enhance resilience and inclusion, while at the same time unlocking the potential of the creative and cultural industries to promote shared prosperity and enable society to rise to the ‘grand challenges’ of tomorrow.
The “Pathways Beyond Growth” series, and the papers presented at the second seminar, are an important part of this discussion. These papers position the creative and cultural industries at the centre of a wider debate about a post-growth economy; a global agenda to promote sustainability and wellbeing; a new approach that puts people at the heart of policy-making.
Importantly, they seek not just to conceptualise, but to operationalise, a new narrative framework for the creative economy. One that extends beyond economic success and better captures the harder to measure, but vital, social and human dimensions. We see this in FutureScreenNI’s approach combining the cultural, social and political with an explicit agenda for R&D and innovation; in Christiaan De Beukelaer critique of the creative and cultural industries in the context of Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth; and in the examples that Polly Stupples gives of cultural programmes in New Zealand that help to raise aspirations, contribute to the wellbeing of communities, and enhance their commitment to tackling societal and environmental issues.
Additionally, these papers illustrate how the creative and cultural industries have the potential to connect communities where there exists diversity or division. In the case of Northern Ireland, this relates to a long period of civil unrest, where the creative industries are viewed as a “neutral space in a transitional period”. We heard Polly speak of how the Māori Youth Development Strategy had at its heart an articulation of “collective strength”, while also “worlding indigenous people’s networks”. Given concerns about the divides that exist in our own society and the growth in populism, linked to spatial inequalities and social injustice, the ability of the creative and cultural industries to bridge divides and promote cohesion should be a central part of the narrative.
But in seeking to operationalise a new narrative framework for the Creative Economy, these papers also highlight some important challenges.
Firstly, despite decades of discussion about the need for a new post-growth model, we are still early in the journey of actively pursuing an alternative approach. While the debate has been legitimised, more often than not we still default to a pro-growth position. This is illustrated by Sophie Jerram who describes New Zealand’s investment in rapidly scaling music and film, only to subsequently call the industry out for its exploitative labour practices. Like breaking all bad habits, we need to focus on driving behavioural change. Early in this theory of change must be developing a concise and compelling narrative of the wider developmental value of the CCIs, that reorientates the focus and rebalances the weighting we assign to economic, societal and environmental outcomes; that talks about enabling potential, rather than extracting value.
These papers also highlight the tension that exists within our definition of creative and cultural activities, between the arts and culture, and creative industries like IT and advertising. These differences are much more nuanced than any binary assessment of production vs consumption; tradeable vs non-tradeable services. This is particularly evident in Christiaan’s presentation, where he emphasises the innovation and growth orientation of software design and architecture, while, when discussing the potential for productivity gains, the arts share challenges with sectors like healthcare and education. This raises the question of how we can develop a cohesive narrative, that holds true for different parts of the creative and cultural industries, while also deploying a nuanced approach that is sensitive to their differences?
Finally, these papers emphasise the need for this narrative to provide a compelling and accessible, high-level framework, while avoiding being overly paternalistic. Cultural policy must be democratically co-designed and place-sensitive – to ensure authenticity in the narrative, embed culture within wider place-based policy, and promote ownership and accountability. It would be hard to imagine the Māori programmes being successful without engaging indigenous communities in their design. Further, Paul Moore describes a “worst case, free-floating creative industries sector, which is not embedded in the economic ecosystem”. This emphasises the need for an integrated and progressive policy framework, for participatory approaches in its design, and interventions that enable grass roots innovation and development.
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