The creative industries seem to have reached somewhat of a plateau in recent years in terms of their progression as a concept or vehicle for improving our economic competencies. I don’t mean in terms of actual economic performance, indeed David Harte recently blogged about how the creative industries may be experiencing a slowdown, which is in contrast to much of the rhetoric that surrounds them. Instead, the UK government has seemingly entrenched them as an industrial concept, yet the practitioners are constantly challenging the status quo by pushing creative boundaries and fueling some of the most important innovations in the field.
I was lucky enough to be invited to hear Andy Duncan speak at NESTA this morning and I was reassured to hear that he resonated these sentiments, saying that the creative industries and the changes inherent in them, needs to be fully on the government’s radar. As well as vehemently rejecting Mark Thompson’s call for a merger between Channel 4 and Channel 5 (a rejection which is echoed by Jemery Warner), the other major point that I took away was his ambition to make Channel 4 (particularly the 4IP scheme) what he described as ‘a tool making factory’ rather than a ‘content factory’ (I’m paraphrasing as given the start time of the talk, I refused to start taking notes until I had finished my coffee). Basically, his point was that he wanted to equip people with the tools to be able to generate the content themselves, rather than simply funding people with good content-ideas. This reminded me of the Oxfam advert (which used an old Lao Zhu quote) which says “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
This type of ‘publisher-not-creator-content’ mantra, allowing citizens to be the content-generators has massive implications for the creative industries. It is a widely held truism that the creative industries are populated by freelancers (see an older blog post), and this kind of attitude will only serve to atomise these industries even further. I am not suggesting this is a good/bad thing either way, but we/government must be equipped to be able to handle just a shift. For me, this will require 3 (probably more – but these are the most imminent in my mind) issues to be addressed:
- As Andy Duncan mentioned briefly, we will need better regulation for content; as we saw with the Brand/Ross affair, Ofcom’s mechanism for regulation prompted (what most people agreed to be) an over-the-top reaction from the BBC, but citizen-generated content would only lead to more ‘extremes’ in content which would need more sensible regulation.
- Individualisation of content generation would, in my view, lead to an overall deterioration of quality as the best content is usually generated through collaborative action (I realise this not always the case though). Therefore, the importance of ‘creative clusters’ will increase; be these virtual or physical (i.e. what is going on at Salford University at the moment), we will need to foster and encourage collaborative action, and importantly, allow failure and legislate for it, i.e. allow creative people to take more risks. Creative Quarters and the role of universities will be crucial in this, and I have a paper coming out soon in the Creative Industries Journal which emphasises this very point.
- Finally, a more intuitive funding structure which has at the moment breadth but little depth (in most creative fields anyway). Spreading the pot thinly is great for picking up the ‘distant’ talents that would not otherwise get the break, but sometimes its worth putting at least some eggs in one basket by financially backing proven talent more generously than is currently available.
As someone who has debated the UK government’s conceptualisation of the creative industries (see my first ever blog entry), it was refreshing to hear someone of Duncan’s standing attempting to drive forward and challenge the government’s stance on the creative industries, but it will remain to be seen if the policy makers have been taking heed of this debate. The rapid increase of Web 2.0 capabilities and the technological developments that are fueling them, means that the change in content-generation that Duncan talked about will happen sooner rather than later (he predicted the next 5-10 years) and so the issues raised above will need to be tackled quickly. The recession will only exacerbate this desire, as we (society, government, businesses) look to the creative and knowledge industries for the next source of Britain’s global competitiveness. We best not let them down!