The last few weeks has seen myself and other creative industry commentators share information (through Twitter, Google Reader feeds etc) about how various institutions, companies, governments and individuals are championing the cultural and creative industries (some saying ‘the arts’) as a way out of the current financial turmoil.
There is no doubt that while the financial sector has been imploding, the creative industry sectors have been steadily increasing their wealth, income generation and presence (in the UK economy at any rate) – or so the rhetoric would have you believe. NESTA’s recent report on how the creative industries will be the engine of growth in the UK suggests “between 2009 and 2013 the UK creative industries – which is responsible for films, music, fashion, TV and video games production – will grow on average at 4% – more than double the rate of the rest of the economy. By 2013, the sector is expected to employ 1.3 million people, likely to be more than the financial sector” (quote taken from here). These are bold statements, given the recent problems that have been reported in the so-called creative sectors. Forster & Partners, the global architectural firm shed 350 workers, Geary has halved its workforce, ITV is facing huge job cuts through a fall in advertising revenue, the music industry continues to battle against online innovations which limit their profits, and a particular issue of mine, the UK computer game industry is still facing a massive brain drain to Canada (also here) due to the fact that the government is still sitting on it’s hands regarding tax incentives for the industry.
However, recently, the creative evangelist himself Richard Florida has been trumpeting how the creative economy is where the US should be focusing it’s efforts, and not bailing out the stagnant and ‘old world’ industries of the banks and the automobiles. There is a sense that we should be enforcing a ‘revolution’, not ‘reseting’ the old and unworkable Fordist economy regime, by encouraging creativity and not supporting industries which got us into this mess in the first place – a message that has been echoed for the UK.
So where does this leave us? The mixed messages coming from the UK government are unhelpful, but they do point toward the fact that their is a consensus that creative and innovate workers need to be encouraged to ‘let rip’ and rebuild a different economic base to that from before. But more than this, it is the ‘atomisation’ (i.e. networked individualisation, or connected fragmentation) of the creative economy that will be crucial in the future. Architecture as an industry is so heavily linked to construction that an economic downturn, which effects the construction of major projects more acutely (one only has to remember the stationary, rusting cranes of the Asian financial crisis of 1997), will always see these firms suffer in one way or another. That is why those innovations that can make things more efficient or more environmentally friendly will win out in the end, not only politically, but economically.
Also, I believe that the problems facing ITV (and to some extent Channel 5 and 4) are indicative of a wider social media movement. Spoon-fed media is not what the majority of people are looking for in this hyper-connected, user-generated-content environment; and producing films, televisiual products, music recordings or newspapers for mass consumption is a process that will soon be redundant. Having the ability to produce and manipulate content to your own desires is the future of cultural production and the industrial policies that Mandelson is keen to operationalise will have to take note of this. How? That’s for the politicians to argue over, but encouraging risk-taking and collaborative innovation are essential facets of a creative escape from recession. For example, the success of Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars is always going to be heralded as a British cultural achievement, but will the filmmakers actually make that much hard cash? Film4 (the funders) will see little of the huge profits generated by the film. The creative talent on show in this product is immense, but this does not always translate into financial reward, which if rectified, could be ploughed back into the industry. This is not just the case in the UK, with Australia and other ‘inde’ producing countries and cities seeing similar problems.
With the advent of the democratisation of the production of cultural products through social media techniques (on which I blogged some thoughts on recently), investing the right people, firms and products will be crucial and will need to be an important part of future policy developments.