Whose bailout is it anyway? Saving the Arts may not save Culture

Empty Theatre (almost) | An experiment with HDR. | Flickr

The recent announcement by the government that they are giving a £1.57bn ‘bailout’ to the UK’s arts and cultural sector has been hugely welcoming. As far as traditionally culture-shy and fiscally prudent Conservative governments go, it is a huge amount; it is almost three times the annual budget of Arts Council England. But when you consider it against the pay out in France of €7bn and the fact that the UK creative sector is worth £111.7bn it suddenly seems a relatively austere investment.

But despite that, and after weeks of campaigning, it will no doubt save some of our most valued and treasured cultural institutions (although it may too late for some). It is certainly a substantial amount that begs the question, where is all this money going and will it go to the people who need it most?

For me, there are three very important issues that can’t be swept away with the tidal wave of relief that this much-needed cash injection for these cultural institutions brings.

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My networking is not working!

Last May, I gave a keynote talk at a CreativeWorks London event, called ‘Joining the Dots’. I was asked to talk about a paper I co-authored (with Tim Vorley and Richard Courtney) that focuses on the networking paradigm, but to a more ‘business-friendly’ environment. While I have recently been working more on creativity that is subversive in an urban context, I think there is some conceptual (and critical) common ground with some of my earlier work on networks that this talk showcases. Anyway, the talk is in the video below (please excuse my appearance back then as I had recently been in a cycling accident that was completely my own fault…)

P.S. Incidentally, this is my 100th post on this blog. Not sure what that says about my productivity, but I’m sure it’s not good….

Creative Failure – cr8net 2012


cr8net 2012 at the Royal Institute of Great Britain

Failure is a dirty word. Business leaders won’t stand for it, politicians try to hide it and generally, it’s seen as something to avoid. But it seems, given the talks and discussions today at #cr8net hosted by CIDA, it is essential for creativity. The stories of how creativity has escaped the shackles of prescribed education via playful experimentation with software, and how networking with everyone who will throw a business card at you is critical to success, they sum up the rhetoric of the creative industries for the last 15 years or so. But is failure such a critical part of what constitutes creativity? Does allowing for experiments to fail really aid creative businesses? Or is it more the will to take a creative idea and putting it into practice in a meaningful way?

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Politics of Creativity or Creative Politics?

It’s taken a bit of time for the dust to settle on the coalition government and already we are seeing them attempting to tackle the chronic economic malaise that we currently suffering from. Public sector cuts seem to be high on the agenda and within that we have already seen the abolishment of major planned cultural projects, such as the £45 million pledge to the  BFI; wider cuts throughout the DCMS have also been outlined. Perhaps of more relevance to the policies surrounding the creative industries is this:

So, what does ‘reviewed and rebuilt’ mean? Clues may have been given to us in Jeremy Hunt’s first speech as Culture Minister. The term ‘creative industries’ has not been completely stripped out of the political rhetoric, but it seems that the cohesiveness that they once purported is ebbing away in favour of a more digitally-orientated taxonomy, one which focuses on infrastructure and local provisioning of content. Since those infamous Mapping Documents of 1998 and 2001, there has been a great deal of debate. This seminar at the Open University a couple of years ago, for me, epitomised these debates, with Jon Newbigin’s talk in particular noting the political drive behind the ‘coalition’ of the creative industries concept (look out for a question by me to Prof. Pratt about 1 hour 5 mins in).

It seems that the 00s was the honeymoon period of the creative industries as a functional concept. I often argued that the ‘siloization’ of the creative industries into subsectors was a vacuous exercise, an attempt to justify the spending on the various councils that exist. But now, it seems that as there is an emphasis now on the delivery of content rather than the production of it, the new government is formulating a politics of individual creativity and the delivery thereof, rather than attempting to herd companies and people together in attempt to statistically justify their spending. This is a positive move. Creative industry activity has always been two or three steps ahead of any policies designed to encourage them, and their mixing of production techniques, their sharing of individuals and their cross-pollination of ideologies, has belied constant labelling and typologies. Now, with a focus on supporting the platforms for this mixing; the more rapid delivery of the content; and the room for innovation; and most importantly a policy for a digital, not analog age; this can only catalyse the productivity of the sector, and provide the financial rewards that the creative industry companies rightly deserve. It would be interesting now to see if any of this is recognised in today’s budget….

Andy Duncan puts Creative Industries back on the Map

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Creative Industries: An Oxymoron?

It will be of little surprise to the majority of readers that the creative industries have become big business – they are the focus of a multitude of local, city, region and national governments’ attempts to redevelop, regenerate and reignite growth and development in their ‘place’. But their benefit and how can they be utilised is often criticised and debated vehemently. The UK government’s attempts at ‘capturing’ the creative industries via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have been criticised for being too arbitrary (see Oakley, 2004; Roodhouse, 2006a; Christophers, 2007) and recent attempts at quantifying this ephemeral and messy industrial sector have been patchy at best. The definitional boundaries apropos the thirteen sub-sectors have come under close scrutiny, with many practioners and businesses alike claiming that these sub-sectors are of little use anymore – arguing that many business activities will straddle a number of different sub-sectors. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of work in the creative industries is now project-based, which encapsulates businesses from a variety of the sub-sectors (Grabher, 2004a, 2004b; Rifkin, 2005; Davenport, 2006), so trying to overtly manage these industries ‘from above’ is a square peg in a round hole. Surely film has more in common with the television industry than it does the video industry? Should television and radio be lumped together simply because the high-end of the industry combines the two (Such as the BBC for example)? The majority of television industry workers (producers, directors of photography, runners etc) will never entertain the idea of working for a radio company.

More generally throughout the creative industries, the idea that there is a common practical interest between the film industry and crafts is highly questionable. Also, film-makers work on computer game development, musicians work with software developers, graphic designers and advertisers collaborate. Designers themselves will work for manufacturing firms or retail outlets – if we begin to scrutinize the way the creative industries operate (i.e. through projects and social networks) then we start to realise the deficiencies and vacuity of trying to pen them in with sub-sectors.

Where does this leave us? After all, the economic strength of the creative industries comes from their political management – something that other countries strive towards. For example, it has been argued that India has no single body that can be called upon to represent creative and cultural industries as a distinct entity. A focal point needs to be established to engage various stakeholders in a productive dialogue, so as to achieve consensus over strategy. This is ossified when an Indian commentator argues, “we can choose not to address the need at our own peril in a world where more and more governments are setting the required infrastructure” (Sethi, 2005).

Therefore, the creative industries’ intrinsic economic value is created through their strategic and political positioning. After all, the creative industries are in no way new – the latest technological developments have helped us to express human creativity to a higher potential, but people have been sculpting, painting, playing, performing and filming for millennia. Creating a political outlet in which these people can reap economic benefits in such a way as to aid the development of particular regions (through cultural quarters (Roodhouse, 2006b) for example) has been the catalyst for the ‘creative industries’ as a political tool, and the main reason for the proliferation of such policies and their popularity around the world.

In many ways, the ‘creative industries’ can be considered an oxymoron. Being truly creative has always been in conflict with making a quick buck. Trying to make money out of talent, it is argued, has always been viewed as ‘selling out’, albeit a view which has been challenged (Orme, 2006). By industrialising creativity, the DCMS has put profitability at the top of the to-do list of creative businesses, and now the majority of policies are engineered to increase the wealth-generation of the sub-sector and economic prosperity of it’s participants. Perhaps this is why these stringent boundaries are therefore perceived to be necessary – to keep them in check, keep them profitable. But this can be to the detriment of the fundamental processes involved. Keeping an industry ‘in it’s box’ obfuscates collaborative efforts, negates networking and can hinder the development of burgeoning industrial practices. A rejection of a ‘top-down approach’ cannot be replaced with a ‘horizontal approach’ either (such as project-based policies). The ethereality and rhizomatic nature of the creative industries should be celebrated – cutting through the ‘soup’ of social networks, informal practices, tacit knowledge etc in a linear and unidirectional fashion will only create the same problems of definitional boundaries and political suitability. Therefore, next time we start to think about how to manage the creative industries in such a way as to improve the quality of life, maybe we should start by rethinking their political ethos – not an easy or comfortable task by any means, but then, has it ever been so?

First image courtesy of Ed Davenport (c) 2008.

All other images courtesy of Jimmy Mould (c) 2008: See more of his photos on his blog.


Christophers B. (2007) ‘Enframing creativity: power, geographical knowledges and the media economy’. Transactions. 9: 235-247.

Davenport J. (2006) ‘UK Film Companies: Project-Based Organizations Lacking Entrepreneurship and Innovativeness?’ Creativity and Innovation Management. 15(3): 250-257.

Grabher G. (2004a) “Learning in Projects, Remembering in Networks? Communality, Sociality and Connectivity in Project Ecologies’. European Urban and Regional Studies. 11(2): 103-123.

Grabher G. (2004b) ‘Temporary Architectures of Learning: Knowledge Governance in Project Ecologies’. Organization Studies. 25(9): 1491-1514.

Oakley, K. (2004) ‘Not so cool Britannia’. International journal of cultural studies: 7(1): 67-77.

Orme G. (2006) ‘Special, moi?’ PACT. June, 2006: 31.

Rifkin J. (2005) ‘When markets give way to networks’, in Hartley J. (eds.) The Creative Industries. Blackwell, Oxford.

Roodhouse S. (2006a) ‘The unreliability of cultural management information: defining the visual arts’ Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society. 36(1): 48-65.

Roodhouse S. (2006b) Cultural Quarters. Intellect, London.