The Eight Creative Attributes

In a recent article, Tom Campbell from the KTN drew attention to a range of practices which are deployed by creative professionals in the creative sector, as well as in the wider economy. This is important for, as his piece noted, there are now almost as many people in creative jobs outside of the Creative Industries as there are in those sectors themselves – with 1.7 million employed in the creative industries and a total of 2.6 million in the ‘creative economy’ as a whole (the Creative Economy in this context refers to everyone who has some kind of creative employment).

Despite the scale of creative employment across a number of different sectors (from music teachers to designers in the car industry), our perception is that their significance in driving innovation across the economy is yet to be fully recognised. So what is it that the creative industries – or more accurately, creative people and businesses – can bring to the wider economy? Tom’s article made the case for what he referred to as the Eight Great Creative Practices – explicitly echoing the Government’s affirmation of the Eight Great Technologies. Covering disciplines such as performance, craftsmanship, curation and storytelling, the list attempted to establish a set of practices associated with creative professionals, but which can add value in a wide range of commercial environments.

The eight great creative practices is a useful provocation, but on the basis of reflection and a recent workshop discussion, it might be helpful to focus on more over-arching qualities, those distinctive characteristics that underpin creative practices, skillsets and methodologies. Here then, in the spirit of continuing the debate, are my suggested ‘eight great creative attributes’:

  • Abstraction: the ability to create ‘distance’ between contemporary reality and imagined or alternative futures. Not just to test product ideas, but to take on inherently uncertain, or even taboo, issues
  • Divergent thinking: the ability to be always open to new ideas and to encourage that openness in others.
  • Ambiguity: keeping two opposing ideas in one’s head at the same time, and using that to imagine different/opposed scenarios or options
  • Metaphor: the ability to imagine, envisage and deal with cognitive challenges and problems, not just physical ones.
  • Mediation: working across different disciplines – facilitating translation of contrasting or alien ideas
  • Interactivity: working collaboratively with a diverse range of practitioners to generate and test new ideas
  • Risk-taking: understanding the need to experiment and take on risk, and to manage risk effectively within commercial constraints
  • Resilience: the strength and tenacity to constantly iterate, learn from failures and to re-invent.


The economic case for the arts

It seems somehow ironic that 25 years after the publication of the first serious study of the economic importance of the arts in the UK, that the Secretary of State for Culture should call on the sector to make a stronger economic case. Continue reading “The economic case for the arts”

Culture, Government, Society

A new booklet was published by Demos yesterday, entitled ‘Culture Shock‘. Sam Jones, its author, said that he wanted to call the book ‘Culture and Government’ but decided that the former, and preferred, title would have more of an impact on would-be readers, and he also felt that it reflected some of what the pamphlet had to say.

Its thesis, very briefly, is that our definition of culture  has altered dramatically since Government first started ‘doing’ Culture – public policy debate has shifted, and there have been wider and more fundamental cultural and technological changes to how we engage with, consume and practise culture.  The pamphlet argues, logically, that the way in which culture is dealt with in Government needs to change to reflect this.  He recommends a range of mechanisms for fostering cross-Government commitment to a new, much broader, concept of culture.

All very well. Except of course, Government has changed its approach fairly comprehensively over the last 15-20 years. Continue reading “Culture, Government, Society”

Creative accounting

When does 2 + 2 = 5?

My fear, when reading the following two articles, would be that logic takes us to a permanent cut in funding for the arts.

Logic tells me that 2 + 2 = 4.

An article from a business perspective which encourages the arts world to work harder to engage with business, on the same day that David Cameron tells us that public sector funding cuts may be permanent, leads me to a fairly pessimistic view that the arts are in for a tough time.

Not even Jeremy Hunt believes that private sponsorship can replace public sector arts funding.  In a series of recent speeches and letters to newspapers he has attempted to set out his commitment to public funding, and to put up a fight with the Treasury.

He may be right.  Maybe he has sacrificed the UK Film Council for a bit of extra funding for the arts.  Maybe he believes that the fragile ecology of the cultural sector can be sustained by some trimming and pruning here and there (for which read: 40%+ cuts in some places will allow for negligible cuts in others).

So how does one end up with an answer of “5”?

One should turn to David Micklem for an astonishing example of illogicality.  How else to describe the ‘optimism’ outlined here?

A timely reminder of how a straightforward process of Treasury accounting may not have the capacity to deal with the imagination of the arts world.

The Three Cs – Cameron, Clegg, and Culture

With an eclectic array of references – from Grayson Perry to Shakespeare, Osip Mandelstam to Danny Boyle – Jeremy Hunt kicked off the new Government’s commitment to the arts in some style.

In an impressive speech at London’s Roundhouse, Hunt has demonstrated an understanding and empathy with a sector which has, historically at least, viewed Conservative governments with a significant degree of suspicion.  A far cry from the apparent philistinism of Thatcher, Tebbitt and co, this government is made up of enlighted, public school educated young men (mainly), who appear to share a more traditional Tory approach to the arts.

And that old, mainly philanthropic, tradition of supporting the arts for the masses is what underpinned what Hunt outlined.  While Thatcher’s Victorian Values provided echoes of the poor-house, Hunt talked of the role of public libraries and national museums, the benefits of private giving, the importance of supporting “good causes”, and the value of education.  A very different set of Victorian ideals indeed.

What will this mean in practice? Continue reading “The Three Cs – Cameron, Clegg, and Culture”

What should Gordon Brown be reading?

Gordon should probably be stock-piling a whole library of books now, given the assumption that he will have a lot of time on his hands after next Thursday.

It’s a shame really, since the last twelve years – most of which when he was Chancellor – has seen a massive growth in the public and private sector book trade, and in reading more generally. The massive increases in public sector investment in schools, universities and the arts (and libraries) has helped to liberalise reading – which, perhaps only with the hindsight brought about by the forthcoming period of cuts and austerity, will we really appreciate.  Meanwhile the private sector book trade will have benefited from the huge growth in the economy up until the recent downturn, including fantastic revenue sales of books via Amazon and more varied consumption through other on-line channels.

But before embarking on a post-6th-May reading marathon, there are one or two books he might want to make time to look at over the course of the next few days.

Shakespeare’s Henry V might help inspire him, as he goes once more “unto the breach“;  or, if he dare, he might turn to Coriolanus – whose capacity to keep fighting despite advice to the contrary, seemed endless:  even when being advised to stand down he remained determined: “do not bid me to dismiss my soldiers or [to] capitulate” (Act 5, Scene 3).

If he wants further inspiration – and informed by the debacles of recent days – he may simply turn to the poem ‘To a Bigot’ by George Essex Evans.  Reading it, he might be re-inspired – noting that there is always a “spark Divine that glows within”, even when all appears lost.

Finally, however, he will probably turn to his own favourite poem (one I have written about previously – here).  But he should aim not to do so before the early hours of 7th May….

Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard – which notes that “perhaps in this neglected spot was laid some heart once pregnant with celestial fire” – might end up, sadly and ironically, being Brown’s own political epitaph.

CSR and all that – part 1

It’s difficult to pen a quick response to the CSR, which takes account of the wider impact it is likely to have on the cultural and creative economy. Not least because it will be 5-10 years before it takes effect.

But it’s worth looking at some of the initial headlines, because they will help give us an indication of the shape of things to come.

This is the first of a number of responses over coming days.

* The headline is, and will be, the cuts to the arts.

Some say it’s 30%, others say 15.

ACE has been asked to restrict funding cuts to “frontline organisations” to 15%;  and has been asked to slash its core running costs by a massive 50% (this for an organisation which has shed lots of staff over the last couple of years, and reduced its regional office base from 9 to 3).

The first fight will be to determine who or what is “frontline”.

Education activity is unlikely to fit that bill:  Creative Partnerships, as was, has already gone.  So expect any educational or community-focused work to be considered ‘back-office’.

Second-tier organisations, supporting infrastructure or promoting partnerships across other sectors (for example, A&B) can hardly be called “frontline”.  So, their sterling work in leveraging support from other sectors, or advocating on behalf of a fragile sector is likely to suffer dramatically.

And, just to be clear:  a “frontline” company getting a 15% cut will be considered to be a very good deal.  Imagine that even just two years ago.

There will be a lot of blood on the arts carpet.

* Local authority cuts

That’s the national arts carpet, by the way.  The vast majority of arts organisations rely on local authority funding – alongside their own self-generated income.

DCLG was hit hardest of all government departments, and local authorities will be expected to bear the brunt of much of the public sector savings over coming years.

So, many, many arts organisations can expect to have funding cut, with all other opportunities for funding from other budgets massively diminished.

And libraries, and museums?  All under threat too.

So: so far, so bad.  Big cuts to what some might describe as core activities.

But the indirect and wider sphere of culture and creativity has already been damaged by earlier announcements:

* The Design Council has lost its NDPB status, and is being encouraged to be more entrepreneurial.
Although its core budget will have been hit, I can see new money being generated in response to various project initiatives. That may well benefit the Council in the short term, as it demonstrates the capability of design on a wide range of cross-departmental issues.
But longer-term: the loss of NDPB status will inevitably lower the profile of design, and will diminish the ability of the Council to argue the case at top tables.  The CEO of a Design charity will have a much tougher time making his or her case to Ministers and senior civil servants than one who sits, by right, on a number of inter-departmental panels and committees.

* NESTA was already operating in a different way from other ‘NDPB’s and has the benefit of an endowment to keep it going.  It has also recently identified creative industries as one of its three core programme areas.  All good news.  But the chances of it retaining its BIS funding for additional activities must surely be questionable.  Watch this space!

* UK Film Council.  For good or ill, that has gone.  Where the funding goes is not clear – but the BFI has taken a 15% hit on its already meagre funds (and of course funding for the National Film Centre on the South Bank has already been stopped).

* CABE:  funding has gone completely.  Presumably, it too can compete in the Big Society for some project funding, but this is likely to be very damaging longer-term to the profile and clout of design and architecture across the UK.

I will be watching forthcoming statements, announcements and commentary, to elicit more information and insight.  But so far, it is difficult to detect anything other than a very heavy hammer-blow for a sector which appeared to be in the sympathetic hands of Hunt and Vaizey……

Economics and the arts again

“Decisions have to be made by real economists who can recognise the value of our cultural assets at a time of financial, technological, environmental and cultural change, not by number-crunching accountants looking to make a quick saving.” Lyn Gardner in today’s Guardian.

Not much to disagree with there, but the real danger for the arts is the assumption that “real economists” will come out on the side of the arts. What’s needed is a dialogue – as clearly spelt out here – and that might require a little more humility on the side of the arts, as well as a more intelligent approach to cultural economics.

Is cultural regeneration classless?

I’m grateful to Triston Wallace and his blog here, which has prompted this short reflection on culture and class.

Some years ago, Richard Florida’s concept of the Creative Class was all the vogue – the idea of a whole stratum of society, a ‘class’ of artists, teachers, and a mix of other very broadly creative professionals, which was beginning to congregate in a number of US cities and generating economic growth and urban regeneration.  Florida made much of the tolerance and diversity which characterised this group.

I’ve always harboured an anxiety that Florida’s thesis is innately ‘classist’ – celebrating the values of an educated middle-class, while implicitly denigrating the values of traditional working class urban communities.

This doesn’t undermine a core part of his thesis:  that the economic and social dynamic in many of our most successful cities is being shaped by a new group of creative businesses and individuals.  But Florida’s approach stikes me as worryingly straightforward, failing to engage fully with the tensions and community conflicts which cultural regeneration butts up against.

Triston’s piece, referred to above, cites Hoxton – frequently referred to as an example of cultural and creative-led regeneration on the fringes of the city of London.  Hoxton was traditionally a very poor white area of town.  And, the chances are the locals are not as tolerant and diverse as the new creative types moving into their neighbourhood. The transformation of Hoxton into a buzzing creative district will have generated some trickle-down benefits for the local community, in their poor quality social housing.  But to what extent are they, or have they, been involved in the changes taking place.  Are they now setting up their own cultural enterprises, or hanging out in the cool cafes and bars?  Or, more likely, do they continue to experience high unemployment, and shop at places like Iceland?

Too often the ‘creative class’ which transforms neighbourhoods does so at the expense of local people, and sometimes local values and culture.  And, by implication, the values underpinning that cultural transformation are far from tolerant and appear only to engage with ‘diversity’ so long as the diversity does not include the poor (very often white) communities left untouched by the gentrification of the area. That’s the challenge, by the way, in places like Hackney Wick, where it is planned that there will be a creative and digital cluster post-2012.

There are, of course, examples of a more integrated – if not indigenous – cultural-led transformation, and I am certainly not arguing that cultural regeneration, and cultural and creative development are harmful for communities.  Rather, my beef is with Florida and with others who push the importance the concept of the ‘creative class’ but who appear not to have much of a concept of ‘class’ at all.

I’m not sure who it was who once said that ‘urban regeneration begins with poetry and ends with real estate’.  While simplistic, there’s something very profound in here about the disempowering force of urban development which most ‘poets’ would want to resist.