Thursday, March 17, 2016

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival

Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation.

There has long been an interest in the potential of regional arts activity to revitalise regional communities. In parallel the economic potential of regional creative industries has also interested many communities. In fact regional communities seem to fall somewhere between two camps – those, like Bendigo, that see a role for arts and culture and creative industries and have been boosted by the engagement, and those that don’t and have languished accordingly. That list is long.

The closing event for DESIGN Canberra 2014 at the National Museum of Australia.

Regional arts and regional creative industries
The challenge is achieving a broad recognition of the important potential of arts, culture and creative industries and consolidating and expanding the link between local arts and culture and the local creative industries in the region.

One region in NSW, the Blue Mountains, has thrown itself behind the idea with a Creative Industries Cluster developing over the last couple of years to bolster local collaboration and create a more resilient industry. This recognises that creative industries comprise a higher than average proportion of the Blue Mountains economy – the third biggest employment sector in the region. It is a way to broaden the economic base of the region and reduce the reliance solely on tourism, which was devastated following the major bushfires in 2013.

In my own local community, the regional centre of Canberra – which just happens to also be the national capital – this issue is an immediate practical one. The potential role of creative industries, particularly design, in helping establish Canberra as a cool capital, both large enough and small enough to be a liveable city, is a major strategic focus of DESIGN Canberra, a major initiative of Craft ACT.

This development has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as national economic hubs and centres of innovation. The nature of the interrelationship between major national cities and regional cities and the local communities surrounding them, particularly in relation to innovation and creative industries is worthy of a research project in its own right.

Looking beyond the arts – to the big picture and the main agenda
I have stressed previously that nationally the arts sector must look more broadly than the narrow arts area, to creative industries and the knowledge economy within which these industries are located. The same is true in regional areas.

For the future of Australia we need to see arts and culture recognised for the important central role it plays in Australia’s social and economic life, with it included on the main agenda, acknowledging its integral relationship to key economic and social factors such as education, innovation, community resilience, social and community identity and health and wellbeing. The focus on the economic role of arts and culture is similar to the focus on its community role – both spring from recognition that the arts and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

'For the future of Australia we need to see arts and culture recognised for the important central role it plays in Australia’s social and economic life'

Increasingly the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and also new and innovative ways of doing business.

At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Managing meaning – telling the Australian story to ourselves and the world
Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world by helping channel those who write the stories, paint the pictures and dance the dances that tell our story. They are underpinned by the arts and culture sector and the artists and arts and cultural organisations, mainly small, that make it up and create the content which feeds into and inspires other sectors.

'Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world'

In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not. As part of Australia's culture sector they share the critical function of managing the meaning of Australia and what being Australian means, which distinguishes this sector from other parts of the knowledge economy.

Regional, remote - and Indigenous culture
Even though I have worked across the arts and culture sector, including many of my years in government managing Indigenous cultural programs, my real area of interest and the area I have done most work in has been creative industries. Even in my time in the Indigenous cultural programs I was especially interested in the potential of creative industries to generate real jobs and sustainable cash flows for regional and remote Indigenous communities. Development can be fuelled by the power of intellectual property, sustained by a rich and diverse culture and the content that makes possible.

Government focus on creative industries – a long history of much study and little action
There is a long history of government researching creative industries and increasingly many state governments have shown interest. In the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, from 2001 to 2004 a great deal of activity was occurring in this space.

The Creative Industries Cluster Study was responsible for researching creative industries and developing Australian Government policies to support the growth of major, globally competitive Australian industries producing digital content and applications. In an unfortunate example of historical memory lapse and lack of long term view, the online version of these important studies seem to have vanished from the website of both the Department of Communications the Arts and the peripatetic component of it currently called the Ministry for the Arts.

It was a period of intense focus on creative industries, at least by a small part fot the Department. I was lucky to be there at that time and found myself working directly on creative industries research and policy for four years. This was firstly on the multi-stage Creative Industries Cluster Study, with some input to the Backing Australia’s Ability process, and then on the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda.

When the Cluster Study started to run out of steam and was winding down, I moved into researching the Industry Action Agendas that were big at the time and drafted the proposal which eventually established one for the digital content industry. This enabled the work of the Cluster Study to progress from a research to a policy focus. As a result I ended up closely involved with the wide-ranging work of the Strategic Industry Leaders Group which oversaw the development of the final report of the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda to Cabinet.

Creativity and innovation
There were a number of important initiatives ocurring in parallel with this. As a result of the Cluster Study research I ended up being part of the Secretariat for the Report of the Prime Ministers Science, Engineering and Innovation Council on the Role of Creativity in the Innovation Economy. I also experienced some extremely productive relationships with university research institutions through becoming what is called a Partner Investigator on the major three year Australian Creative Digital Industries Mapping Study. This was funded by the Australian Research Council and involved the Department of Communications, the National Office for the Information Economy and the Australian Film Commission as industry partners with the Creative Industries Research and Applications Centre at the Queensland University of Technology.

Because we were a government department I was able to negotiate rare access to aspects of extensive tax data derived from the Australian Business Register held by the Australian Taxation Office to feed research underpinning policy development. This sharply illustrated the invaluable way partnerships between government and research institutions can be greater than the sum of their parts.

The Creative Industries Cluster Study ranged widely, touching on many issues that are even more pressing today. Given the recent cuts to the national cultural institutions, it is interesting that one important area of significance was the potential for collaboration between industry and cultural institutions. One of the Cluster Study reports, ‘Economic benefits from cultural assets’, outlined the significant economic potential the vast collections of cultural institutions offered for development of high quality digital content. It also highlighted the barriers to this potential being unlocked, including the ongoing need for large scale digitisation of collections.

Connecting the parts
The impetus for the report had come initially from a suggestion by Dr Terry Cutler when he was briefly Chair of the Australia Council. At the time he was engaged in trying to draw connections between the disparate components of the arts and culture sector, collections institutions and creative industries. This lead to his later work with Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation and formerly Director of the Creative Industries Research and Applications Centre (CIRAC) at Queensland University of Technology, on research and innovation systems in the production of digital content and applications.

The work of the Cluster Study had long term effects which are still being felt today. After segueing into the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda it ultimately led to adoption of a comprehensive creative industries policy as part of the Arts Policy of the incoming Labor government in 2007 and to the establishment of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. In a major failure of vision, this Centre was wound up in 2015 by the current Coalition government, ironically just before the elevation of a new Prime Minister who actually was capable of understanding innovation.

Map of the future - clean, clever, innovative and diverse
As I’ve said repeatedly before, the developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean and clever, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Almost as a bonus, arts, culture and creative industries also show promise in helping address central social challenges Australia faces, such as responding effectively and productively to cultural diversity and tackling Indigenous disadvantage in a practical and positive way. These industries depend on innovation and innovation occurs where cultures intersect and differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged and assessed.

The next step is ensuring that politicians and their political parties – of whatever shape or form ­– and other influential decision-makers recognise the importance of creative industries and the arts and cultural life that feeds them. This will be helped by the fact that these changes to the economic life of the nation due to the growth of the knowledge economy are also beginning to transform the political landscape of Australia, throwing it to established political parties to rise to the challenge.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles
‘After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past’, Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles.

The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future
‘The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government. What does this new world of fragmented politics mean for Australian arts and culture and the organisations, artists and communities which live it and advance it? There are a series of major factors which are hammering arts and culture organisations. These intersect and mutually reinforce one another to produce a cumulative and compounding long term disastrous impact. All this is happening in a context where there is no strategic policy or overview to guide Government. It is critical for the future that the arts and culture sector think broadly about arts and culture, build broad alliances and partnerships, never forget its underlying values and draw on its inherent creativity to help create a society based firmly on arts and culture’, The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future.

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy
‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’, Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

Arts funding – it’s not all about the money
‘National Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, has said that being a strong advocate for the arts doesn’t mean delivering government funding and that an arts Minister or a government shouldn’t be judged just on the quantum of money the government puts in. This sidesteps the Government’s very real problems that it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, cutting many worthwhile organisations loose with no reason, that rather than delivering arts funding, it has reduced it significantly, and that it has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The real issue is that a national framework, strategy or policy for arts and culture support underpins and provides a rationale for arts funding – and is far more important’, Arts funding – it’s not all about the money.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

Indigenous cultural jobs – real jobs in an unreal world
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world.

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