Thursday, April 21, 2016

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities

Increasingly two critical things will help shape our economic future. 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, a development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications.

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.

Creative clusters connect disparate small business and creative individuals to mutual advantage - the way bridges bring separate parts of a city into contact.

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. A recent important article by Anne Davies in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ outlines this development and some of its profound implications.

Mapping the hubs
The Herald article maps the creative hubs of Sydney and NSW using postcode data from the membership of agencies that collect royalties and copyright payments for artists, authors and visual artists. We are talking about artists making money here – usually not very much money but still a welcome break from the rigours and uncertainty of the arts grant system and a move into the brave old world of copyright industries.

It reveals that clusters of like-minded people exist in well-known suburbs. For example, more than 450 royalty owners live in Newtown, with hundreds more in surrounding suburbs. It’s not just the inner-city, though, with creative clusters in Tamworth, Byron Bay, Bathurst, the Southern Highlands and the central and far north coasts. There are more than 80 writers in a only a couple of Blue Mountains postcodes.

Cultural industries have far broader implications than might be expected. For example the presence of these creative clusters can transform urban spaces, creating vibrant and energetic suburbs in older areas that have often been neglected by government. There are dangers that older low income residents, working class and migrant, may be displaced but this is a challenge for government to manage through policy and programs. The article notes that there is a need for government to pay attention to cultural industries when setting policy to acknowledge this reality. The recent NSW Government policy on venue lock-outs – and the earlier liberalisation of pokies in pubs ­– are graphic examples of how policy shifts can change reality for the arts sector drastically – in both good and bad ways.

Recognising the potential
The article comments ‘Governments regularly recognise the importance of encouraging investment in financial centres and IT precincts, but what about creative hubs: enclaves where people spark off each other and create not just art and music but value in the economy.’ The way cities throw people together so they ‘spark off each other’ is exactly what happens in other industry sectors, as proximate location and interaction fuel innovation. Sydney has long been seen as a financial centre for the Asia-Pacific regions. Perhaps it’s time to adjust this view to take account of creative industries as well.

This has been recognised in recent months, by the Victorian State Government, which has committed $115 million for its new Creative Victoria cultural strategy and rebadged its Arts Minister as Creative Industries Minister. It even has a policy to explain and guide it and a Creative State ministerial advisory board – with some real expertise – to help guide it.

Creativity in daily life – economy and society
This importance of creativity for our economic life is parallels the role of creativity in social life. What they have in common is that both embody the reality that arts and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up. In many ways creative clusters are economic versions of creative communities – communities that evolve strongly around their cultural life.

It’s fascinating because the developing focus on the importance of creative industries is crucial for all cities, both major capital cities and regional cities, which are far from the major cities. In fact, we shouldn’t let the relevance of this sector to regional communities distract us from the fact that it is also the way of the future for large, successful cities like Sydney or vice versa.

This development in Sydney reflects a broader trend nation-wide, indeed world-wide. 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 often 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.

Creative industries also depend upon innovation and in this respect they are connected to fundamental features of Australian society, particular its high level of cultural diversity. Cultural diversity fosters innovation because 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 copyright industries
Arts and cultural funding, as threatened as it is, has an important role to play in supporting Australia’s cultural life and arts and cultural production. However, I am much more interested in the so-called copyright industries, a different world to that of grant funding. Given the sorry excuses for visionary government we have seen in recent years and the relentless ideological drive to downplay the critical role of government, anything that balances the unhealthy dependence of arts and cultural organisations on an unreliable and fragile source has to be a good thing.

A songwriter who knows a thing or two about the economics of the music industry pointed out to me once that the Scandinavians had managed to turn song royalties into one of their major sources of income – not coal, not oil – though for some that has historically been important and wisely invested for the future – but song royalties.

Creative industries draw on the broader arts and culture sector
The creative industries 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. There is also an important connection to our major cultural institutions, which are being steadily cut back at the very point at which their potential for the economy of the future should be recognised. To realise the potential of creative industries access to the collections, knowledge and expertise of these institutions is crucial.

This potential was detailed in an early report from 2003 by the then Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. The report ‘Economic benefits from cultural assets’, one phase of the three part Creative Industries Cluster Study, 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.

The distinct nature of creative industries
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. ­– they help channel those who write the stories, paint the pictures and dance the dances that tell our story.

In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors of the knowledge economy 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.

Broader social impacts
The focus of creative industries on content has other implications. Arts, culture and creative industries also show promise in helping address central social challenges Australia faces. In attempting to address the major issue of Indigenous disadvantage, to take just one example, it is critical to recognise that one of the most important economic resources possessed by Indigenous communities is their culture.

Creative firms are already developing which draw on that cultural content. Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, that culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but they mine a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal.

Reshaping the political landscape
Since we are at the beginning of a long drawn-out election campaign, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that these changes in the economic life of the nation will have even broader impacts. The new knowledge economy is already transforming the political landscape of Australia.

Both the two mainstream parties have recognised that the contemporary political landscape has changed substantially. It has even been argued that it’s time to accept that Australia now has a three-party system, with the Greens gathering strength and posing a serious threat to both the Liberal Party and Labor. This is because a new class of voter has been partly created by the knowledge economy.

Given that the knowledge economy will become more and more prevalent and central to Australia’s economic future, I wonder what this means for Australia’s politics over the next ten years. It will be interesting times and interesting challenges for the two major parties to remake themselves. To date neither of them have shown a willingness to do so, being consumed with their mutual contest. However, Turnbull’s successful challenge for the Liberal leadership – sadly disappointing in its outcomes as it has been to date – was in part a reflection of these underlying social, economic and demographic forces.

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.

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.

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.

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 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’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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