Four Issues for the Creative Industries.

As the government and nearly everyone else starts to look at what Brexit means, it feels like a great time to review where the Creative Industries(C.I.) are going, and what we can do to improve and support the second largest growth sector in the British economy. Any idea of leaving it to fend for itself in our new world is a recipe for decline with global players eager to snatch talent, and profits, from the our existing industries.

This is the first of two articles looking at the issues and possible solutions. Some of them have been with us a long time, but a failure to address them now will mean post Brexit their implications will be far worse. The decline in EU support, the lack of co-production funds, and sterling falling are already putting pressure on creative companies’ plans. So what are the key issues and problems we face going forward?

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Our Creative Culture

There is much being written about the economic nature of the creative economy etc. but little focus on the culture of creativity in which it sits and needs to develop, in the coming decades. We are still hampered in our thinking by romantic notions of talent, and that it will always “win out”. The evidence is to the contrary, look at the position of women and BAME[1] talent in the Creative Industries for the obvious rejection of this notion. However, the problem is deeper than these dominant myths of talent.

Creative enterprise is dominated by collaborative teams, yet the vast majority of our educational structures and efforts are geared to individual excellence. A problem being compounded by the divisive, and distracting, STEM v STEAM[2] arguments.

In addition to these problems within education there is a fundamental lack of concentration on the development of creative content that is capable of attracting audiences. The use of ‘failure’ as an excuse, and the “no-one knows anything” attitude as the norms of creative activity has led to limited horizons and the wasting of generations of talent.

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Our Creative Structures

Beyond education other structural problems dominate the C.I. landscape. ‘Nepotism’ has been recognised for a long time as being central to career development in the Creative Industries. It’s continuing dominance needs to be broken.

However, such structural change is hampered not only by 20th century divisions between arts, and media, but is now compounded by new divisions involving games, and web creations. We may have a Dept. for Culture, Media and Sport, and Creative Scotland may have been in existence for a few years, but there is little evidence of joined up working on the ground or in funding mechanisms. Divisions that are being compounded by the current concentration on regional and physical hubs, rather than developing a UK wide digital online approach to creative support.

This is perfectly illustrated by the inability of current policy, investment, and structural activity to address the vast majority of people active in the creative sector i.e. micro companies and freelancers. Dealing with myriad individuals and small teams is never easy for big centralised organisations but it is fundamental to empowering and growing the Creative Industries.

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Our Creative Investment

Recently a spokesperson for one of the largest investment funds in the creative economy stated that their approach did not really work within the creative industries as a whole. A welcome frank admission, but it is a vast understatement of the current investment position. Creative individuals, and companies, have always been classed as ‘too risky’ by the investment community, a situation compounded by among other things, the film sector scams of the last decade.

The current tax incentives, rather than expanding the creative sector, have had the impact of creating competition between more companies for the little investment cash that was available. In addition, ‘seed’ funding has all but disappeared for the creative industries, and the short-termism of the majority of investors works against the ‘long tail’ of many creative activities.

Crowdfunding in the US is now the second largest publisher of graphic novels. In the UK investors look to yet another artisan beer, or retail opportunity! The growth of Arts/Creative Loans in the last few years may be seen as a means of supporting activity. However, the majority of loans are only available to well established organisations, lent against personal capital, or are lent at a rate greater than the lowest bank loan.

The failure of the UK investment community is possibly illustrated by the passing of not only Pinewood Studios, but also the Odeon/UCI chain into foreign ownership since the Brexit vote. Some may see this as a sign of good inward investment but even a basic understanding of economics will reveal that when times get tough companies retreat to their own territories – see US Studios since The Crash. To say nothing of the C.I. profits, which will not necessarily be re-invested in the UK.

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Our Creative Marketing

The UK is a world leader in advertising, a big success within the creative economy. However, it is based upon major global clients not the small micro companies that are the majority of the C.I. sector. These companies cannot afford global advertising companies, yet the lack of effective marketing is a major barrier to success and growth for freelancers and micro-companies. The impact of a lack of any effective marketing structure for creative outputs from small companies is obvious within the mobile games sector, but it is true across the whole C.I. landscape.

Social media marketing has been exploding for several years. It is a potential game changer for small companies, yet owing to the lack of focus on this aspect of C.I. growth there is no mention of it in recent industry reviews. A new generation has grown up in this space, but with our current approach their skills and knowledge will be directed way from the C.I. sector.

These four areas of concern are critical to the future growth, and the global presence of the UK Creative Industries. Clearly addressing them will not be an easy, or an overnight quick fix, scenario. However, to not address them just because it is difficult, is to consign our creative talent to an outmoded structure, a hit and largely miss development process, and prone to becoming victims of bigger and better supported competitors.

There are potential solutions to some of these issues, but all need a collective effort to address them. Brexit has provided the opportunity to do this. The question is, are we ‘great’ enough to face the challenges?

For some potential answers to this final question, and the proceeding issues please read the follow up article to be published next week

All comments are welcome – especially if you have answers to some of the problems identified.

Phil Parker, Co-Founder, BCre8ive

[1] BAME = Black and Minority Ethnic

[2] STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, with Art added it becomes STEAM in the debate about key subjects in education.

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4 Responses to Four Issues for the Creative Industries.

  1. Doing a little research before responding to your blog, I came across this quote from the artist known as Bob and Roberta Smith, who’s a tutor at the Cass: “We are really heading back now, not to the 1960s but to the 1930s, when art schools were only for the elite.” This was part of a longer article that pointed out that art schools had their heyday in the sixties and seventies, and are now heading down the route – like some universities – of being finishing schools for the international rich. I don’t think it was a coincidence that back in the day art schools nurtured not only exciting new artistic talent, but also the names in fashion and – particularly – rock and pop music, that made the sixties and seventies such an exciting time to be alive in the UK. Art schools were accessible to most, via grants if necessary, and there wasn’t the philistine insistence on ‘usefulness’ and employability that is now pervasive. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against people earning a living in fashion, design or advertising, and of course plenty of art school graduates went into those fields then, as now (although then, with full employment, it was a lot easier to switch and swerve between jobs.) But it seems to me that the decline of the art schools is a paradigm for the way in which, under the heels of successive right-leaning governments, the whole culture has changed. Utility is all. Dreamers can expect – and deserve – to starve. Higher education is just there as a prologue to highly-paid employment (although many graduates would say ‘if only!’) The post-referendum May regime is already shaping up to be harder-right than the previous government, and I suspect there will be even less attention paid to the arts and creative industries. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Eurozone is generally more sympathetic towards and supportive of this area, and over the last few decades there has been increasing co-operation in terms of co-productions and pan-European funding. Clearly that’s likely to continue, but equally clearly it’s going to be harder to organise. What does the future hold? Nothing good I suspect. Brexiteers often seem to think ‘our culture’ is under some kind of threat. It’s a shame that many of them seem to rarely read a book, watch a film or go to a gallery, let alone think that the arts are worth supporting and nurturing.

    • Phil says:

      Hi Chris
      Thanks for this insight. This overall trend is part of the big landscape which I am hoping these blogs will bring into sharp focus – post Brexit-vote.

  2. David Thorpe says:

    Crowdfunding and social media marketing are a large part of a new model of publishing, which works to an extent in the book publishing field, but is creating a two tier system: those who are published by established publishers are inevitably taken more seriously even though the creative artist may make more money per book sold. The reach of the traditional publishers is much greater, particularly in terms of international sales. Meanwhile, the time and emotional cost to the creative artist in crowd funding, social media marketing, selling, networking is huge. Also, the model breaks down when it scales up in terms of cost. Since film and television has much higher cost and overheads, not to mention difficulty in distribution, it would seem to me from my limited perspective that it would be more cost-effective in terms of time to focus on attracting decent big investors and retaining their loyalty whilst somehow spreading the risk.

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