I am not a creative industrialist (part 1 of 2)


It’s all about ‘the creative industries’ these days.

The creative industries…discourse?…seemed to move up a gear last summer when The Creative Industries Council (CIC) launched Create UK “its vision and strategy for the UK creative industries for 2020…at a prestigious event held at Facebook HQ in London.” The CIC was set up by the UK’s Conservative/ Lib-Dem government in 2011 during the recession “to be a voice for creative industries” focussing “on areas where there are barriers to growth facing the sector” with members “drawn from across the creative and digital industries including TV, computer games, fashion, music, arts, publishing and film”. How to make money in other words.

Here’s their showreel (bonus point if you spot the dance in this).

It’d be tempting to put the creative industries push down to the recession and the Tories but it predates both. In 1998, the recently elected New Labour government set up The Creative Industries Task Force to promote economic growth in the sector and even this in turn was an evolution of Thatcherite market logic. This development of the term becomes clearer if we look at the following graph showing how often the term ‘creative industries‘ occurred each year in books published in British English since the 1980s. It only goes up to 2008 but feel free to get your white board marker out and fill in the next seven years.

Creative Industries

A bit of Googling suggests that the term was used as early as the late 19th century but for a long time seemed to refer to secondary industries [the ones that turn raw materials into consumer goods if your GCSE geography fails you] and in contrast to routine industries. As western industrialised countries moved towards tertiary industry (including services and entertainment – yes that’s us) over the last 100 years and automation became smarter, so the meaning of creative industry has shifted and the value placed in creativity has grown.

This elevation of creativity possibly correlates with a devaluing of craftsmanship and is actually an elevation of a particular kind of, disembodied, creativity. But that’s a bit of an aside.

And so ‘creative industries’ and associated terms like ‘creative sector’ or ‘creative businesses’ seems to have become a dominant way to talk about the arts (and not just for economically right-wing parties). Or maybe more accurately the arts have just been rolled into a bigger story about economic returns.

Just read the culture secretary Sajid Javid’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference in September 2014; ‘money’ gets mentioned seven times and ‘art’ just once.

Sajid Javid, UK culture secretary
This is worth noting but hardly a surprise. His predecessor Maria Miller said baldly in her maiden speech that “in an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.”

And well, maybe you can argue that this is the environment we are in and the government’s most important job is to look after the economy. But then the Arts Council end up having to play the game, bolstering the economic arguments for their own survival, and all the while undermining all the non-economical things that art can offer us as humans.

Likewise the new Sadlers Wells Theatre was announced at the beginning of December as part of a wider £141 million investment “expected to deliver 3,000 jobs, attract 1.5 million extra visitors to the capital and generate £2.8 billion of economic value to Stratford and the surrounding area.” (By the way £141 million is less than 0.3% of the predicted £55 billion to be cut from public spending between 2016 and 2020).

Even artist, come political candidate Bob & Roberta Smith is at it:

All these things might be true and important in their own way but a worry of mine is that we – as artists or just people who experience art – are getting out of practice at talking about all the other very rich and diverse things that art involves. And where does that leave art that has little or no economic value? Or art that questions the importance of continuous economic growth?

In other words how do we maintain a diversity of political viewpoints in and through public culture?

To be continued…

But before part 2, I recommend this recent article by Angela McRobbie asking whether “the rise of the creative economy brings with it a disavowal of social and collective engagements of the type that have historically been associated with organised labour in favour of sheer self-interest”.