Sharon Hughes and Nathan Williams explore recent research showing the contribution arts incubators can make to regeneration.
Recent studies suggest an association between urban regeneration and economic development in the revival of cities. The UK and the US continue to face the challenge of turning around areas that have been blighted by deprivation, often as a result of the demise or contraction of local industries such as mining and manufacturing. Place and culture are persistently intertwined; as a result, business incubation units for the creative and cultural industries are now resurfacing in many areas. Cities are producing some of the most innovative clusters of creative businesses. According to 2004 figures, it was estimated that creative businesses have created more than 20 million new jobs in the US alone, and around half of all wages and salaries paid in America are for this sector. The economic importance of the creative class to the revival of cities or communities today is clear. Cities which have invested successfully in cultural renewal do so to generate not just economic growth, but also a renewed sense of civic pride and purpose. For this reason, establishing programmes to assist creative and cultural businesses to become economically sound has become popular.
There is much debate as to the true definition and meaning of ‘culture’. In its broadest sense, culture extends from art, music, or literature to manners, customs or dress style. The term ‘cultural industries’ was recorded by the end of World War II and used by Adorno and Horkheimer in 1947 to refer to commercial cultural products. In the late 1990s, the term ‘creative industries’ was developed in the UK. The DCMS defines ‘creative industries’ as “…those activities which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”. The industry includes, but is not limited to: advertising; architecture; crafts and designer furniture; fashion; film & video production; graphic design; educational and leisure software; music; performing arts; television, radio and internet broadcasting; visual arts; and publishing. For success, major world cities need the full range of culture from classical arts to popular music, musical theatre to libraries, and contemporary visual art to salsa dancing. In 2005, figures from the Greater London Authority and the DCMS showed that creative industry employment in London created 18,000 jobs. Total creative employment has risen from 1.6m in 1997 to 1.9m in 2006. This is an average growth rate of 2% per annum, compared with 1% for the whole economy over this period.
Regeneration is a transformational process that revitalises areas physically, socially and economically. It is about improving the condition of people and places to foster prosperity and well-being. The deprivation faced by many communities in the UK and the US is multi-faceted – people may face poor access to employment and high quality education, training and learning; experience poor health and life expectancy; live in sub-standard housing; and have limited access to public transport and community facilities. Successful regeneration is equally multi-dimensional. It delivers appropriate physical responses: suitable homes, offices, community facilities, quality education, training, and sustainable employment and transport for the local community. More subtly, regeneration delivers hope, optimism and expectation. Globally, regeneration has been criticised for not delivering these promises to poorer, disadvantaged communities whilst facilitating gentrification that ultimately benefits the middle and upper classes, as exemplified by London’s Canary Wharf and recent developments in New York’s Harlem district. In the late 1990s, culture became a minor element in urban regeneration programmes. The capacity to shape change in a deprived area became about more than large buildings and cleaner streets. Liverpool and Barcelona have been transformed into world-recognised cultural brands: destinations for the creative classes and those who want to be identified with ‘cool’ and ‘culture’. Although urban regeneration cannot solely be measured in terms of economic statistics, evidence of regenerative effects can be sought where culture is a catalyst in the process of regeneration or renewal. [[Cultural entrepreneurs will relocate to areas that give them a sense of confidence and belonging]]
Using business support
Arts incubators can act as catalysts for the regeneration reaction. They bring together diverse resources such as specialist business support, physical space, knowledge and expertise, visitors and entrepreneurs to deliver viable new businesses, revenue and employment opportunities to the area. A number of factors inhibit or promote the speed and efficiency of this process. A fully subscribed arts business incubator increases demand for other services, ranging from courier services to restaurants for visitors and staff. This extra demand can result in new business formation or the growth of existing local businesses. Another effect is spontaneous networking and collaboration amongst resident businesses. This included sharing ideas, knowledge, expertise, and market intelligence, resulting in new business opportunities. This provides additional revenue that contributes to business sustainability and growth. Poorly implemented incubators can inhibit the regeneration reaction if they host competing businesses vying for a limited customer base with similar products and services. Incubators may merely support the displacement of one enterprise by another with no net employment or business stock gain.
Regeneration also slows down if mature, previously incubated businesses are unable to find suitable premises to move on to in the same local area. These viable growing businesses may relocate to another area – taking jobs and revenue with them. The availability of stage-two business premises is essential to realising the potential of arts incubators. Local residents need the right skills to exploit these new employment and enterprise opportunities through relevant training, job brokerage and business support. Without this, the local community element of regeneration becomes inhibited, sometimes irreversibly. In the future, creative incubation facilities are expected to play a prominent role as the ‘Creative Cities Network’ takes shape. This modern approach to uniting creativity, business and growth is already gaining significant recognition as key to success in the new economy of culture, and will be a vital component in enabling cities to exploit their full creative potential. It is yet to be determined whether incubation programmes and the emergent creative class near these knowledge centres resulted from organised planning or organic movement. Nevertheless, cultural industries will play a vital role in reviving cities. Cultural entrepreneurs will relocate to areas that give them a sense of confidence and belonging, thus fulfilling two main roles in regeneration: taking over underutilised offices, warehouses and factories, and becoming central in helping cities brand themselves for global investments and tourists.
Sharon Hughes is a Marketing Professional and Director of Creative Xpressions Design Group. e: email@example.com;
t: 07804 353929
Nathaniel Akinpelu Williams is a Senior Consultant with NAW Solutions Limited, a research, evaluation and project development consultancy.
t: 07966 119660;