Artists, poets, designers and creative practitioners hold the key to solving some of the most challenging issues of our time. Caroline Norbury thinks we should make more of it.
The cultural and creative industries are unique among business sectors. They generate billions of pounds of value for the economy - £116bn prior to the pandemic. But importantly they also provide joy and relief making our towns, cities and villages better places to live in, bringing us together as communities and making us happy. How would we have got through lockdown without access to films, TV, books, radio and music?
In economics, Gross Value Added (GVA) is the measure of the value of goods and services produced in a sector of an economy. The GVA generated by the UK creative industries sector is worth considerably more than other sectors such as fishing, aerospace and car manufacturing. Yet how often is there a news headline about a creative business closing down and needing an injection of government support?
The World Economic Forum has repeatedly predicted that creativity, innovation and ideation will be the key skills for the workforce of the future, yet our (state) education system continues to de-prioritise learning in the creative arts and our higher education institutions are told to focus on ‘useful’ STEM subjects. We take Britain’s role as a global cultural leader for granted, with very little thought on how we became that global leader and what we need to do to maintain it.
For those who dare to deeply imagine
The core components of the cultural and creative industries, however, are the basis of our future wealth, health and security. They create IP assets that can be commercially exploited and distributed across continents. There is a global appreciation of and demand for British cultural product that the British excel at producing. In addition, many parts of the creative industries have low barriers to entry, do not require unsustainable fixed costs, and are innovative, flexible and agile.
With these facts and figures laid out and in mind, it’s clear that by harnessing the UK’s creativity we can build a better life for our citizens. Creative thinking and creative ideas are the most effective and cheapest asset we have which, when properly deployed, can address some of our most pressing social challenges.
Creative UK is the independent network for our creative industries, here for those who dare to deeply imagine. Our purpose is to harness the power of that deep creativity and amplify the voice of our membership, to build a fairer and more prosperous world.
We are known for our advocacy of the creative industries and the economic, social and cultural value they deliver for the UK. Much of our insight comes from our membership and ongoing research, however, it also comes from the hundreds of companies we work with and invest in every year. In just the last year, over 60,000 individuals directly benefited from our programmes, events and content creation.
We mentored, supported and invested in over 600 creative businesses and the freelancers working for them; enabling them to develop their talent and ideas, thereby creating new products, jobs and businesses. By exposing local creative communities to national networks, we helped to ensure post-pandemic survival and growth for both freelancers and businesses alike. And of those businesses, over 45% of the ones we supported were led by women, and over 21% were built and led by people who are minoritised and under-represented.
Success is due to innovation
Creative UK has been investing in creative companies since 2012 and 70% of them are still trading. This compares to a national average of under 50% for ‘non-creative’ companies. In the last three years we’ve invested close to £14m in early-stage creative businesses, all of which have more than doubled in size and profitability.
Obviously, we think we are doing something right, but this success is also down to something that few business writers concern themselves with – the global market appetite for UK creative goods and services. At a time when we need to build new economic models, improve productivity and increase wealth generation, it remains a mystery to me that there is so little coverage of our world-beating creative sector as a generator of economic wealth.
The beating heart of the success of our creative industries is, of course, due to the innovation in our arts and cultural sector. It is my belief that only the creative industries have the ability to imagine solutions to problems the rest of the world have yet to conceive.
We must take risks, follow our gut instincts and encourage those holding the purse strings to follow suit and back this sector as a driver of growth. We must appreciate the importance of investing in research and development as it relates to creative ideas and find better ways to systematise risk-taking. We need to learn to be more comfortable going on a journey whose end is yet unclear.
Our cultural and creative companies improve the wealth and health of our communities. We need to protect them, nurture them and give them the resources and permission to experiment and imagine - as well as to continually delight us.
Caroline Norbury OBE is Chief Executive Officer of Creative UK.