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Posted on 18/01/17 What more can we do to grow our creative clusters to futureproof the UK’s status as a creative world leader?

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I attended the Westminster Media Forum at The Lowry in Salford on Friday 13 January, and a big thank you must go to the event organisers for putting together such an informative and thought-provoking programme with a wide range of excellent speakers.

Visitors to Media City cannot fail to be impressed, I am sure, by the very visible signs of the thriving creative economy there.

The ambition and vision for the Northern Powerhouse was very adeptly described by Sir Richard Leese, and the rationale for creating a virtual city of 15 million people through improved connectivity and governance in the region was compelling.

In her closing remarks and blog on the event, Helen Warren from DCMS invited responses to the question, What more can we do to grow our creative clusters to futureproof the UK’s status as a creative world leader?

Well there was certainly plenty of food for thought on this topic from the speakers during the day, which I will reflect on here.

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Advocate

The Sharp Project and Space project in Manchester, described by Sue Woodward, provided inspiring examples of how cultural and creative industries Regeneration Projects - when carefully managed - can achieve tremendous social and economic impact.

The message here was clear: we should think big, and we should make a really strong, clear, and well-informed case for the economic benefits of such projects when bidding for public funds to kick-start such initiatives.

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Collaborate

We all know that great things happen when artists collaborate on creative and cultural projects. But we should not fall into the trap of thinking that the creative industries are homogenous, nor should we develop our creative clusters in silos. I think that too often we think of creative clusters as being designed by and for the creative industries. Rather, our creative clusters should be permeable – indeed outward looking - because some of our most disruptive and dynamic work happens where the creative industries collide with other disciplines.

The Dynamic Mapping study commissioned by DCMS and researched by Nesta, describes exactly how valuable the collaboration between creative and high tech industries is for the growth of our economy. I think also the Creative Quarter in Nottingham is a particularly good example of a creative cluster that is designed not just for the benefit of the creative industries, but for everyone. It is thoughtfully curated and promoted not just as a place for creative businesses, but as a “creative network where business, art and technology all come together.”

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Educate

At the Media Forum, we heard from Professor Nigel Weatherhill that we must do much better in our Secondary Education in the North of England if we are to foster a creative talent pool that will sustain its creative clusters. Can creative hubs play a more pro-active role in our education system?

On a recent ECBN Study Tour, creative hubs visited STPLN in Sweden where facilities for creative industries co-working, screen printing and fabrication sat comfortably alongside community and education facilities. We saw creative start-ups rubbing shoulders with children taking part in design workshops using recycled materials.

Here in the UK, projects like Wavemaker are making efforts to change the STEM agenda to STEAM by opening up maker spaces to children and young people, with technology and design experts providing tuition. Learning directly from creative and digital technology experts in creative hubs has a tremendous impact on the children that take part. It is challenging to create the right conditions to do this, but could we do more to open up our creative industries hubs and talent to young people? 

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Change the Paradigm

In her presentation at the forum, Dr Jessica Symons argued that we should adopt a much wider and more inclusive understanding of culture. She described her work on including communities in the Ideas4Ordsall project, and how we can come to understand culture as “how people make their lives meaningful.”

Too often, we place value in the wrong things. We see a host of big, bright shiny new buildings and forget that the true value of a creative cluster is the talent, motivation and creativity of the people within them. The true measure of our success is not how many fabulous buildings we can build, but how many creative people we can create to populate them.

We also fall into the trap of measuring the wrong things. How often do we see job creation as a criteria for public funding? Dr Symons argued that we should measure “entrepreneur creation, not job creation.”

Perhaps one silver lining to Brexit is that we might look more closely at what we can learn from the United States on how to foster a culture that celebrates entrepreneurship. There is much for us to learn from the US on this topic, but I suggest Startup Revolution and in particular Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in your City by Brad Feld is a good starting point.

In her opening address at the forum, Caroline Norbury of Creative England posed the question, How do we make funds available to invest into the new ideas that will develop our creative capital?

In particular, we need to find ways of stimulating Angel Investment into creative clusters outside of London, and mechanisms to stimulate investment into risky ventures to help foster innovation. We need to invest public astutely and more effectively intermix public and private funding initiatives to celebrate and support our start-up communities.

#CreativeIndustries, #GreatNorthExpo2018, #NorthernPowerhouse, CreateUK


Written by John Holmes

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