Cultural helping hand for economy

Culture may not be able to save the economy from the effects of the recession but it certainly has been underplayed in the past as a motor for growth and development, writes Chris Graeme.

Two British creative economy experts were in Lisbon last week as the keynote speakers at a Creative Industries lunch at the British Ambassador’s Residence, hosted by United Kingdom Trade & Industry and the British Council in Lisbon.

Tom Fleming, director of Creative Consultancy, and Andrew Senior, a creative economy consultant, argued that governments could not afford to ignore the growing importance of creative industries in both Portugal and the UK and the investment opportunities and partnerships these could provide.

Traditionally, culture has been low on government agendas in terms of spending and policy priorities but the Labour government and its Cultural Minister Chris Smith began, from the late 1990s, to seriously challenge that idea through the Creative Britain Programme, which set out to “cherish the role of the creative industries for their economic as well as cultural values”.

Now a former Portuguese Economy Minister, Augusto Mateus, has also called for cultural and creative activities to be incorporated into government strategies for economic development.

In Portugal, for example, the cultural and creative sectors represent 2.8 per cent of generated wealth worth 3.69 billion euros, providing jobs for 127,000 people. “We need to incorporate culture into the value of economic products,” he said.

In the UK, the creative economy accounts for over seven per cent of employment, with the creative sector comprising an estimated 157,400 businesses and employing two million people.

The areas of wealth generation are wide: museums, cinema, theatre, pop music, advertising, design, animation, architecture, computer games, digital media, fashion, performing arts, publishing, TV and so on.

British Ambassador to Portugal Alex Ellis said: “Every single one of us can be creative. Creativity is completely boundless and it thrives when there is openness. There is actually a fascinating relationship between competitiveness and creativity.”

Tom Fleming has been working in the north of Portugal to develop a creative cluster strategy in the region with an organisation called Opium, by developing a range of infrastructures to help support the development of creative industries, particularly for such upcoming events like Guimarães European Capital for Culture 2012.

“Creative skills, too, are key to competitiveness whether you are working in defence, aviation, food or pharmaceuticals. It is important to think about the role that creativity has outside creative industries,” he stressed.

Andrew Senior, who has been working on the Creative Economy Team at the British Council for 11 years, explained how it had built up a programme aimed largely at emerging economies and how you go about stimulating investment in the creative sector.

“We have discovered a reawakening. We have always valued creativity in the UK and we increasingly understand the importance of entrepreneurship, which wasn’t really recognised before, in this sector.

“Increasingly, now people talk about themselves as creative entrepreneurs. We believe that new business models can and will come out of the conversations and ideas that creative entrepreneurs are having,” he said.