January 09, 2005

A Portrait of the Artist in 2015.

Ask not what creative industries can do for you; ask what you can do for the creative industry!
Quoted from a recent European cultural policy forum which attempted to predict the status of the arts in the year 2015: artists will either be marginalised(!) or part of the global creative industry. It seriously considered why the independent, individual, autonomous artist will be almost extinct in a few decades time. The big, global creative industries – which will rule the whole artistic and cultural world, including the political arena – will have absorbed the greater proportion of artists, providing them with security and success in exchange for their individuality and independence. To ensure this state of affairs, they will have replaced the art schools with their own educational institutes. Ultimately, the creative industries will define the public perception of art and creativity – not by just creating what the public wants, but manipulating the taste of the public in the direction the industries want it to go.

“The educational institutes introduced art management, art business and art marketing. And although art students are still not very enthusiastic, it is working. I believe we can breed artists who can compete.”

As (in part) a manager myself of a creative industries unit, I have come to realise that Creative Industries is (as it likes to refer to itself) a sector which (it wouldn’t like to admit) has nothing to do with the arts. As a sector its defining characteristic is the large numbers of development and support staffs it has created in the public and voluntary sector. In economic reality, an professional artist is no different that a hairdresser. As the late Robert Hopper (former Director of the Henry Moore Foundation) use to say: art is 90% like plumbing, it’s the 10% that is important. Creative Industries concentrates on the 90%, but that proportion is what makes it no different from any other former of production.

The arts in Britain have spent the last 25 years (if not more) desperately justifying their existence; under the Thatcherite threat they found justifications in adopting the language and agendas of social, economic and environmental regeneration. The arts had value because they could be mobilised to support social cohesion or lifelong learning. Cultural regeneration developed flagship successes like Barcelona, Glasgow, Birmingham, Bradford, Liverpool. Then New Labour came along taking the justification one step further; creative industries can be calculated as the fourth biggest sector of the British economy! The arts can be supported because they create jobs and prosperity. So an infrastructure of support agencies has been put in place, employing large numbers of workers who in reality provide nothing different from any of the previous small business support infrastructure that exists for self-employed plumbers or hairdressers. One of the problems of this of course is that the infrastructure does not address and has no interest in the 10% that matters. Creative Industries is measured in terms of jobs created, jobs maintained and turnover. The culture of targets, government performance indicators which has for so long thrown up its hands in the face of the question of how to measure the arts, has got a foot hold here (of course, there are the other measures of quantity which are coming – number of visitors, numbers of school children, etc., exposed to the art – more on this another time). Culture only worked as a driver of regeneration when culture was the driver. Of course as the cultural input was recognised, it was taken over by Regeneration and we can increasingly see ‘flagship’ developments that are/have failed – because their vision is regenerative rather than cultural. In the end, despite all the non-arts justifications/agendas, the arts only actually contribute the policy suite when they do what the arts do rather than what regeneration does.

Having had the misfortune to have had a ‘Creative Industries Development Officer’ added to my team about 4 years ago, I have learned over that time that it is an entirely pointless activity, not simply a waste of time and resources but actually downright dangerous to culture. The artists actually remain marginal; the artists with the talent, skills and vision make it whether the CIDS is there or not; curatorial expertise which is what would actually support artists employment is left without investment or development.


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