Investing in a creative future

Our Creative industry finance pilot programme raised a few eyebrows when it was launched in May last year.

The Arts Council is synonymous with awarding grants, so this programme marked our first ever foray into financing loans on this scale. The second unusual point was its broad support for small to medium-sized businesses working in the creative industries – so, including areas such computer games, fashion designers and architecture. These are sectors not necessarily considered to be our normal territory.

Creative industry finance is new to us. It is currently about helping small businesses develop via financial backing and bespoke support, enabling them to build a credit history and be part of a growing sector. It is clearly an extension of the work we do here at the Arts Council.

Some people might create a sharp divide between the cultural and creative industries, perhaps crudely designating one as needing subsidy and the other as being profit-making.

This is too simplistic a view. The return we get on public funding of the arts is immense: the UK has the largest cultural sector in the world as a share of GDP, contributing £28 billion to the nation’s coffers. What this does is provide fuel that drives the creative industries, indeed now more than ever with digital advances and emerging international markets.

The two industries are more closely aligned by taking advantage of digital opportunities, particularly around distribution. We are now seeing more cross-pollination and skills exchanges on projects such as The Space and our Digital R&D Programme. There is a worldwide community, a ‘virtual audience’, that cannot get enough of British arts and culture, but may very well never step foot in one of our physical venues.

The success of publicly funded theatre continues to feed directly into the film industry. Just look at Skyfall. It has grossed over £100 million so far. The director, Sam Mendes, the stars, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw all got their start in publicly funded theatre. As of course, did the Oscar-winning, Les Miserables.

As I discussed in my last blog, the Music industry talent development fund aims to nurture new artists, giving them the time and space to grow and reach their potential. International income from British music royalties has doubled in the last decade to £188 million, but at the same time few breakthrough acts are coming through. We need to do more to build on this success story and ensure that the ladder to this success isn’t missing its lower steps.

The same reasoning lies behind our Creative employment programme. There is a skills shortage in the cultural sector, with more than a quarter of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting staff dues to a lack of experience and skills from applicants. If we want to keep our industries vibrant, cutting-edge and the best they can be, there is a need to invest.

The creative industries are an asset to the economy, and they can become an even more integral part of it, but not without the right investment. Our world-class arts sector strengthens Britain’s brand, and creates the space for creative businesses to contribute 10 per cent of our services exports. This shouldn’t be scoffed at, but we all should consider this fertile territory on which we can build and make Britain a truly creative world leader.

What lies at the heart of both industries is the importance of creativity, imagination and challenging perceived ideas. In an increasingly automated world – where the knowledge of human history is at our fingertips; where computers can solve complex mathematical problems in seconds; and where engineers can assess the weaknesses of a structure without even building it – there is something a machine will never fully replicate. And that is the power of new ideas and creativity.

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