Welcome to the party, CBI!

It’s strange thing – when I set up CIDA ten years ago, and Keith and I did our first European bid (a classic ‘blind leading the blind’ situation – a comical memory now but at the time……horrors!), we discovered very quickly that two words we really couldn’t use were ‘artist’ and ‘creative’. Ten years later, if you don’t use them, you’re in trouble! So here we are now, with the creative sector widely acknowledged as a leading sector for growth; with the Work Foundation identifying its strength in ‘Staying Ahead’ and Demos producing ‘So What Do You Do’; with the UK Govt producing its first Government paper ‘Creative Britain’ and the Cox report recommending creatives on every Board; with the EU looking to the sector to provide models of innovative practice for other sectors; with the ESRC running a session a couple of months ago on the working conditions (generally poor) of people in the sector (especially if you’re new or freelance – god help you if you are both!); with even – and finally! – the CBI coming forward with its report just yesterday newly identifying the significance of the sector and recommending Govt support to sustain its work. And now the arts are about to suffer the worst cutbacks in funding in a generation. Seems like madness – and the rest of the economy will suffer. No one is arguing ‘no cuts’, but like this……….?
When CIDA won a contract to work in Singapore some four years ago now, their Workforce Development Agency was exceptional in recognising the importance of the sector. No one else, not even the National Arts Council, really understood what they were doing. And certainly, when the WDA had been set up some three years earlier, there had been no mention of the creative sector as being a sector worthy of even minimal consideration, much less as being a priority. But in true Singaporean custom, they read the runes and, in a country which, in Lee Kuan Yew’s words, ‘has no natural resources but its people’, they set about investing in the creative skills of those people, During the four years that we were there, the popular view changed from seeing the creative sector as one only for dim people and not a serious profession to one where front page articles in the national press profiled approvingly the bright young scholarship students who were giving up their accountancy courses to study the arts. Today, the creative sector is widely acknowledged as a critical driver of the economy – Govt investment (particularly, it’s true, in the digital end) grows apace, and even the dear old WDA now has a formal Creative Sector section – who’d have thought it?! When we first bid to do the Competency and Qualifications Framework for their creative sector, we were up against Australians and Canadians – no other countries, including Singaporeans, could bid. When, four years later, the WDA came to the review of the competencies, they discouraged external bids – of course, that may have been partly influenced by the understandable need to invest in Singaporean companies in a world recession, but it was also a measure of the increased confidence in its own sector that now obtains there. It’s a good story, although I have to admit I don’t know that the arts, as distinct from the digital end, are benefitting quite as much as they should from Govt investment, but I am pretty sure they are not excluded – and they include libraries and museums: there must be a lesson to be learned there, as Singapore reaches its ambition of being seen as the creative hub of S E Asia?
Of course, it’s also notable, working in Europe, that you just don’t get the same divide there, between creative and digital – everyone recognises the significance and impact of digital technology but they see it as impacting across the board. The so called ‘cultural industries’ are seen as integral to the success of the creative sector, as indeed they are. In our experience, in Europe, there is no sense of second class status for those who work in ‘the arts’. In fact, they are celebrated and acknowledged as having the talent and imagination and skills that will always provide the leading edge for digital and all other thinking. Would that it were so in England!