The Arts, the Creative Industries and Us

Yet another piece (this time by Will Straw, link below), another think tank (the IPPR), another institution (the CBI) sounding the drum for the creative industries. Why is it that Govt doesn’t hear this? For the record, the interesting (and fairly unusual) aspect of this piece is that it includes the arts specifically – I’m so irritated by the soi-disant apologists for the CIs who focus entirely on digital industries e.g. film, television, radio, animation, visual effects, games, fashion, textiles, publishing, advertising and marketing communications (Creative Skillset definition) or film, TV, games and digital media (Creative England).

The fact is that, unless Govt invests in the full spectrum of the creative sector, from arts to advertising, they are minimising, if not actually castrating, their opportunities for return on their investment. The arts are everybody’s first step into creative activity and creative practice (oh, the responsibility on schools: a whole other topic!) – the arts focus on unleashing the individual’s own creativity, and then sustained exposure to the arts helps everyone, but the future professional in particular, to find their own strengths, their own specialism(s) – To think that, for example, you can get brilliant games developers from people who have had no earlier involvement with the arts (with story telling, with communications, through ANY artform), who have never experienced the impact on their imagination, their intellect and their emotions, that comes with exposure to the arts, is just wrong – shallow thinking, bad thinking, not thinking at all.

Of course, such a deprived soul is almost an impossibility today – even if s/he does nothing but watch television, s/he is, through a digital medium, inescapably exposed to the work of some of the most talented artists across the spectrum, from the writers of EastEnders to performances by Simon Russell Beale to the music of David Bowie. But to get those artists started, to nurture the natural talent from an early age and let it blossom through practice, error, more practice, takes investment: investment to create the opportunities for learning and practice – from art & drama schools through repertory theatres and touring companies, local authorities community development commissions, student gigs, festivals and workshops etc etc, all part of the infrastructure we have, as a society, built up that not only serves immediate audiences but also helps nurture the talent and professional development of our artists. The culture (with a small ‘c’) of our nation, irrespective of its earning capacity, is actually the expression of who we are. Our national responses to the current hot topics, eg immigration, bedroom tax, disability testing, corporate tax dodging, are all influenced by the culture that has developed over generations – it’s not homogenous – we don’t all think alike (which is also part of our culture) – but our beliefs, our attitudes, our values, the core elements of our culture, are inescapably influenced by the work of artists.

The capacity for artists of every discipline, of every viewpoint, to influence and shape our culture has never been greater than now, with the proliferation of the means of communication. The need for artists of every discipline, of every viewpoint, to influence our culture has never been greater. The societal changes we are living through – e.g. the power base moving from West to East; the consequent challenges to the way we do things, from our justice system, our banking system, our social systems, our education systems – need illuminating, need exploring and clarifying. Fear is the enemy that gives rise to the horrors of nationalism, of fundamentalism, and fear arises from ignorance. The arts are the means of combatting that ignorance, of making accessible some of the huge global issues that are experienced by most people in the discomforts of daily life: If the Govt was thinking seriously, they would take the long view: investing in the arts helps to create a thinking, informed, imaginative  and more confident populace.

It’s a risk of course; I’m sure it would be easier to have an ignorant populace who accept government as it comes – (it is currently astonishing how complacent we have become:  where are our riots?  our protests and demonstrations?  Instead, our response is to revive punk music and stay away from the polls in our millions – oh England!)  However, history down the generations and across the world teaches us that it’s impossible to control artists. That being the case, surely the need is to have the best artists we can have, using their best artistry to help  people think through the ways they experience the world –   prompting debate, stimulating argument, challenging beliefs and inspiring change.  And to get there, government needs to invest.

None of this is new thinking – sadly, we have to beat this drum again and again – so I think it’s never a waste to keep reiterating:

1. The UK’s Creative Industries, from arts to advertising, outstrip all other industry sectors for economic growth
2. The UK’s Creative Industries should therefore be a priority for government investment
3. Investment in the UK’s Creative Industries, from arts to advertising, produces not only economic and social benefit, but helps us understand our changing cultural identity in world of change and confusion.

Anamaria Wills,

Will’s piece: