Creative Clusters

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 15, No 2 (Summer 2004)

John C. Barsness

Earlier this year, John C. Barsness, executive director, Montana Arts, attended the Creative Clusters conference in Brighton, U.K., and agreed to write about it for the Reader. A few definitions from the Creative Clusters Web site http://www.creativeclusters.com may be helpful in advance.

Creative industries: In a very literal sense, the creative industries, and the artist-entrepreneurs at the heart of them, are the manufacturers of the information economy. Cultural industries are:

  • based on individuals with creative arts skills
  • in alliance with managers and technologists
  • making marketable products
  • whose economic value lies in their cultural (or "intellectual") properties.

Creative Clusters is a conference and network for people working in the development of creative industries. It is interested in regeneration and development projects that deliver outcomes in both cultural and economic terms. Its goal is to help people engaged in the development of creative industries to communicate and share resources with one another.

The purpose of the second Creative Clusters conference, April 28 - May 1, 2004, was to facilitate information exchange on economic development through creativity and the arts from a variety of perspectives. There were sixty speakers from twenty-three countries on five continents. Their topics ranged from nuts-and-bolts local projects to financial strategies and national policy debates. The format grouped three or more speakers together with twenty-minute PowerPoint presentations by each, followed by a group Q&A session.

The keynote address by Chris Powell, director of National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA), centered on the importance of the UK's creative economy. The government agency exists to invest in businesses that seek new directions in science, technology, and the arts. This investment is seen as a national priority, not a lender of last resort. Perhaps that policy might provide some clue regarding why the U.S. dollar currently exchanges at nearly half the Pound Sterling.

NESTA research indicated one-third of the creative businesses are woman-owned. It also found that, in this post-genetic world, biosciences need to be included in a broad definition of creative industries. The findings also concluded: a) Good data is needed on the creative field (an excellent example from Austria was later demonstrated by Christian Atzmueller). b) Businesses must look beyond traditional means of investment in this high-risk arena. c) Business training is needed and the best time to intervene in a creative person's life with a three-week business education "boot camp" is immediately following college graduation and before family obligations begin.

Some additional items of interest to U.S. grantmakers include:

  1. Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto presented an interesting concept that connects creative industries to economic success. He presented a double heli- cal structure in which creative industries (CI's) intertwine with traditional businesses. The CI's bring a flow of new products and services to mainstream businesses which return money to CI's to fuel new ideas for products and services, starting the cycle anew. The only hitch is how to persuade business to continue future investment to perpetuate this cycle.
  2. Several states in the U.S. are turning accepted notions of economic development upside down through the creative business cluster approach. Beate Becker (Boston Redevelopment Authority) showed that Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine are perhaps furthest along in using this approach, followed by Louisiana where the business cluster development is state policy. The lesson learned so far is that the cluster approach shakes up the pecking order and can be viewed as a threat by existing stakeholders in the traditional business community.
  3. Another area of interest is a crossover opportunity between the arts and social services. Tina Smith, Arts Council of England, described business success stories of teenagers excluded from the traditional educational system ("youth at risk"). The teens, many third generation on welfare, attended music and business workshops that allowed them to succeed at music, sometimes for the first time. These mentoring workshops led to internships, employment, and successful touring of new bands—and led away from welfare.
  4. Finally, an overall conclusion that could be drawn from the conference is that, with this direction in economic development, new people need to be brought to the table. Representatives from the creative sector are too often excluded from program and policy design.