Ahead of the launch of the New Generation Arts Festival in Birmingham this Thursday, Neena Gill, Labour MEP for the West Midlands, assesses the region’s culture and creative sector.
The economic importance of culture and creativity in society is currently grossly underestimated.
While cultural and creative industries employ one in ten people in the West Midlands, and have an above average growth rate, too often we think of culture as an end in itself, designed solely to bring leisure and pleasure to individuals.
Yet today the importance of culture in unlocking economic growth, generating employment, and facilitating social cohesion is paramount. Our region has taken a lead in this sector, but more can be done.
What are cultural and creative industries?
They include everything from advertising to architecture; antiques and crafts to designer fashion; photography, music and the performing arts to computer games and commercial radio. According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), in 2005 these industries accounted for £60 billion. Creative industries grew by an average of six per cent per annum between 1997 and 2005.
Smaller to medium-sized enterprises make up a large proportion of this sector. In the UK, SMEs account for 96 per cent of fashion businesses, 92 per cent of architecture, and 90 per cent of the music industry.
But we need greater EU funding to support the start-up of small companies in the creative sector. Now traditional manufacturing industries are in decline, we need to invest in these promising high-growth industries.
The internet has fuelled the boom in cultural and creative industries, enabling businesses to take advantage of a global market. But new technology also poses new challenges.
To take one example, it is now increasingly necessary to balance a commitment to tackling illegal downloading and protecting artists’ copyright with allowing new artists to disseminate their music online and ensuring fair prices for consumers
With its international reach, this is a challenge the EU is well placed to solve.
But now that Europe’s traditional industries are relocating to emerging economies, the EU must also stimulate job creation in new areas. What is needed is greater financial assistance from the European Union to further harness the skills and talent of the continent’s entrepreneurs and workers.
For this reason I have called on the EU to support innovation and entrepreneurship within the creative industries.
Already the West Midlands is showing the way in this field, with a 10 per cent employment rate in the creative sector. This compares very favourably with the UK average of five per cent and the European average of a mere 3.1 per cent.
Yet there is still far more potential out there. Diversity and creativity in the new economy are intertwined, and diversity is one of our region’s key assets.
A recent Institute of Directors seminar concluded that the West Midlands needs to utilise the strong base provided by a young and multicultural population with access to first-class universities if it is to succeed in the 21st-century creative economy.
Potential for employment in the sector is high – total creative employment increased from 1.6 million in 1997 to 1.9 million in 2006, an average growth rate of two per cent per annum, compared to one per cent for the whole of the economy over the same period.
Other than contributing to GDP and employment, the cultural and creative sectors contribute to innovation in other sectors of the economy, too.
According to the DCMS, creative industry firms are highly innovative, with 78 per cent of firms classed as “innovation active”.
And cultural and creative industries are said to act as force multipliers in local development because they are a powerful catalyst for attracting tourists. They are of huge strategic importance for economic growth and employment in cities and regions, and have significant effects at local level in bringing social regeneration.
Birmingham has seen the direct effect of such positive developments.
For example, the Style in the City event brought thousands to Birmingham city centre.
In the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue, we should also recognise the important role cultural industries play in cementing social cohesion.
These industries create a huge level of awareness and understanding of other cultures.
In a multicultural environment films like East is East and Bend it like Beckham, as well as being a lot of fun, can assist in giving a flavour of a different world..
They are just as popular with non-Asian communities as they are with Asian communities.
What’s more, the enhanced understanding generated by shared cultural experiences will be vitally necessary if creativity is to thrive among the diverse population of our region.
And thrive it will.
As so often in the past, through its vibrant and innovative workforce the West Midlands has once again made itself the dynamo of the new creative economy.
New Generation Arts seeks to promote young emerging talent in the region to raise the city’s cultural credentials on a national scale. Details on the festival can be found at www.newgenerationarts.co.uk.
As a centrepiece to the festival, The Big Debate will explore the opportunities and threats that come from the explosion of digital technology.
Supported by the NEC Group and The Birmingham Post, the event will be chaired by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. Panellists include Doug Williams, project director for BT; Chris Cooke managing director of UnLimited Media; Anthony Rose head of digital media technology for the BBC and The Birmingham Post media & marketing editor Joanna Geary.
The debate will take place at the ICC in Birmingham on Monday June 9, at 12.30pm. To book a seat visit www.thebigdebatebirmingham.co.uk