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Creative Industries ‘Spillovers’

Headlines from this week’s Forum d’ Avignon Ruhr

The hot debate in Europe’s creative industries is around the spillover benefits they bring to other sectors or to our wider society.

Being able to make this argument in clear, tangible ways that can help influence those developing policy is crucial for the sector in lobbying Brussels. So it was natural that this was a central theme of the Forum d’ Avignon Ruhr, a major European conference in windswept Essen, expertly moderated by BOP’s Paul Owens.

Although there is excitement around spillovers (and already a fairly substantial library of research) there are few of the hard numbers favoured by decision makers. In their absence, here are two of the best stories we heard at the event:

1) Creative England seed-funded a documentary investigating Birmingham’s gangs. When the gang leaders looked for rapprochement, it was the documentary filmmaker who had the strongest relationship with the leaders and who could broker the deal. Crime has fallen since – an example of the creative industries bringing about social change.

2) Artists brought in to a pesticide firm decided they didn’t feel comfortable working with it, because of the awful environmental impact of its products. Instead, they worked with the CEO to push for a more dramatic change – his personal guarantee that negative environmental consequences would be offset. When the firm struggled to breed more flies (to compensate for those killed) without irritating residents, they instead chose to treat one fly exceptionally well, taking it by helicopter to a spa. A symbolic (and entertaining) approach that typifies how cultural actors can help an organisation change radically.

These are great stories but as a sector we need to be realistic about the limitations of using this sort of evidence. It is hard… dare I say it… to make proper decisions around spending public money based on stories. Data is never perfect but is at least comparable and structured. Would we ask the health sector to distribute funds based on similar stories?

So, it was great news to hear another announcement that the European Centre for Creative Economy and Arts Council England have kicked off a research partnership to investigate these spillovers in more detail and bring some of this research together. This may tie in with the European Commission’s own scientific research agenda, which is likely to mean some solid numbers get developed. And if that helps make a stronger case for the cultural and creative industries, that can only be a good thing.