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Placing culture at the centre of growth

Headlines from the Beyond the Hype conference

The Beyond the Hype: Re-wiring the Growth Agenda conference in Norwich brought together over one hundred UK cultural leaders, funders and Local Enterprise Partnership representatives. Over 24 hours, delegates explored the best new thinking and practice around how culture and the creative industries can play a bigger role in the UK’s economic growth.

BOP presented on two key areas. Senior Consultant Eleanor Jubb, discussed strategies for inclusive growth with Dick Penny from Watershed, Amy Vaughan Director for Touring and East, Arts Council England, and Chris Starkie, CEO of New Anglia LEP. Jonathan Todd, Chief Economist, presented ideas generated from the Cultural Cities Enquiry; you can read more about BOP’s work with this project here.

Takeaways from the conference included:

  • Economic Growth isn’t just about surplus, it is also about wages and who receives them. Cultural organisations often aren’t motivated by making a profit, and even for those that are, profits are often a mechanism to reinvest or to distribute to employees (as the recent announcement of employee ownership at Aardman illustrates). But how wages are shared and who they go to is a key challenge for everyone in the sector. We need to critically review who is benefiting from creative employment and address some difficult issues around diversity and inequality
  • Embrace the gig economy; it is here to stay. For many in the creative sector, this isn’t a new phenomenon. But we do need to think about how to make the gig economy fair and accessible; how do we think creatively about pensions, parental leave and provision for illness when workers move from job to job? How can we develop the pipeline of creative talent when there aren’t training positions for them to develop in? Rose Marley, from SharpFutures in Manchester explained how they are doing just this through matching young people with short term contract opportunities in the film and TV sector
  • Articulate how culture can contribute. We heard from New Anglia LEP about their focus on productivity and inclusive growth, and from Prof Jonothan Neelands on Coventry’s application for Capital of Culture. In both places, the case for culture is linked to wider aims through a clear theory of change. Having this clear local narrative is key to making the case for cultural investment to those outside the sector and the local industrial strategies provide a key opportunity to do this.

The language of growth can be off putting to the cultural sector. But it is essential we encourage dialogue that explores the real value of culture for industrial strategy and economic development. Not because that is all culture can give us, but because through this we can put culture at the centre of inclusive, sustainable development.

Thank you to our hosts, the New Anglia LEP and the National Centre for Writing in Norwich.