Missing The Point

Over the last year [2004] I have attended numerous sessions to listen to people talk about the necessity of creativity and its importance.  These include speakers from as far away as New Zealand, the US and Romania, as well as those closer to home such as Italy, France and of course the UK.

My two immediate reactions connected with what I had experienced were that first of all that all the speakers were white middle class (and so possibly had a shared philosophical understanding of the value of creativity) and secondly that the real players (such as Coca Cola & Nike) were missing.  However, I had a third and perhaps more subtle concern connected with intention.

In the opening speech in the 2004 conference for the Creative and Cultural Industries held in Brighton, for example, Simon Evans commented that "the arts are moving to the centre of the world's economy" and that although creativity used to be the domain of the artist, it is now being used by industry.  We were told that creativity matters because it produces new experiences and adds value to places.

Perhaps the most coherent expression offered within the creative and cultural industries is in the information booklet for the New Zealand Creative Industries where creativity is defined as: "A capability to apply imagination, originality and resourcefulness so as to develop new or combine existing ideas for commercial or cultural gain."  This fits with the creativity spoken about by Simon, above, which is that which gives an economic edge over competitors.  However, whether or not this description is adequate for the cultural industry sector, what is missing are the reasons why creativity is important to individuals. As a result the reason for creativity is becoming depersonalized.

There can be little doubt concerning the importance of the creative industries and their attractiveness to those involved in regeneration.  Perhaps it is no surprise to hear education directors, arts officers and politicians all giving a thumbs-up to creativity using the arguments employed by the creative industries.  The word creativity is definitely one of the buzzwords at the moment and as more people are using it from outside of the arts community there is a necessity to define the word, its qualities and role in society. However, by emphasising regenerational effects and by glossing over how creativity enhances the quality of personal lives, there is a danger that any definition that evolves will fail to address the reasons why creativity is beneficial, not only to the creator but also those who come into contact with it.  The creative and cultural industries are measuring the worth of the created and its value in terms of place and economic edge.  What we need to hear more of is the value of being a creator (i.e., of actually being creative).

In the absence of this individual perspective there is a possibility that work associated with creativity will become increasingly defined in terms of the emerging economically based creative model put forward by the creative and cultural industries as well as Richard Florida and the like. One can easily imagine at least sections of Arts Council England finding this attractive as it is an easy to grasp hypothesis and also has the luxury of looking good.  (They were quick to jump on board the 'Creative Class' bandwagon, for example). The Department for Culture, Media and Sports too might also find it a smooth transition as its Public Service Agreement mentions "improving productivity" and not quality of culture.

My concern therefore is that as global competition becomes more crucial and as intellectual capital plays an increasingly important role that this emerging definition might eventually consolidate the reason why creativity is important, and by implication why one should become creative in the first place or, indeed, invest in an education system that promotes creativity.

It is quite possible that as the creative industries continue to grow (and continue to become even more attractive) it is their voice that will be the one that is accepted and that it will be their philosophies that will shape the future of education.  (After all, didn't the industrial workplace also have an influence on education matters in the recent past?)

This, however, cannot be a 'them versus us' argument. The Creative Industries are here to stay for the near future, and so (I hope) are those organisations that support artists in their creative process. However, I feel that what is currently required is 'the other side of the coin', i.e., pro-active presentation connected with the value of creative activities to individuals and, I would argue, from the perspective of the individual. For this reason I welcome the latest publication by Creative Partnerships Kent ("Footnotes to An idea") which in my opinion does exactly this. My hope is that it will be followed by many more projects designed to encourage a refocus on the life enhancing qualities of creativity and its importance to the individual.

Robert Jarvis
October 2004