By Giuliano Luongo
First, it is important to introduce the basic definitions and features of the creative economy approach. There is no consensus in literature around the definition of creative economies and creative industries. Scholarly interest in the creative economy arose quite recently, shifting the topic from a marginal position into the centre of various analyses and statistics. Despite the definitional and taxonomical issues, in general the creative economy concerns the activities that generate or exploit knowledge or information.
An issue compounding the difficulty to define the creative economy and creative industries lies in the “grey zone” between the border of cultural and creative industries and traditional manufacturing, which allows for the blending of artistic imagination with handcrafted knowledge, creating unique products of renown. However, there is consensus around the importance of the creative economy. Over the period 2000-2005, trade in creative goods and services increased at an average annual rate of 8.7%. World exports of creative products were $424.4 billion in 2005 as compared to $227.5 billion in 1996. Creative services in particular enjoyed an export growth of 8.8 % annually between 1996 and 2005 (UNCTAD, 2008).
The UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport defines the creative industries as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property" (DCMS 2001, p. 4). The British website for creative industries adds to the above mentioned definition that the creative industries encompass the following sub-fields: advertising, architecture, arts & culture, craft, design, fashion, games, music, publishing, tech, TV, and film. There is no consensus around the appropriateness of categorizing gastronomy and engineering within the creative economy.
A strong interest in creative economy comes from the United Nations. UNESCO, in its “Understanding the Creative Industries” brief, states that creative and cultural industries make up the Creative Economy. Creative industries include cultural industries, such as printing, publishing, multimedia, crafts etc, and all artistic productions. One of the most common definitions of cultural industries describes them as “industries which combine the creation, production and commercialization of creative contents which are intangible and cultural in nature.”
According to the UNCTAD Creative Economy Report 2013, the creative economy, a term popularized in 2001, designates various kinds of industries from arts to technology, as creativity can extend beyond the cultural domain. There is consensus around the individual elements of the Creative Economy. Sports, arts, literature, zoos, and museums are possible fields of the Creative Economy.
UNCTAD acknowledges the significance of the creative economy, as its Creative Economy program testifies. Edna Dos Santos Duisenberg founded the program in 2004, aimed at assisting governments in policy-making and driving technical cooperation in developing countries concerning the creative economy. The Creative Economy programme launched by UNCTAD aims at combining development with innovation and creativity to create different trajectories leading to development. The program goes beyond the merely “economic”, limited to basic indicators, view of development, by promoting a holistic approach to it, which takes into account social and non-strictly numerable factors as (but not limited to): cultural identities, social disparities, economic ambitions and technological disadvantages, which are of paramount importance in today’s globalized world. In fact, it is necessary to consider the changes brought about by globalization and connectivity, making cultural identities more fluid or accentuated, accentuating or levelling social disparities, and modifying cultural production. Indeed, the Creative Economy is vital to stimulate development, but also to reinforce cultural identity and diversity. Overall, it is a “powerful transformative force”, generating income and employment, thus fuelling sustainable development. It has the potential to enhance the prestige of the place where it originates and its identity. It is usually environmentally friendly and employs high skilled workers.
The ideas of creative economy found an interesting “application” during the recent EXPO in Milan. The UK Pavilion for the international exhibition is an example of the British interest – and also investment - in the creative economy and has won the International Prize for Best Pavilion Architecture. The Pavilion meant to recreate the structure of a beehive, underlining the importance of bees in global food production. The creative industries in the UK provide over 1,808,000 jobs and generate 76.9bn£ a year to the UK economy (Creative Industries UK), contributing to output more than hospitality, utilities, agriculture, fisheries and forestry, but still significantly less than retail and manufacturing. Within the creative industries sector in the UK, the three largest sub-sectors are design, publishing, and television and radio, accounting for around 75% of revenues and 50% of employment. Also, the EU is engaging with the creative economy on the institutional level. The EU has established a Commission for cultural and creative industries to promote innovation in education, professional mobility of artists, so that they have access to more markets and audiences, and financing schemes also at the EU level (Imprese culturali e creative in Italia).
In any case, it is important to underline the role of creative-economy related activities for developing and less developed countries which, due to the very nature of such activities, can capitalize strongly on them since that they offer a different way to development not strictly linked to “classical” models of industrial development. Linking again with activity of UNCTAD, their Creative Economy Programme has found empirical application in numerous Third World countries. In Mali in 2004, a creative economy model was designed and applied to the Festival sur le Niger, which blended the use of locally sourced products to stimulate local economy, the promotion of local culture, and the facilitation of interactions to enhance social cohesion. Other successful governments that have focussed on creative industries are Latin American states, which have undertaken a review of the creative industries. The Inter-American Development Bank has defined Latin American countries as the Orange Economy, namely a "group of linked activities through which ideas are transformed into cultural goods and services whose value is determined by intellectual property”. In Colombia, for instance, there is the Guide for Regional Mapping of the Creative Industries, providing a methodology to study the creative industries. In Africa, similarly, the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa, set up in 2002 with the support of UNESCO, the African Union, the New York-based Institute of Cultural Enterprise and the Ford Foundation researches creative industries in the continent. It is a potentially good sign that developing continents show a moderate enthusiasm in the creative economy, which can foster growth, while it is surprising that highly developed countries roughly neglect the area.
The program functions thanks to the involvement of other international actors in addition to UNCTAD. The UNESCO’s mandate is to encourage countries to invest in creative industries and develop them. Other international stakeholders are the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and international organisations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the EU’s Education, Audiovisual and Cultural Executive Agency.
However, it is important to note that the program has encountered numerous obstacles. There is general scepticism over the utility of the Creative Economy, made up of small start-ups, which may be more a liability than an asset, due to alleged inefficiency. In fact, some governments remain to be convinced of the potential the Creative Economy offers and they need to overcome their uneasiness in allocating funds to the creative economy. Indeed, the critical factors for Creative Economy development is financing, in addition to intermediaries, actors, intellectual property rights, distribution networks, technical and entrepreneurial skills (see Creative Economy 2013 Report). For instance, in Africa creative resources are underutilized. The creative industries are among the most dynamic sector in world trade and should be able to benefit from other sectors such as tourism, which is mutually linked to the creative economy. Also, intellectual property rights and technology play a central role in the Creative Economy, to stimulate production, consumption, dissemination of cultural contents and developing countries should be able to capitalize on them.
(special thanks to Ms. Marianna Griffini)
Giuliano Luongo is the Director of the African Studies Research Programme at IsAG – Institute for Advanced Studies in Geopolitics, Rome. He holds an MSc in Political Science (University of Naples “Federico II”) and he is completing a PhD in Economics at the Aix-Marseille University.
This article first appeared in Modern Diplomacy.