TAITMAIL Knowing our place
We learned this week that the Creative Industries are now worth £111.7bn a year to the economy in gross value added, up from £104.8bn in the previous reckoning according to new economic growth figures, and that the next two London “boroughs of culture” are going to be Lewisham and Croydon. There’s a connection, and the link is a fairly new word in artspeak: place.
You should be forgiven for thinking that the creative industries are all about movies and gaming, and their marketing, because that’s the bit that most seems to interest the sector’s champion the Creative Industries Federation. But DCMS’s definition taken from Chris Smith’s 2001 Creative Industries Mapping document is quite precise.
The sector comprises “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”. Place-making. It's a definition that covers just about everything, listed by DCMS as: advertising and marketing, architecture, crafts, design, fashion, film, TV, video, radio, photography, IT, software and computer services, publishing, museums, galleries and libraries, music, performing and visual arts. Nothing, you will have noticed, that can be accomplished without some level of arts education, something this government really doesn’t believe in despite lip service.
But there is plenty of evidence that the government does believe in “place”, says the arts centred communications agency Four, once Colman Getty. It has rejigged its set-up to create a “Place Taskforce” and put a new spotlight on “clients with place-making at their heart”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for culture, Justine Simons, saw what being City of Culture had done for Hull and devised an adaptation of the model so that each of London’s 33 boroughs could compete for £1.35m in dedicated funding. Last year the first Borough of Culture was the dull little bantam hen of Waltham Forest which turned itself into a peacock and had a hell of a good time; this year it's Brent and judging by its opening event (pictured) it won’t be hiding its light either.
Lewisham and Croydon, Khan has announced, will be the London Boroughs of Culture in 2021 and 2023 (there isn’t one in 2022). The purpose of the scheme is to “shine a spotlight on the rich culture, heritage and hidden gems” in our communities, “to give grassroots creativity the chance to shine”. Place-making.
We've seen how Southampton has gathered its quiddity around its Guildhall Square in a new build theatre, art gallery and film and video centre; this year Plymouth is seizing on the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to do the same by collecting its heritage under a £40m city centre development called The Box; Stockton-on-Tees’s folk were asked what they wanted the council to do with its big old art deco cinema The Globe and they said “do it up”, so it’s being turned into the cynosure and touring venue for what the local authority expects to be the “the cultural heart of the Tees Valley”, reopening in November. They represent the other side of the creative industries, the side that isn’t worth £111.7bn gross value added, but a side that you might think is so much more valuable. Place-making.
Cultural place-making, according to Matt Railton, Four’s new managing director with the specific brief for place-making, “helps in bringing communities together and can play a key role in shaping local identity. It helps to build pride in that identity for local communities, and celebrates that identity, changing perceptions further afield”. AI will have a feature next week expanding on what this means.
DCMS - not abolished in the reshuffle as some expected it to be - likes to talk about the “real terms” of its figures, emphasising that this £111.7bn GVA is not just a vague virtual paper calculation. If it’s so real, how much of it can be channelled back into the place-making that seems to be the spiritual dynamo for our cultural personality in the 2020s? That, I suppose, will depend on the new culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, formerly a professional political wonk, and probably more to the point the new Chancellor, former hedge funder Rishi Sunak, neither of whom has any cultural track record. But do they know their place?