Listen to this article
Four years ago, the economist Gerard Lyons came up with an insight that will, in time, be as well known as anything said by John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek or, indeed, Jim O’Neill. Lyons told us the countries that will succeed in the future will have cash, commodities or creativity.
While Britain has little of the first two, we are blessed with an abundance of the third. Better still, the rest of the world recognises this. Music exports continue to boom, we account for more than half the global trade in television entertainment formats, we are home to the world’s second-biggest advertising and marketing group, our reputation for inventing computer games continues to grow, our fashion industry boasts the internationally acclaimed London Fashion Week... I could go on.
We seem to be good at this creativity thing. Add the strong sense of humour in our national psyche to a tendency to bolshiness and an expectation that each new generation will challenge the ideas of their parents and you begin to see why.
But I would argue that we have only just begun to exploit this rich national resource. According to the Department of Culture our creative industries have grown at three times the rate of the economy since 2008. Yet the Department for Business Innovation and Skills identifies 11 key sectors for growth including offshore wind but, astonishingly, not the creative industries. In our government policies, in our education system and in the way we run our companies, we need to make the most of our natural advantage.
In 1997, the UK was the first country to identify a sector called the creative industries. But because it is made up of so many disparate elements, many of which depend on small businesses, government struggles to get to grips with it. Recent tax breaks for film, television, the performing arts and computer games have begun to redress this.
The creative sector also needs to speak with one voice in policy matters so government can focus on its needs.
That is why a group of us are now seeking to set up a new representative body (this embryo’s working title is The Creative Industries Federation). One of its first campaigns would be to show how critical the visual and performing arts are for a rounded education. Science, technology, engineering and maths are important but are underpowered without the arts. Ask Thomas Heatherwick, who gave us the Olympic cauldron, Sir Jonathan Ive with his iPod or even Sir James Dyson and his vacuum cleaners.
When I was an independent television producer I realised that we need to recruit with creativity in mind and identify the creative leaders in companies. There are established ways of doing this, practised for years by our advertising industries. We all need to steal their clothes.
Now I chair Arts Council England and I’ve come to realise what a vital incubator arts and culture are for the broader creative industries. That is how Steve McQueen goes from art student to Turner Prize winner to Oscar-winning movie director. That is why new galleries like Margate’s Turner Contemporary and Nottingham Contemporary have clusters of creative businesses growing around them.
Our investment in the performing and visual arts is first and foremost about defining our culture and curating the national conversation. But it is also how we empower the next generation of creatives. It was Keynes who actually founded the Arts Council. He got it.
Peter Bazalgette is chairman of Arts Council England and was a television producer for 30 years