The potential of the creative industries to transform the future of a nation.
The power of the UK’s creative industries has, for too long, been undersold and over-centralised. The creative industries are an engine of growth, a driver of innovation and a catalyst for change. And they sit at the nexus of the pillars of arts, manufactures and commerce, on which the RSA was built.
Over the last six months, the RSA has worked closely with Newcastle University and the incumbent team at the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) to build a five-year partnership funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The RSA will work with the PEC to share their world-class research and develop new policy, innovation and research projects to further deliver the transformational potential of the creative industries.
I say transformational potential without equivocation. There is a common misconception that the creative industries are a societal luxury; that because film and fashion and music and games and communications and publishing and culture are there to make life more pleasurable, their work is fundamentally not serious.
This is demonstrably false.
The creative industries contributed £109bn to the UK economy in 2021. The sector is a key employer made up of 2.3m filled jobs as of 2021, an increase of 11.1% since 2019 and around 7% of the UK’s total jobs. By some estimates, the creative industries have the potential to more than double in size, reaching a gross value added of £250–300bn by 2030 and employing around 4.3 million people – far outstripping the average growth of the rest of the economy.
This growth is not, however, evenly distributed. London and the South East of England together form a creative industries ‘supercluster’ which strongly outperforms the rest of the country. Between 2010 and 2019, the London creative economy grew by 61%, while, over the same period, the Welsh creative economy grew by only 3%. The creative industries in the North of England grew by 30% over the same period.
Innovation and change
Creative industries-led innovation shapes our physical and digital lives, from the way we interact and communicate, to the clothes we wear to the buildings we live and work in.
It is partly, but not solely, through this level of innovation that the creative industries power change. The RSA has been looking at the role of arts and the creative industries in regenerating local economies. Thriving creative industries can change our experience of places for the better. The connection between wellbeing and access to arts and culture is well documented. Creative industries also have a positive spillover effect on local economies, with supply chain spending in industries like hospitality and catering, new ideas and practices spreading to different sectors, attracting new visitors and skilled workers to that place.
This is a moment to supercharge support for the creative industries, culture and arts across the whole of the UK
We must also not forget the power of storytelling, connection and play to effect change. Movements are built on stories, storytellers and visions of a positive future.
In its spring 2023 budget, the UK government recognised the creative industries as a sector of strategic importance; supporting creative clusters is also an issue recognised in the investment zone policy prospectus. This is a moment to supercharge support for the creative industries, culture and arts across the whole of the UK, not just the South East. For inspiration, we can look to the US, where, over the last 15 years, the state of Georgia has built a creative cluster around prestige TV shows such as The Walking Dead and combined a strong skills base and major incentives to build a regional film industry that attracted a new studio from Marvel and now rivals Hollywood.
The RSA is in a unique position to support the growth of creative clusters in three ways:
1. Convene local policy and industry leaders to influence policy and practice.
2. Work in close partnership with universities and other research organisations to build world-class data and evidence to show how to grow economic and social impact through creative industries.
3. Use the innovation capabilities of the RSA and our Fellowship to pilot evidence-informed policy innovations in place and evaluate impact.
In the short term, we are working with regional mayors, sector leads and our partners at Newcastle University to convene a Northern Creative Corridor project. This alliance has the potential to influence creative industries policy and finance at a national scale. We also see opportunities to support creative skills strategies that would benefit the whole region and to explore new models of finance for innovation and social impact through the creative industries.
Artwork by Harry Haysom for the RSA. Harry is a designer and illustrator based in London, UK.
This article first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 2 2023.