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Creativity, Culture and Sustainable Development

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What part does the creative economy play in international development? Dr Jonathan Vickery from the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies explores the role that the arts and culture sector can play in prosperity - be that material, social or institutional - and the importance of placing creativity at the heart of the sustainability debate.

Creativity and culture have become increasingly popular terms in every dimension of professional life, from management consultancy to public policy. ‘Creativity’ often offers false promises, and ‘culture’ invariably promotes unrealistic expectations, and both provide bandwagons on which opportunist swiftly jump. Yet for more than ten years, global actors like the EU, OECD or UNESCO, have looked increasingly to culture and creativity as a new framework to approach hard policy problems, particularly in the sphere of Development.

In the year 2000 the OECD’s ‘Future Forum’ published the influential document The Creative Society of the 21st Century. The concept of ‘creative society’ was not about a massively expanded cultural sector, or more ‘art’. It discussed new ways of configuring technology, economy, society and government. In 2005 UNCTAD made the ‘Creative Economy’ a major plank of their development policy-making, their ‘Creative Economy Report’ of 2008 (with a second in 2010) contained impressive detail on the application of the arts and creative industries in systematic and systemic development.

The term ‘development’ is usually shorthand for ‘International Development’, although in the relatively new context of ‘global sustainability’ we are all ‘under development’. If there is one fortunate dimension of the unfortunate global recession, it is that the West is no longer the exclusive paradigm and zenith of development it once was. The ‘advanced’ West needs to reconfigure its intrinsically self-destructive economy, the post-communist East is still under reconstruction, the economies of the BRIC countries are increasing their demand for ideas and models of innovation, and all over the world social unrest and retrenched inequalities remind us all that we cannot separate ‘society’ from ‘economy’. The UNCTAD Creative Economy Report of 2008 was significant in that the terms ‘economy’, ‘growth’ and ‘development’ were defined in a way that reminded the West that the conditions for its material prosperity were as much human, social and institutional – not just the mechanisms of market exchange.

I was an invited delegate at the recent UNESCO Hangzhou International Congress (May 14-17th). It was the first major congress of its kind, and gathered a select number of policy makers and NGO leaders and others, constructing what is now called ‘The Hangzhou Declaration’. Hopefully the Declaration will meet its aim and be a principle reference point for the Post-2015 UN development agenda. Overall it calls for a statutory inclusion of culture in all global development funding, a call that has been recently supported with extensive empirical evidence in the form of the multi-partner Culture and Development Joint Programs (JPs). As part of a Millennium Development Goals booster package, eighteen projects were implemented in a range of countries from Albania to Cambodia, all under research scrutiny.

The many development projects included the setting up of arts enterprises and stimulating local cultural production, mobilizing communities in recovering and preserving tangible and intangible heritage, training young creative workers for new business start-ups, and forged a range of social alliances for making active progress in local economy. The achievement of the JPs was not only in producing the kinds of data global policy makers demand (and culture sector workers are not particularly effective at collating), but in generating practical networks of committed actors across public administration and institutions, civil society and market, political and religious, educational and corporate.

During the last year, Warwick’s Centre for Cultural Policy Studies has become increasingly interested in the emergence of the ‘creative economy’ in International Development. We have always taught and researched all dimensions of creative economy – from its products to creative management and entrepreneurship to marketing communications, design, media and the policy and politics of the arts sector. The increasing global relevance of cultural creativity demands a new front for both teaching and research.

The Hangzhou Declaration was not so much about situating culture in the Development arena (which it already is). It situates culture at the centre of the debate on sustainability. The term ‘sustainability’ sounds to many like yet another policy fad, legitimising state control over consumption and use of the environment. The Hangzhou context, however, succeeded in demonstrating the importance of culture as a framework for understanding the social, institutional, ethical and juridical necessity of sustainable thinking. In other words, in a world of declining resources, we need to recover local and regional potential for resource management and production. And, we can no longer assume that state-managed macro-economic growth makes society a better and more prosperous place. We need, rather, to assume that prosperity will only come if a broader, more equitable and inclusive involvement in economic development will emerge, where local, regional and national priorities are held in balance, where environmental and social are intrinsically related, and where identities, intangible heritage and historical meaning are cultivated.

This is the general direction of sustainable thinking, which demands integrated thinking, the combination of pragmatic, strategic and critical frameworks, and an interdisciplinary research that is question-driven. This provides a great ethos for teaching. Its various challenges are driving the new project in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies. Called ‘Arts, Enterprise and Development’, the project begins with a new MA program, which will join three other excellent masters courses in Development already at Warwick. The uniqueness of our program is its specific attention to the arts and culture in developing economies. With particular attention to self-generated change and entrepreneurship, the course will look at arts and cultural enterprise transforming local economy, identity and heritage, community and social innovation. However, this is not just about production or function, but is driven by pressing research questions: How can the arts recover a sense of local uniqueness, value, and the means of free creative expression? Or, how can new digital media be used in mobilising community participation, create cultural democracy, or expand the public sphere? How can the arts mediate reconciliation in conflict and promote mutual self-determination? Sustainable development is more about creating a ‘mature’ economy, as distinct from a ‘growth-oriented’ economy. Creativity will allow us to find new orthodoxies.

July 2013

Dr Jonathan VickeryDr Jonathan Vickery joined the University of Warwick in 2001. Dr Vickery was a lecturer in modern and contemporary art in the History of Art department at Warwick before joining the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies in 2004.

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