Convergence, Creative Industries and Civil Society - The New Cultural Policy
The papers collected in this special issue of Culturelink have been selected from the more than forty presentations at the Converge@Nottingham conference, held in late September 2001 (For a report from the conference, see Culturelink no. 35/November 2001, pp. 45-48.). The conference was co-organised by the Cultural Policy and Planning Research Unit (CPPRU) at the Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham City Council and was, quite simply, about 'making the connections' or, in a phrase currently popular in UK policy circles, 'joined-up thinking' towards new forms and agendas for cultural policy.
The conference itself and the papers collected here are a testament to the fact that such 'joined-up thinking', and the joined-up research and knowledge that are a precondition for such thinking, are both possible and, more importantly, strongly emergent at local, regional, national and international levels. With speakers from four continents, seven countries and a range of constituencies - governmental, community/NGO, practitioner/industry and academic/research - the 'chemistry' was right both to invoke and to address the necessary stakeholders in the new cultural policy with a growing recognition, in fact, that we are all stakeholders in the increasingly strategic field of cultural policy.
Culture's connections with identity and social cohesion, with industry growth and regeneration, with the sense of community and of place, with the building of a robust civil society and the massive - and as yet largely uncharted - implications of industry, and conceptual and operational convergence, were the key themes of the conference, as manifest in the sub-title for the event: Convergence, Creative Industries and Civil Society. All of the papers published here touch on one or more of these themes and stress the need for informed, interdisciplinary and intersectoral approaches to the cultural field in order for the ecology of that field and the conditions for its sustainable development to be understood in policy, research and practice.
In planning and designing the conference - and happily in the actual proceedings - we posed and addressed a number of questions and issues that we took to be the central bearings in the domain of contemporary, and future, cultural policy. These were as follows:
- What are the implications of the convergence of the telecommunications, computing and content industries for the new cultural policy?
- What does convergence mean for cultural institutions, practices and practitioners?
- What does convergence mean for the economic, industrial, social and cultural policies?
In response to these questions, there was a strong recognition of both the opportunities and threats offered to the cultural sector by the exponential growth of information and communications technologies (ICTs). The opportunities take the form of increased opportunities for creative content generation and production, greatly enhanced distribution and promotional capacity for cultural products, and the simple but revolutionary fact of interactivity, where every consumer can also become a creator/producer of cultural values and products. The weaknesses and threats come in the form of a massive and disabling 'digital divide' both within and between countries, in which, as Guiomar Alonso from UNESCO states in her paper, 96% of the world's people do not have access to the Internet and 50% have never made a telephone call. These massive inequalities in the distribution of access to communications and digital capacity pose perhaps the most urgent 'infrastructural' problems relating to the contemporary and emergent field of cultural policy and stress the need for thinking and acting in joined-up ways between the policy fields of industry, communications, community development and culture. Without concerted and 'joined-up' efforts in these areas, the negative tendencies of globalisation towards homogenisation will be very difficult to counter and it will be even more difficult to recognise and capitalise on the positive tendencies.
One way of addressing these urgent issues is by paying more sustained attention to the growth and development of distinctive indigenous creative industries. This emphasis provided the second core theme of the conference.
In order to encourage and mobilise indigenous industry capacity and development in the cultural sector, it is first necessary to know them, grow them and protect them. In this context, we posed the following questions.
- What are the creative industries and how can we know them quantitatively and qualitatively?
- What are the most effective strategies for sustainable creative industry development?
- What needs to be done about intellectual property rights in a context of convergence and globalisation?
As a number of the papers (Cunningham, Gibson, Jeffcutt, O'Regan, Pratt) point out, the concept of 'creative industries' is essentially a political construct of the post-1997 Blair New Labour Government in the UK, but it has begun to develop a wider-ranging and more conceptually useful purchase, especially in the English-speaking countries of Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK. This conceptual orientation is connected to the recognition of creativity - as Charles Landry argues in his paper - as a universal human capacity that has a special, though by no means exclusive, relationship to the cultural sector. It is further connected to the fact that - especially in the context of digitisation of the cultural content and the immense creative opportunities that this provides for both self- and community-expression and indigenous industry development - we need to be specially attentive to the necessity of developing new regimes of ownership and regulation of intellectual property. These connections position the creative industries strategically as crucial components of the strongly emergent 'knowledge economy' and as, importantly, an industry like no other that generates products and values that have a significance far beyond their economic currency. These values - to continue the economic metaphor - establish their 'exchange rates' in civil society.
As Gibson, Banerjee, Švob Đokić and Tomlinson argue in different ways in their papers, there are very strong reasons for 'thinking together' the economic and social dimensions of the cultural field, in so far as they provide crucial vectors to the politically charged fields of identity and lifestyle and equally crucial resources for social cohesion, inclusion and quality of life. The questions and issues posed in this context were as follows:
- How can we connect the realities of convergence and creative industry development to building a robust civil society?
- What is the relationship between culture, identity, and quality of life?
- How do we connect the local to the global?
If, in the emphases on convergence and creative industries, we have been pursuing a broader and more conceptually enhanced cultural-economic agenda beyond that of the 'economic impact' of culture, here in the emphasis on civil society we are centrally concerned with the special status of the cultural field, from production to consumption, in its connections with other policy domains. These include those related to rights, to social policy, to environmental policy, to development and, especially, the role of culture and cultural policy in developing and consolidating those resources and networks of trust, reciprocity and interaction that are so important to a robust civil society at local, regional, national and international levels.
Neither the conference nor the papers collected here provided all the answers to the questions posed above but, in moving towards new ways of thinking the issues and questions together rather than in separate 'boxes', we believe that there is a basis and framework for a more conceptually unified set of responses.
Director, Cultural Policy and Planning Research Unit
The Nottingham Trent University
Three of the papers published here, by the Australian contributors Cunningham, Gibson and O'Regan, will also be published in 2002 in Media Information Australia incorporating Culture and Policy and we are very grateful for the opportunity to publish them here.