Writing your own rules – why we need local definitions for Creative Industries – Part 2

October 12, 2010

Hi Andrew,

It is good to be back in touch.

Thank goodness I stopped by your website before responding.  I had no idea our conversation was going directly online. With the internet archive around I’m usually a little more careful about what I say online as opposed to what I say in emails.  I’ve got no problem with the first email but give a man a little heads up next time.  So in the spirit of online dialogue and “Live on AMissingham.com” here’s a few thoughts:

Where to start?

A Little Personal Background

Much of my work in the UK and with Chris Smith was about trying to get my head around the work UNESCO was doing at the global level in cultural development. (I was there from ’95 to ’07)  For a number of years I found myself in the middle of this giant, international, “cultural diversity” debate that really made little sense to me. Intuitively, I could understand it was important that each country have the right to develop culturally as it wishes but I was having a hard time making the connections between the platitudes of global dialogue and how that played out at the local or individual level. At the time I saw myself as a creative entrepreneur and was always asking myself how does this debate affect me as a web and communication designer?  I wanted to understand how the cultural development debates of UNESCO fit into national policy and then how those translated toward the city and the individual. (Me)

With that view in mind I went to the UK with a hunch that it had developed a decent creative industry policy framework but I knew there were other models.  You can’t live in Paris, work in the cultural field and not be aware of “l’exception culturelle.” What I found was that not only had the UK developed a model but thanks in part to the way the government is structured it was also able to move quickly on ideas and initiatives.  All of that combined lead to my choice and field of study in the UK.

I really lucked out to have Chris supervise the work and have the added London experience to get into the nitty gritty of the details. So to your point, yes, I agree, the DCMS did a great job of packaging, communicating and framing the debate but the DCMS itself, as you rightly point out, works within a specific cultural context.

It was such a relief and a bit of an epiphany when I finally realized that you could loosely translate the French drive for “Diversite Culturelle” into the DCMS defined “creative industries.”  You also have to remember that I arrived a few years after your studies.  The EU was already building on the UK model and so were the United Nations.  I’m usually a little hesitant to link “genius” and “politics” in the same phrase but in this case I do think it fits the bill.  It was a bold policy initiative but what does that mean for everyone else? Is it a cut and paste model that applies in every locale?

Searching for Meaning

Understanding the UK model was only part of my research.  I then had to trace the creative economy movement “up” from the UK toward the United Naitons system (WIPO, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNDP, etc) and “down” toward the local London based actor.  A few months before I submitted my paper the EU published their Economy of Culture report.  In it they included a much broader definition of the different industries involved in the sector. They advised EU Members to view and define the sector as the “cultural and creative industries.”  These included the non-industrial, the industries sectors and the creative sectors. Which to me always seemed a clunky way to define the creative industries but it was a beginning.

I’m overjoyed to read the new EU streamlined definition in the latest green paper, well, as overjoyed as one can be with a green paper. Thanks for sending it.  It’s a massive contribution to those of us who have chosen to promote the merits of the creative economy in diverse places.  I think it’s important because it concisely addresses some of the weaker points in definitions past.  It covers the issue of design, expression, heritage and commercial value quite well.  It’s also convenient for me because it stays within the “cultural and creative industry” message I have been spreading over here in the US.  My message (definitions: here and here) has been about communicating the broadest definition of the cultural and creative industries at the highest government levels of government with a narrowing down happening at the local level.

The genius of the DCMS and the EU definition is that they both cast wide inclusive nets toward the “creative class.” That’s what national and regional bodies should be doing but once that net hits a local level the definition has to be narrowed to fit on-the-ground needs.  It also doesn’t hurt to use a bit of creative interpretation either.   Yes, in my opinion, Andalusian cooking should be included in the local definitions of cultural and creative industries. It should also be included in the promotional, regulatory and development agenda as well.  If cooking doesn’t provide cultural context and meaning then I don’t know what does.  There are a number of Asian countries, for example, that have built on the DCMS definition and added their own flair.

The Creative Economy in the USA

My research in the US points in that direction as well. In my earlier email I said the US efforts are “rudderless” which is not entirely true.  At the national level the policy debate in the US is a bit rudderless. Americans are just now tiptoeing into the national creative industry/economy/culture debate for many reasons. One, the government structure places cultural industries squarely in the free market realm and within the jurisdiction of states and local authorities.

That means cities and states might have official cultural bodies but there is no federal ministry of culture.  Two, since culture is within the free market system, the regulatory system and financing of culture also lies mostly with local bodies. Cities and states control tax structures, for example, while private foundations and philanthropy take care of funding.  That structure has thus left the federal level, creative economy advocates with little power and money.  Add to that ferocious politics, the politically correct movement, a diverse and disputed cultural history and you have a nation that is “rudderless” in terms of national cultural and creative economy policy.

To understand this dynamic better I set out on my 4-month, Cities x Design tour across the US. I found dynamic and thriving creative economies in some of the cities I visited.  In other places I found cities taking baby steps and yet others wandering aimlessly into the creative desert.  Very few were working off the UK or European model.  The prevailing theory here is aligned more with what I loosely attribute to Richard Florida’s work on attracting and retaining the “creative class” – build lofts and they will come. They also insist on using a very narrow definition of the creative sector, which essentially are the non-profit arts.  If I were to stay in the US, I would start developing a creative industry policy tool kit and metric structures for local actors to help them define their creative sectors while encouraging the national actors to broaden their institutional remit to include a newly minted US definition of cultural and creative industries.

The lessons are simple.  It’s important to remember the DCMS definitions sprang from the fundamental question of what do creative entrepreneurs need to thrive in a creative economy and what can government do to help?  It is a movement based on developing the appropriate policies and support services necessary to aid the individual creative entrepreneur. The best way to do that is to start by mapping local cultural and creative assets and developing a local definition.


Like I said in my earlier email, it’s great to see we are both moving in the same direction with our consulting and messaging.  Chris would be proud. It sometimes feels very lonely here. I noticed your post before this one was on “cultural placemaking.”  The National Endowment for the Arts, the US ministry of culture, recently held a round table discussion on “creative placemaking” with Richard Florida and a couple of other North American thinkers.  Don’t even get me started on why I think they are sending out  a very confused message.  As the French say “ppffff”.

I look forward to talking more.  Work is taking me to Paris soon.  I hope we can catch up again to share notes.

Best wishes,


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Cities and the Creative Industries

A Creative Industry Primer

The creative economy movement started in the UK in 1994. Follow the links to understand how national cultural policy became creative industry policy and how it's now changing the world.