A More Critical View of the Creative Industries: Production, Consumption and Resistance

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The UK government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) defines the creative industries as being comprised of:

Advertising Architecture Art and Antiques Crafts Design Fashion Film Interactive Leisure Software Music Performing Arts Publishing Software Design TV and Radio Visual Arts

This relatively new re-designation of artistic and creative activity as the 'creative industries' is a term that seems to have growing contemporary currency. This is, to a large extent, born of a particular focus on the role that artistic and cultural production and consumption plays within the capitalist economy. Consequently, many current discussions of the creative industries display a rather 'one dimensional' (Marcuse, 1964) analysis of cultural life, understanding it from a position firmly located within the locus of market mechanisms. The DCMS'S approach to the creative industries is similar to orthodox approaches to other industrial sectors within the national economy, and its attention is routinely devoted to auditing earnings, turnover, exports and jobs within the creative industries.

Wu (2002) has charted the shift towards the commercially-oriented focus on cultural production that has underwritten this new designation of the creative industries since the Thatcherite 1980s. Wu particularly highlights the encouragement of increased interfaces between artistic production and private business sponsorship; between cultural events and corporate advertising; between culture and the 'value added' to corporations; as well as the advent of privately-owned artistic collections as economic investments during this period. This shift towards a commercial agenda was accompanied by policy changes in public organisations such as the Arts Council of England, from policies that emphasised the support of the arts as a public good to those concerned with 'value for money' and the cutting of public funding for the arts.

The acceptance of an essentially commercial framework for the understanding and development of arts and cultural production has continued within the UK public sector. After the Labour Party's 1997 election victory, Chris Smith, the incoming minister for Culture at the DCMS, signalled a celebration of the role that culture and creativity could play for a national resurgence, after years of Thatcherite cultural philistinism. However, his focus on the creative industries is still very much a commercial one, located within the context of national economic growth (Smith, 1998) and seen through the lens that attendant assumptions about capitalism and markets provide. In the UK, cultural economists, government officials and cultural policy-makers at regional and local levels have taken this agenda on board, and limit themselves to the role that creativity plays in terms of regional economic growth and inward investment; job creation, business growth and start-ups; and to the development of new consumer markets such as local cultural tourism. Some aspects of this cultural policy agenda, such as urban regeneration and improved 'quality of life', social inclusion, cultural diversity and heritage protection, are to the public good; it would be crass to suggest otherwise. However, the nature of creativity, cultural production and the cultural values that inform it suggest something much wider than the current, commercially-oriented 'universe of discourse' (Marcuse, 1964) allows for, including issues about the economic and social significance of new forms of interaction and exchange within cultural production, and the politics that are expressed through acts of creativity. This is not to say, of course, that discussion of the relationship between art, culture and politics is a new endeavour. Indeed, some of the contributors to this special issue of Capital & Class survey aspects of this long and rich history. But the changed nature of work and production, and the DIY cultural interaction and political expression that are often found in certain aspects of contemporary cultural life, are throwing up new issues and have implications for how we understand these changes within the disciplines of economics, sociology and politics. …