Innovation and the Creative Industries Cluster: A Case Study of Singapore's Creative Industries
Gwee, June, Innovation : Management, Policy & Practice
In the 2003 study on Singapore's growth and innovation policies commissioned by New Zealand's Ministry of Economic Development (Evans et al. 2003), the facilitation of clusters was identified as one of Singapore's innovation policies in enhancing the country's innovation framework; one of the sectoral initiatives identified was its creative industries. In most literature, the creative industries sector has been less discussed than the state's other sectoral initiatives - such as manufacturing, petrochemical, bioscience and information technology industries. Similarly, reference to innovation policy has also been more frequently associated with technology and R&D activities (Mani 2001), and less with creative activities. This paper will address that gap by linking creativity and innovation through an in-depth look at Singapore's creative industries cluster.
Discussions about creative economy have been commonly linked to culture and cultural policy because the concept of 'creative' is synonymous with 'artistic' and 'culture' in certain places. Singapore's artistic and cultural developments have often been overshadowed by its economic developments. More recently, observers of the city's development (Wright 2009) have noted Singapore's shift from 'cultural desert' to 'cultural oasis'. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the arts did not exist in the city prior to 1985 when its economic strategy shifted. In fact, Singapore in the 1950s, under colonial rule, was home to Chinese and European-trained artists such as Georgette Chen, Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng. They were also known as Nanyang artists where Nanyang art - a style, technique and medium that is a blend of East and West - was one of the earliest modern art movements in Singapore during the 1950s and 1960s. Visual arts and performing arts were equally present in the city. The earliest form of Singapore Arts Festival also began in 1959 as a national festival to celebrate local arts and multi-dimensional cultures in Singapore and the Southeast Asia (Purushothaman 2007). This was followed in 1963 by a regional event, the first Southeast Asia Cultural Festival. However, at that time, the arts were primarily a social voice to facilitate diversity, nation building and multi-racialism. At a secondary level, it was a vehicle to exchange ideas, information and indigenous heritage.
Kong (2000) had argued that the nation's artistic and cultural activities were promoted because they presented economic potential while Yue (2006) offered that the concept of culture was used to create new industries and business services. These observations are accurate to the extent there is inherent economic value in culture (Frey 2003). However, development of the creative industries cluster in Singapore, inclusive of promotion of arts and culture, originated not as a cultural strategy but as an economic strategy.
The incorporation of creative activities as part of Singapore's economic development started in the mid 1980s. At that time, an Economic Committee was convened to chart new directions for the Singapore economy and take a diversified approach towards its development. Arising from the recommendation to focus on all aspects of economic activity and not just high-technology manufacturing, the Economic Development Board repositioned Singapore as a Total Business Centre where manufacturing and services were the twin engines of growth. This was the beginning of the push to promote creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. Within the Services portfolio of the Report of the Economic Committee (Ministry of Trade and Industry 1986), cultural and entertainment services - mainly performing arts, museums and art galleries, entertainment centres and theme parks - were included for the first time. The rationale was 'a vibrant cultural and entertainment services industry would enhance our image as a tourist destination, make Singapore a better place to live in, and also help to attract professionals and skilled workers to Singapore (Report of the Economic Committee 1986). …