Can the arts save the economy?

Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Student Union

In 1998 the DCMS placed the ‘creative industries’ at the heart of the nation’s economic future. Over ten years later, in the midst of recession, Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared, ‘In the coming years, the creative industries will be important…for our national prosperity’. The recent Creative Britain Strategy aims to move the creative industries from the margins to the mainstream of the UK economy. This is cited as good news for the arts world, in the face of impending savage cuts. Now the arts seem keen to rebrand themselves as wealth creators rather than a sectional interest in need of state subsidy. While there has been something of a backlash against this ‘instrumentalist’ approach to the arts, the Old Vic’s Kevin Spacey was widely applauded for provocatively stating: ‘The question is not “What can the economy do for our arts?” but “What can the arts do for our economy?”’. Spacey claimed artists have neglected using ‘the economic impact of arts and culture as the centrepiece’ of appeals for support.

Research from Nesta suggests the ‘cultural sector’will grow by 4% between 2009 and 2013 - double the estimate for the rest of the economy. But critics argue this is this more a reflection of the weakness of British economic activity, rather than of a dynamism to the arts per se. Lord David Puttnam’s famous boast that ‘Our rock musicians contribute more to the balance of payments than the steel industry’ is telling. Moreover, James Heartfield points out in the book Culture Vultures that early estimates of creative industry earnings were inflated by counting the likes of computer software (nearly half the total). Today the arts are grouped together with a range of commercial and often non-artistic activities – advertising, design, publishing, video games, television and radio – under the heading ‘creative industries’.

What about the value of art in its own terms? Can the arts shoulder the burden of regenerating economic life? Can the ‘creative industries’ save the economy, or is this just wishful thinking and special pleading? What are the problems with expecting culture to be commercially successful?

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James Boyle
former controller, BBC Radio 4; founder, Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music; chair, British Council Scotland

Dr Richard Howells
reader in Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King's College London

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Karl-Erik Norrman
founder and secretary-general, European Cultural Parliament; former Swedish ambassador; author, The Gala Concert, Verdi/Wagner 200 years

Douglas Slater
writer; critic; political strategist and policy advisor; co-founder, Stonewall

Dr Tiffany Jenkins
writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there

Produced by
Dr Tiffany Jenkins writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there
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