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Hope lies in Britain's creative economy

Professor Gillian Youngs, University of Westminster, searches for some post-Brexit cheer

Posted by Hannah Oakman | July 13, 2016 | Finance, legal, HR

Are there any reasons to be cheerful in the wake of the Brexit shocks being felt across the UK economy? Well, perhaps not cheerful, but some are beginning to point out that we should look to the creative sector for some rays of hope in the gloom.

The starkness of the Brexit moment is profound and its impact may last quite a while. It is a situation that has stimulated a wide spectrum of emotional reactions at individual and collective levels

The current strength of the sector is undeniable, earning nearly £10 million an hour, and generating £84 billion annually. According to government figures, it’s growing at almost twice the rate of the wider economy.

Post-Brexit, the sector has not been short of strong voices concerned about uncertainties; for example over the loss of European funds and the impact on collaborative possibilities and projects in the film industry, or the risk of knock-on effects in the advertising industry from any wider economic downturn and the tightening of business purse strings.

These concerns are not to be underestimated, but thinking in expansive terms about ‘the creative economy’ is useful in pointing us towards the cultural, social and economic impacts that flow from creative industries, ranging from large-scale businesses through to individual artists and creatives.

The creative economy says as much about what Britain is at home as it does beyond its borders – and that is likely to be an especially valuable resource in the political uncertainties of the near future

The creative economy features two mutually-reinforcing characteristics. By manifesting an outward-looking, dynamic and multicultural richness of innovation, the creative economy is both a source of market and symbolic power globally, and a major draw for those coming to the UK to do business, study and as tourists. As a pre-eminent global city and cultural and arts hub, London is part of this picture, but so are the regions.

The creative economy says as much about what Britain is at home as it does beyond its borders – and that is likely to be an especially valuable resource in the political uncertainties of the near future.

Notably, it will be within the creative sector, including the media as well as arts, that these uncertainties will be probed and explored, reacted to and challenged, reviewed and re-visioned. The sector, alongside political and economic arenas, will be an intrinsic part of people’s coming to terms with what lies ahead.

Creative responses to what many see as a crisis point of, or at least a seismic shift in, national identity will be as rich in their diversity of content as form. For many, they will be more immediate and deeply engaging than some of the political rhetoric and business talk. They will represent an important buffer, source of respite and comfort in the face of more extreme or depressing elements of political and market discourses.

In such ways, the creative economy will have impacts way in excess of its market power. It will fulfil complex cultural and communicative roles within and across borders, in and across communities in the UK and around the world. This will happen in ways that are bound to reinforce, represent and recreate multiple and contrasting messages about Britain, its communities and their place in the world.

The starkness of the Brexit moment is profound and its impact may last quite a while. It is a situation that has stimulated a wide spectrum of emotional reactions at individual and collective levels, and these will likely transform and develop rather than just disappear. The shift is all-pervasive in the full stop it has put to one period of time, marking the beginning of another.

Creative works of interpretation, explanation and visioning will be central to the path-finding now underway. The products that result have the potential to not only fuel the economy and enrich culture but contribute to individual and collective resilience and imagination. These products will also be part of representing how the UK is seen and understood from within and without.

For many it may not feel like a great time to be British but it might be more hopeful to feel part of creative Britain.

Professor Gillian Youngs is Professor of Creative and Digital Economy, and Head of Innovation and Impact in the Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster.

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