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Time for the creative industries to mix it up

Diversity – both social and racial – is simply good business, argues John Kampfner, the chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, in this extract from new UKTV book Tomorrow’s People: Making Cultures for Creativity.

In the spring of 2008, I got a call from some headhunters. And, when the young woman told me the role she was trying to fill, I initially thought she must have dialled the wrong number.

I had just left the editorship of the New Statesman, after more than two decades as a journalist – and Odgers, the headhunters, were looking for a chairman for the new Turner Contemporary art gallery. I certainly had no experience in charity governance or arts management. But one thing led to another, and I ended up chairing the team who got the gallery up and running.

Just as my chairmanship of Turner Contemporary was an unexpected appointment, so we tried to set up the gallery in a new way. In parts of the arts world, you can still find the last vestiges of a 1990s-style public-subsidy entitlement culture – a grumpy chorus of “Where’s our money?” But Turner Contemporary relies on a mix of public money and private money, and we run it as a business: we delivered the amazing David Chipperfield building in Margate on time, on budget, and it’s now one of the most visited art galleries outside London.

I believe that all good organisations, whether public or private, should be managed as businesses. If you talk to the directors of London’s most venerable theatres and art galleries, they’ll say that they’re running businesses. The Creative Industries Federation, of which I’m now chief executive, is a not-for-profit organisation – but we still need to be savvy and well-managed.

The Federation is the recently-founded national membership organisation for the public arts, cultural education and the creative industries. It’s been called a “CBI for the creative industries”, and that’s not too wide of the mark. At the Federation, we believe that business is good for the arts – just as the arts are good for business. And we want everybody to join in. If you’re under 25, you can join as an individual member for £40 a year – compared to the annual subscription fee for our biggest corporate members, who pay £15,000.

The Federation’s membership policy is just one practical manifestation of our belief that it’s crucially important to mix things up – to make connections between people who might not otherwise meet. Because the arts provide talent not just for, say, our film and TV companies, but for many other British success stories.

Take Jaguar Land Rover, where Ian Callum is the design director. Ian will flash up a picture of Jaguar’s high-tech new car – and then he will say, “Many of the people who designed this car went to art school.” At the Federation, we understand that the path to creative business success is seldom linear – and we want to start more conversations between the public, private and third sectors that will fuel British stories like Jaguar Land Rover.

One of the Federation’s Government policy priorities is to encourage proper funding for the arts. In July, we did an event with Josh Berger, who runs Warner Bros in the UK, and Tracey Barber, from Havas Creative Group. They powerfully argued that a healthy, publicly-invested arts sector will – over the next 10 to 15 years – feed the next generation of talent into their companies. And that will benefit the British economy as a whole.

The education of that next generation is crucial, too – it’s another policy priority for the Federation. Arts education is not, as it’s often perceived, just soft and cuddly. It’s actually central to the British economy and to a healthy society.

We must widen the focus on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics education – into STEAM, by adding the arts. Lack of proper arts education damages sectors such as engineering, just as much as it hurts the creative industries.

Nobel laureates in the sciences are 17 times more likely than the average scientist to be an artist, 12 times more likely to be a poet, and four times more likely to be a musician. Remember that it’s uniquely English for schoolchildren to be pressurised into choosing between arts and sciences – and then, when they go to university, to be forced to do so. Why not embrace both? In America, Germany and other countries, high-school students and undergraduates study a mix of subjects.

When British students graduate, by the way, they shouldn’t have to come to London to work in the creative industries. In Manchester, with some good Government intervention and with the BBC’s investment in Salford, we now have a “micro economy” of creative businesses. It’s thriving, which means that youngsters in Manchester don’t have to move to London to start a career in TV or apps.

Similarly, the University of Sunderland is doing incredible work by partnering with digital start-ups in their city – as are the University of Leeds, and the University of the West of England in Bristol. The list keeps growing. And the Federation plays a part in creating a “joined-up” ecosystem in each of these cities – we are doing a series of 24 “roadshow” events outside London.

The barriers to starting a creative career have, of course, historically not just been regional. Our third policy priority at the Federation is to broaden access to the creative industries, with our diversity agenda. For example: we are not offering any unpaid internships in our own office.

A lot of the opportunities in the TV industry are still based on who you know and, for 21-year-old first-jobbers, that can lead to a very self-selecting pool of applicants. And, to persuade TV companies to widen their recruitment, I don’t have to rely on lofty ideals about social mobility. I can just point to the bottom line.

If you have a company whose creative juices come from a narrow social pool, your content will be narrow too. If your content is narrow, your audience will be narrow. And if your audience is narrow, your profit margin will be small.

Diversity – both social and racial – is simply good business. It’s another area in which mixing things up makes perfect sense. (Though diversity issues don’t always take the shape that you might imagine: at Turner Contemporary in Margate, the single demographic that we have found hardest to reach is working-class, middle-aged, white men.)

The best way to increase diversity in your organisation is to manually change the way that you recruit. Identify the groups that you’re lacking, and go out and find them. If you receive 20 CVs, and they’re all from people in a narrow social circle, you just have to try a bit harder elsewhere. You will find all sorts of untapped resources.

In our small team at the Federation, we have two people who came from apprenticeship schemes that are part-supported by the Government, Creative Access (which is for BAME graduates) and The Creative Society. Both of those youngsters are brilliant.

It’s a similar story at the other end of the seniority ladder. What strikes me, when I go to an arts launch or first night in London, is how many of the same faces I see in the VIP area. London is a city of 10million people, and yet you’d think that the arts are run by about 100 of them. Those faces are, of course, often white and male and middle class.

As a city and as a country, we will simply never achieve our full creative potential until we make that top table more diverse. Which is why, at the Federation, that’s another area where we’re intentionally trying to mix things up a bit.

Our Advisory Council includes – quite rightly – luminaries such as Amanda Nevill, the chief executive of the BFI, and Darren Henley, who heads Arts Council England. But it also includes Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris, who runs a games start-up in Portsmouth, and 23-year-old Amahra Spence, whose company MAIA Creatives in Birmingham gives business advice to young creatives. We are deliberately bringing in people who might be a little overawed initially, a little bit out of their comfort zone. And we’re saying to them, “This is your space too.”

We want everybody in the room. So that we foster not just inter-generational cross-fertilisation – important though that is – but cross-fertilisation between creative disciplines, too. Such interactions are not just good for creativity – and culture more generally – but we are convinced that they bring direct financial and business benefits, too. So alongside the TV executive, we have the fashion designer, the cellist, the computer gamer, the ceramicist.

Because one day, one of those conversations might just lead to a TV success story on the same scale as Jaguar Land Rover. When you mix it up a bit, who knows what great things will happen?

This is an extract from Tomorrow’s People: Making Cultures for Creativity, a new book from UKTV promoting British creativity. The book is available as a free download from iTunes, Google Play and UKTV

Posted 24 August 2015 by John Kampfner
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