Wanted: a figurehead for Birmingham’s creative industries
People in the creative industries have a certain cynicism towards the policy makers, and Birmingham is no different. There are a multitude of reasons of which I won’t go into detail for fear of turning this blog post into a rant.
The purpose of this post is to flag up some of my thoughts and observations after a talk by Jill Robinson at my lecture in Creative Industries and Cultural Policy. Jill was once involved in the European and International Division of Birmingham City Council, and so she knows the processes of policy making. She acted as a ‘facilitator’ for policy making (not just in the creative industries) and admitted that the proposals for policy initially submitted do not always have the intended outcome.
People in Jill’s position interact with those working in the industries; she collects their views and listens to their opinions. This information could take the form of a proposal, but due to vested interests of the people at the top, the initial proposals go through many changes (if they are accepted in the first place) as they are formulated into policy.
You only have to look at various events within Birmingham to see that the creative industries are the ‘hot topic’ for debate (see my blog on Media Enterprise for more about this) and yet, Jill said that when budgets are cut the creative (and cultural) sector is the first to go on the back burner. How can the creative industries pull the UK out of the recession when practitioners and small creative businesses are struggling for funding?
I am currently working voluntarily for a magazine that is relying solely on funding from Walsall Council and Advantage West Midlands. Remarkably, this magazine (called theVine) has been running for five years. It is a community magazine that caters for ethnic minorites and it has a relatively large and faithful following. Now demand is exceeding supply and theVine needs to expand; the only way for this to happen in the current climate is to secure external investment. The magazine has a demand but needs the resources to grow. Unfortunately, those resources aren’t available at the moment.
The case of theVine is a perfect example of how small business can have great potential, but that extra help needed to sustain is missing. From a personal point of view I hope my colleagues there secure the external investment needed just to give other, similar businesses hope of sustainability.
Back to the talk by Jill, and according to her the creative sector in Birmingham is missing one vital ingredient: a lobby/interest group, or at least a respected and well-known representative. The Government have a perceived importance of each sector (banking, science, etc) and this is because other sectors have lobby and interest groups that have access to policy makers. Small creative businesses are just not as attractive economically as a large bank. They’re ‘unfashionable’ according to the policy makers, whose vested interests are in big business, not SME’s. This, at the moment, cannot be helped.
Birmingham Council are not going to appoint a policy maker from the creative industries just to please us, and why should they? Then again, a lobby or interest group may turn their heads.
Jill gave me a lot of food for thought not just for this module but for myself as a creative worker (and creative entrepreneur). I would be interested to hear the thoughts of others from Birmingham’s creative sector with regards to this post.