Creative Economy and Cultural Policy

“There is no greater resource than the creativity, innovativeness, and productive talents of our people.”[i]

Subsequent to publishing our report, From the Margins to the Mainstream: Moving BC’s Creative Industries Forward (April 2012), I’ve been asked about the creative economy approach to cultural policy, so here’s a brief overview.  Creative economy is a relatively new approach that has emerged out of the shift to a knowledge-based economy over the past few decades.  Domestic and international research has increasingly documented an understanding of the relationship between creativity, culture and economics, forming the basis for the concept of the “creative economy”.  According to UNCTAD’s 2010 Creative Economy report, creative economy entails a shift from conventional economic and cultural policy approaches towards a multi-disciplinary model dealing with the interaction between economics, culture and technology, and centered on the predominance of services and creative content.[ii]

UNCTAD underscores that at the heart of the creative economy are the creative industries, which constitute a wide and diverse field of creative activities ranging from publishing, music and performing arts, film and television production, digital media and design.

A broadly accepted definition is one put forward by the UK government, which refers to the creative industries as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”.[iii]

Creative Industries as Economic Drivers

‘The impacts of the creative economy emanate from the creative core and ripple through culture industries, and other creative industries, into the wider economy”.[iv]

Much of the research and literature strongly supports the belief that creative industries provide a breeding ground for creativity and innovation in the larger economy, and are critical to driving job creation for a digital future that relies more on creativity than physical labour.[v] Yet this is difficult to document by means of quantifiable measurements.

Numerous studies have therefore turned to documenting the degree to which creative industries provide significant contributions to the economic measurements of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment and exports. There are some difficulties in capturing all the elements of the creative economy.  The creative sector is comprised of a variety of activities and overlaps several different industries and therefore, measurements contain a significant degree of estimation.  However, there is a general consensus in the research that these measurements likely underestimate the full impact of the creative industries on the economy overall.[vi]

Creative Industries and Cultural Industries

“Today’s culture sector is centre stage in the creative economy. Its contributions are valuable on their own and also add significant value by stimulating more broadly based creative activity across the economy.”[vii]

Within the creative industries is the sub-set of the more traditionally defined cultural industries.  Cultural industries such as domestic film, television, music, publishing and digital media companies are the target of various funding initiatives at the federal and provincial levels, but there is no overall cross-sectoral approach to support these industries.  Cultural policy in Canada operates in a silo, which a creative economy approach seeks to challenge as we move increasingly into the digital age.

Some of the challenges for the creative industries include the growing role of intellectual property rights as a tool with which to generate earnings.[viii] In order to enhance the creative sector’s value chain, intellectual property rights need to be retained from development (or creation) through distribution.  In addition, copyright is fundamental to the business models supporting arts and cultural enterprise, and needs to be protected. In the creative industries, the right to use a product is the value—not the physical package that contains the content.”[ix]

Creative Industries and Technology

It is not technology alone that triggers demand for creative content; it is also the interplay between creative consumers and services providers that brings new creative demand to the surface and new opportunities for creative supply responses to meet that demand.[x]

Growth in demand for creative products has been a significant driver of the creative economy.  Several factors have contributed to this, including rising real incomes, lower costs of consumption as technology advances, and new generations of consumers using these technologies in ways that transform them from passive recipients into active co-creators of cultural content.[xi]

The internet and mobile applications have enabled consumers to exchange information and produce and co-create content.  These technologies have facilitated a rapid increase in user-led content, blurring the distinction between producers and consumers.  The central message is that producers and consumers co-drive the creative economy.  As a result, this is driving traditional creative producers to develop new business models and find new approaches to monetizing creative products.[xii]

Creative Economy and Cultural Policy

As noted in UNCTAD’s reports, creative economy is a multi-dimensional concept that cuts across a number of different sectors in the overall economy, such as economic development, urban planning, trade, labour, domestic and foreign investment, technology, tourism and education.  It is this cross-cutting nature that complicates matters for policy makers in recognizing the contribution of creative industries and targeting support.

Part of the difficulty, according to UNCTAD, lies in the multi-faceted nature of the creative industries, in that they can overlap and form part of several different industries, making it difficult to develop a comprehensive measurement of the impact of the creative sector on a broad scale.  Creative industries provide a breeding ground for creativity and innovation in the larger economy and are critical to driving job creation for a technology-driven future, yet this contribution is difficult to demonstrate.

New forms of measurement and a recognition of the role of the cultural industries in the creative economy is a necessary concept for Canadian policy to embrace, and not just from a cultural policy perspective but from a multi-departmental approach.



[iii] UK Department for Culture, Media and Sports, Creative Britain, 2008.

[iv] Martin Prosperity Institute, 2009.

[v] UNCTAD, 2010.

[vi] Conference Board, Cultural Industries in Canada, p. 15

[vii] Martin Prosperity Institute.

[viii] Conference Board, p. 9.

[ix] IBID, p. 69.

[x] Martin Prosperity Institute.

[xi] UNCTAD, p. 23

[xii] UNCTAD, p. 27

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