I delivered the keynote speech at the Policy Forum for London on the role of higher education in supporting the creative economy.
I wanted to show how the creative economy and creative universities relate to each other, and the Olympicopolis project in East London on the site of the 2012 Games provided an ideal starting point.
In 2021, University of the Arts London will bring the 5,500 students of our London College of Fashion to Stratford Waterfront, alongside new spaces for V&A, Sadler’s Wells and the Smithsonian Institution. Meanwhile, UCL East will be the site of a new university campus for University College London.
So why are two of the world’s top universities, two of its top museums and a world centre for dance becoming such close neighbours?
Some people will describe it as the creation of a new cultural centre for London. For me, that’s the less interesting half of the truth.
The cultural attractions of Olympicopolis are, of course, seductive to lovers of the Arts. But that’s not the real point. Olympicopolis’ cultural impact will be dwarfed by its effect on the competitiveness of East London and the UK over the coming decades.
My argument is that we should really see the Olympicopolis scheme as critical industrial infrastructure for the creative economy.
Taken as a whole, what the cultural and educational institution will be doing at Olympicopolis is to create a machine to change culture, not simply exhibit it.
So what are the practical uses of art and design? My answer is that creative graduates do three important things, one quite grand, the others very practical.
The grand purpose is that society is regenerated through culture.
Professor Ezio Manzini is UAL’s Chair of Design for Social Innovation. He is perhaps the world’s leading expert on sustainable design and a major advocate of the theory of cultural resilience… how societies repair themselves and grow.
In a talk last week, he argued that art makes sense of the world’s problems by trying to change the world, often by making provocative work which challenges convention. Design makes sense of the world’s problems by trying to solve the problem. Human culture is continually regenerated by the interaction of these approaches and their core effort to make sense of the world.
If that is the grand purpose, there are also very strong economic arguments linking higher education and the creative industries.
Crucially, the creative industries are largely staffed by creative graduates, for whom there is huge demand.
The UK’s creative industries employ more people than the financial sector or advanced manufacturing. And on average, 60% of those jobs are graduate entry. In the case of some of the fastest growing creative sectors, animation would be one, the proportion of graduates is closer to 80%. Around three-quarters of UAL’s graduates go on to work in these jobs. To give you a feel for our level of influence, nearly two-thirds of the designers showing at the recent London Fashion Week were UAL graduates.
And, to put it in economic terms, our graduates are there to innovate – to generate intellectual property… a point made in the UK government definition of the creative industries.
This point about generating intellectual property – or newness – is to me the most persuasive economic argument for the value of creative education. Creativity is not just about challenging convention. It is also a highly marketable skill and has an economic impact. In other words, creative education is not only huge fun and personally enriching: it also teaches the immensely practical and sought-after skill of how to be innovative.
And creative talent has a broader potential beyond the core creative industries. In its excellent Manifesto for the Creative Economy, the UK innovation charity Nesta estimated that 59 per cent of creatively-occupied workers in the UK work outside the creative industries. Nesta calls this the creative economy – businesses which are not part of the creative industries, but are nevertheless major users of creative talent and hungry to build capabilities in creativity and design.
This reflects an evolution in the world economy. Creativity is now recognised – especially in developing economies such as China and Korea – as a key economic differentiator. In a world where goods can be made anywhere, innovation is increasingly important to a country’s ability to remain competitive.
Countries worldwide are hungry to understand and emulate the UK’s competitive edge in creativity. I have just returned from Hong Kong, where, following an approach by the Hong Kong Government, UAL will work in partnership with Hong Kong University to provide two UAL postgraduate courses which will prepare graduate students to work in Hong Kong’s rapidly expanding creative and cultural industries. And these courses will largely be taught by flying faculty from UAL in London.
So far, this just goes to show Britain’s soft power at work – another way in which creative universities sustain global culture.
Which brings us to Olympicopolis which will become for the broader creative and cultural industries – and fashion in particular – what Silicon Roundabout is doing for the digital industries in Shoreditch.
In my opinion there are four key factors which I believe need to be brought into alignment if the full energy and potential of our creative and cultural sectors is to be realised.
First: we need well-educated, talented people, delivered through higher education. Olympicopolis will have two of the world’s top universities in different fields – University of the Arts London and University College London.
Second: we must develop more geographical clusters of like-minded people and like-minded sectors. Creative people tend to live near each other. This isn’t a mystical preference. It’s the most practical way to get new ideas and collaborators: it’s why universities – still, despite all the focus on the digital – are physical places. But (and this will be an important policy challenge for the Mayor’s office) the surging domestic and office rents in East London will need closely managing if the creative workforce are to stay in town.
Third: we need to develop our cultural and educational hubs. As super-consumers of culture and fashion, artists work where they play and live. This is why the V&A, Smithsonian and Sadler’s Wells are so critical to the regeneration of the area in and around the Olympic Park.
Fourth, of course, we must have government policy that actively values the application of creative skills. The leadership that the GLA has given in backing Olympicopolis, as I hope I have shown, is visionary for the creative economy. It builds on government backing for the Olympics and their legacy.
It is an ambitious project in the scale of its buildings but, more importantly, it will be a practical boost to the creative economy. And it will work in Olympicopolis, as it has worked in Kings Cross, where UAL became anchor tenant four years ago with our Central Saint Martins campus.
Creative universities such as University of the Arts London are central to the creative economy. Our graduates staff the creative economy. We generate intellectual property and economic value through innovation.
But above all, directly and indirectly, we change society.
We aim to bring all those facets of our mission to East London over the coming years.
Posted on June 17th, 2015 by pmaustin in Uncategorized