Creative skills and leadership drive regional economic growth

Charlotte Nicol sets out the opportunities for devolved creative industries policy

Charlotte Nicol is Associate Dean Enterprise and Knowledge Exchange at Teesside University

I arrived in Teesside seven years ago, having never visited the area. After spending a couple of hours here I’d already decided to relocate, having spent most of my career in London, Manchester and Leeds.

I was attracted to the region’s experimentation, ambition and opportunity. It felt new and exciting, and like nowhere I’d been before. We have a small but deeply committed cultural and creative industries sector which has been supported to grow through the devolution of funding, strategy, and policy.

Our disciplines are diverse and we’re punching above our weight – with performing and visual arts, gaming, film and TV being the areas with the most scope for growth. Teesside is also one of the best places to create a start up, it is cheap to live, collaborative, and full of energy.

Devolution for the creative industries

Teesside University, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA), and the School of Arts and Creative Industries has played an integral part in working to grow the creative sector through the devolution of the creative industries, as a thought leader, convenor, enabler and cultural partner in its own right.

In particular, the devolution of central government budgets, strategy, and policy through the Combined Authority has had a huge impact on the creative industries and cultural sector. Here, the Tees Valley Combined Authority has implemented a budget for growth in the sector, connected creative regeneration, and implemented radical initiatives like the Tees Valley Artist of the Year, supporting five cross – disciplinary artists with a living wage. These measures are working – the number of National Portfolio Organisations (organisations that have regular, core funding from Arts Council England) rose by over 60 per cent in the last round.

Funders such as Arts Council England have, in parallel, taken more of a place based approach to growth, adding a new balancing criteria in their funding of projects to being a “priority place.” This intervention, alongside many others, means that Arts Council England funding to the Tees Valley has increased by over 50 per cent since the implementation of the scheme.

This of course, is not quite devolution the prioritisation of central government funds to an area that has been identified as both in need of investment and of high growth potential. The combination of traditional devolution and a strategic funding shift towards place from a major funder has enabled the sector’s growth in this area.

Creative skills and leadership

As well-developing the pipeline to the sector, we have created new and accessible routes into the industry through our groundbreaking apprenticeship programmes. Our MA in Curating is the only apprenticeship of its kind in the country, and we have worked both with local authorities in this area as well as national partners like the TATE and Science Museum to radically shift traditional routes into museums and galleries and create new jobs. We will build on this by launching our new MBA in Cultural and Creative Leader, fees also funded by the government’s apprenticeship levy.

Through our place-based research we are connecting communities, industry and education, and supporting growth through innovation. MIMA has supported the development of devolved strategy as part of its Creative Place Advisory Group, leading the visual arts strategy and supporting both local and international artists. The School of Arts and Creative Industries has supported the growth of community led creative practice by hosting Borderlands, a large scale multi million Creative People and Places programme, engaging with thousands of communities across the South Tees, and developing co-produced commissioning models.

Creative UK has highlighted opportunities to strengthen the creative industries in its Creative Manifesto. This includes the devolved skilled agenda, which should be concerned with the skills needed in the wider creative economy. These are the kind of broad based skills in technology, management, interpersonal relationships, and engaging with the public, that are useful in all work places.

Opportunities for the next government

Should Labour form the next government, its industrial strategy will run through combined authorities and universities. The focus on science and technology is valid, but economic growth is also dependent on growing creative capacity in our regions. For example, the Tees Valley New Creatives programme run by ARC Stockton has supported the development and retention of artists in the region leading to close to 100 employment opportunities and over 170 paid opportunities and commissions.

Aside from skills, devolved policy also offers the opportunity to strengthen the research ecosystem. The most straightforward mechanism is to ensure creative strategies are the centre of industrial policy, devolved powers, and infrastructure planning within a devolved context. An environment of greater funding certainty will encourage the kind of long-term research and capital projects that spur the creative industry ecosystem.

The benefit of this kind of devolved research work is that it allows universities to support regional specialism. In the Tees Valley it would further bolster our universities work in developing economically impactful clusters around the creative industries.

Through devolving more policy, missions based on the creative economy, and aligning strategy and funding, there is the opportunity for regional economies to grow in partnership with our universities.

A more radical version of this proposal would be to align disparate funding pots that support local creative sectors. This would include funding from local and combined authorities, Innovate UK, research councils, Arts Council England, and Heritage Lottery Funding. Supported by a shared strategy, this would create long lasting change to the growth of this sector.

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