The Creativity Virus

Negotiations regarding the terms of Ukraine’s participation in the Creative Europe Program are currently underway. What we know is that Ukraine could acquire the right to join this grant program for a nominal entry fee of 1 Euro. It follows that if Ukraine would take part in the program we would be hearing a lot more talk about creative industries, creative economies, the creative class, and creative cities. So it will be well worth them time to get a handle on these easily confused concepts and phenomena, and learn well what is meant by the concept of creativity as defined by European cultural managers and in European policies.

Creative Europe is a six-year EU program running from 2014 through 2020 and which features two tracks: “Culture” and “Media”. Ukraine is eligible only for the former, but the latter is also possible to an extent (Turkey and Georgia have registered for limited participation in the Media program). The Culture Program budget is half that of the Media Program budget. Grants for the program are available for the following: support for European cooperation projects, European (cultural promotion) platforms and networks, and support for the translation of literature. The European Culture Capital initiative, awards in the literature field, architecture, and cultural heritage are also within the scope of the program.

Cultural support is a EUROPE 2020 strategic priority for EU socio-economic development. In general, the Creative Europe program reflects the belief that Europe should invest more in culture and the creative sector, as these areas provide a significant economic growth stream, promote job creation and mutual understanding in society. More information is available about this in the UNESCO publication “Creative Economy Report 2013”, which outlines the importance of culture – a view never more evident than in our current context – in European Strategy of the 21st century. Over these fifteen years it has become evident that the significant, productive, and dynamic European cultural sector is in need of support for the very reason that it is such a rich source of economic development.

Creative Europe has meant a decades-long development program of European urban policy typified by the watchwords creativity, creative industry, and creative cities. Ukraine is only just beginning to make this rhetoric practical, the first “creative urban” efforts appearing in 2011 with the inaugural “ElizavetGrad – Creative City” program which attempted to apply the creative cities approach to municipal policymaking. The British Council’s “Creative Cities” program also pursued this line with an emphasis on informational approaches and periodic initiatives. These programs helped usher in an understanding of creative economies, industries, the creative class, and creative cities to the Ukrainian setting.
Far from being new, the creative industries concept can be traced back to the Frankfurt School work with cultural industries in the 1930s. At that time discussion of industry had largely a negative connotation – the question of the commodification of the arts, and homogenization of culture in a capitalist setting. The term “cultural industries” began to lose its negative tint in the 1980s, being applied as a neutral concept within the academic, artistic, and political arenas. It refers to forms of cultural production and consumption, the essence of which is contained in symbolic elements, touching on the spheres of music, the visual arts, writing, fashion, design, media (radio, film and TV production, publishing). “Creative industry” covers every area engaged in creative and innovative work, and is not restricted exclusively to the cultural sphere.

The term “creative economies” as an antithesis to traditional economies of mass consumption originated in British art critic, author, and media manager John Howkins’s 2001 book “The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas”. Howkins consults internationally on creative economies and is a member of the UN’s creative economies council. Briefly, he asserts that creative economy may involve the application of creativity in any field, and because of this cultural activities and processes as to be viewed as crucial to economic development and growth.
Creativity in urban policy-making was under discussion already in the 1980s in Great Britain, which was looking for approaches to revival depressed post-industrial cities like Glasgow, Manchester and others. It was culture, and more broadly, creativity, that provided the opportunity to look at urban development in a new way. During the 1990s Professor of Cultural Policy and Planning at the University of Leeds, Franco Bianchini and urban innovation authority Charles Landry, produced a series of publications on creative cities. They were often involved in the work of comprehensive renewal programs in individual small towns, (e.g., the Creative Town Initiative in Huddersfield in Britain) and in international programs for urban innovation support like the Urban Pilot Programme which ran from 1990 to 2000 with 14 European countries participating. The creativity virus overwhelmed the English-speaking world. In 2000, Landry published his book “The Creative City: a Toolkit for Urban Innovators” which appeared nearly simultaneously with Richard Florida’s “The Creative Class” in the United States. No sooner had the work achieved bestseller status that other publications began to take issue, voicing strong criticism of the approach.

Thus, in Western Europe and North America there is a growing criticism of a number of creative concepts, some of which have become so pervasive that they are referred to as the “ideology of creativity.” Yet, currently cities in much of the world city are discovering the work of Landry and Florida, and adapting their concept of creativity to local realities. So, while David Harvey and Peter Marcuse take issue with the idea, contrasting their view of “right to the city” with that of creative cities, arguing that creative cities are dedicated to capital and not people, the government of South Korea is launching its “Cities of Culture” program which designates a number of large cities as “niches of cultural industry and Asian tourism”. (The program identifies the city of Gyeongju and Cheongju as “the city of history” and “the city of tradition”, respectively, with Gwangju as “the city of culture”, Incheon “the city of recreation”, and Busan as “the city of visual media” – all designated as ‘creative cities.) And as Dutch researcher Tino Buchholz is filming his “Creativity and the Capitalist City” documentary critique (viewable at creativecaptialistcity.org), Kirovograd Ukraine is inviting Charles Landry to assist in putting together the strategy for the “ElizavetGrad – Creative City” program.

Ukraine would do well to keep in mind the European creativity critique, which originates largely from leftist thought and stresses the dual nature of the creative approach. Although the creative concept advocates for the creation of more humane cities, in practice, this is evidently a case of cities which have learned to market themselves more effectively. And though the emphasis is on the potential for inclusivity in the concept of creative innovation, in reality the social issues that trouble creative cities are not so easily solved, and often hid behind a façade of glossy creative projects.

The aforementioned UNESCO “Creative Economy Report 2013″ recognizes that the category of creative industries has come into vogue, thus acknowledging a benefit of association: cultural managers find their task of securing organizational or financial support simplified, even for often previously overlooked spheres of interest. “A lot of people feel that the term has become overused and ambiguous. Politicos manipulate it, scholars criticize it, and activists employ it when it suits them,” the publication warns.
Currently resistance to the concept of creative economy arises quickly out of the habit of casting creativity and the cultural sphere as something entirely non-commercial. Quoting the UNESCO report: “these views are based on a vision of the spheres of culture and economy as mutually hostile – operating according to fundamentally different principles”. Thus, attempts to introduce elements of the creative approach to city management are not always well received. But the strength of “the creativity virus” is not found in the rhetoric and striking images associated with it, but in its potential to enlist a variety of players in collaborative efforts, to imagine a new concept of culture and to fashion better cities.

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