Guaranteeing our Creative Future

In the last couple years, the creative industries have exploded in size and are lauded as the fastest growing industry in the UK, giving much-needed growth to our economy.

However, it would be dangerous to blindly celebrate this success—we’re reaping fruit planted decades ago. As cities become less accessible amidst waning funds, political and geopolitical pivots, and slowed growth, we must ask: is the creative machine in danger of running on steam? Is our modern creative economy at risk of stalling?

Here are a few ideas we must consider to face the challenge ahead and ensure our creative future.

No blockbusters without supporting the bottom of the pyramid.

For every Steve McQueen, Grayson Perry and Skepta, we offer basic support to masses of nameless artists. The creative ecosystem feeds on sharing and challenging ideas and acquiring skills outside the normal educational framework. Like the start-up ecosystem, many of those creatives fail, but some will rise through the ranks to ultimately feed the top and allow resources to trickle down.

What We Can Do

  • Alert decision-makers on the long-term rewards of supporting emerging talent.
  • Establish networks of nationwide creative incubators / accelerators, sponsored by those depending creative industries’ future output.
  • Leverage the untapped potential of public bodies’ access to networks and create peer support groups and one-to-one mentorship programmes (giving back to the ecosystem).

Creativity is not free.

Society has come to believe that creativity has no value, but speculative work and unpaid briefs will ultimately kill the creative class by pushing creators into alternative markets, forcing them to spend less time on work (mediocre work) and ultimately leading to a polarised market allowing only those of a certain status to afford to be creative professionals.

Protecting creatives’ income (and empowering creators to advocate for themselves) improves the quality of their work and enriches our economy and cultural heritage.

What We Can Do

  • Include basic business development in universities’ creative course curriculum.
  • Publish minimum rates for creative professionals and establish Fair Pay in an institution akin to “The Living Wage Foundation”.
  • Update the law around payment terms for freelancers and SME’s, ensuring quick payment turnaround.

Spread the stardust

Cinemas used to play short films before features, allowing audiences to discover something new and increasing exposure to deserving talent. These days are unfortunately over—short films are cast aside for ad revenue. Audiences’ opportunities to see emerging talent alongside the greats have dried up.

There’s no doubt known artists are the ones making sales, but showcasing emerging talent lays a stepping stone in audiences’ collective consciousness, quietly building rapport between audience, emerging talent, and the overall development of the creative pyramid.

What We Can Do

  • Offer large creative businesses incentives to integrate emerging talent in their programmes.
  • Ringfence public spaces to showcase emerging talent (e.g. TFL hosts Art on the Underground).

Fragmentation helps no one

A few years ago, the creative industry’s exact sectors were vague, but since then the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) published a definition to simplify our understanding of what constitutes the creative industry. With this information, we need to rethink how we support these segregated sectors as a single ecosystem.

Start by addressing fragmentation within government-backed organisations supporting the creative industries. Tackling three main challenges frees up massive potential:

  • Uniting organisations’ decision-makers and datasets will unify their future strategies and deepen their overall understanding of the industry and its growth. Institutions’ most innovative groups will receive more support if the creative industry can keep up with its own evolution.
  • Organisations share common challenges, and can pool problem-solving resources rather than spending them solving the same issues independently.
  • Merging organisations simplifies work for creatives, who usually waste precious time identifying who to go to and for what purposes. (e.g. Who should digital VR/AR artists depend on? The Space, ACE, NESTA, Creative Skillset, Digital Catapult, Tech City UK, DBA, Innovate UK…?)

What We Can Do

  • Establish a single point of entry for creatives to know where to go for what they need.
  • Centralise and simplify the existing support for creative industries into one organisation (e.g. a Creative Council) broken down into departments supporting the Arts (ACE), Film (BFI), and Digital (Tech City).

It's not just about money

Artists, like anyone else, need money to live. There’s no question they need sufficient income to afford basic needs (food, shelter, transport), but cheap access to space, protection for their intellectual property, and basic business mentorship are just as vital for creatives’ well-being.

Access to these resources lightens a burden on their creative ecosystem as well, cutting back on the need for funding and building a strong case for sustainable development.

What We Can Do

  • Facilitate access to unused publicly owned buildings, or buildings available on short leases, for creative projects.
  • Create an online resource of legal firms providing pro-bono services for creative talent.

Creativity is a business

Creatives, like any entrepreneur, have a strong sense of purpose. Businesses are not built solely to fulfil capitalistic endeavours—many are built to address a need much deeper than filling their coffers. In their case, money is only an agent that scales their operations and increases their impact on the world.

Creatives who reject this idea inevitably end up producing someone else’s work to survive, and businesses who ignore the importance of revenue and self-subsistence ultimately become a burden on the overall creative ecosystem.

The harsh reality of the world is that money is a necessity. It is not a crutch or a limitation—it allows us to continue working and sustain our creative freedom.

What We Can Do

  • Public funding should be the push that gets the motor running; not the gasoline in the tank.

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About the author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy