In this season of reflection, and on the heels of the transformations for the ‘New Kuwait’ to come, perhaps there’s no better time than the present to consider the creative economy, and the role it has in transforming our lives, our community identity, and the future shape of our cities. A little bit of a packed term, maybe: even if it is just now entering our own public discourse, the term ‘creative economy’ is not actually new. Scholars and economists have been exploring it for at least two decades, including a 1994 study by the Australian government and a 1998 report by the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport that identified key creative sectors, and began defining and assessing how creative industries have true impact on the economy.
Researchers are still exploring just what all this means, researching the ways we can study it properly, but the subject essentially covers the same question: how the skills and work of creative workforces and sectors, can have a considerable, transformative effect on our lives and the global economy.
Creative sectors include things such as film, music, dance, the visual arts like fine painting, illustration, graphic and product design, literature, theatre, architecture, fashion, the heritage sector, digital media, and so on. All interesting fields, even if traditionally considered as less significant to the clockwork of our economies and the backbone of our society than economics or commerce, medicine or engineering.
However, the creative sectors truly permeate our everyday lives and business, coming alive in the advertising department of every small business and multinational conglomerate, the television commercials, songs, and dances that are embedded in our collective memories and attention, even making a quiet but marked presence in the national development plans of the government of Kuwait. And they could have even greater value and power in the way we develop who we are on every level. John Newbigin, UK expert and policy advisor on the creative and cultural industries, studied some of the most exciting potential ways in which the ‘creative economy’ has already started to transform nations all around the world in the 21st century, particularly in the last decade.
In ‘What is the Creative Economy,’ his essay for the British Council introducing the concept, Newbigin shares thoughtprovoking case studies of how different developing countries have adopted and explored the concept of a creative economy. Some have started capitalising more on their invisible but living or attractive cultural heritage, cuisine, landmarks.
Others still have pushed the concept a little further by adopting soft, creative approaches to national development, flipping the script on narratives of their identity, and completely changing the way they wish to present themselves to the world — and really, also to themselves. People have been studying — and implementing — aspects of the creative economy for some time, but the whole thing is certainly not without its challenges: how can we study all the different aspects of these creative sectors in a quantifiable, measurable way? Do the creative sectors truly have impact on the evolution of our community, economy, or country (are they worth measuring)? And are there potentially problematic issues that can come with more active creative economies, such gentrification, possible exclusion of certain subsections of our communities, or even new class divisions and other unexpected changes to our demographics, the way our community sees itself and puts itself together? There are also inherent challenges in the way the term is defined (and how different countries and cultures define it in their own way), the ways we approach the term, the ways we gather information about it (and what we do with this information), how this affects public policy of economy or industry, cultural development and education, and so on.
Additionally, the nature of working in many of these creative sectors doesn’t have the relatively stable structure of working in more traditional jobs or fields, and the other controversial, complicated question of intellectual (or creative) property and access brings up more issues that policy is still figuring out. These questions and implications cannot be taken lightly, and these will continue to occupy researchers and policymakers in the decades to come as the way we produce and consume creative works.
But even if we don’t have all the right answers or predictions just yet, the potential positive transformations that can come with a creative economy are truly worth our attention. Creative economy appears at the intersection between culture, business, and technology, and brings the creative and cultural industries right to the heart of the economy, and the potential that this alignment presents is very exciting. This includes the huge capital and value the sectors often represent in the form of consumption or intellectual property.
This also includes the way in which the government, civil society, and the private sector could transform through the values that are key to creative work, such as openness and creative thinking, diversity, inclusivity, collaboration, interactive engagement, and constant evaluation or exploration. Collaboration, for example, could bring about stronger relationships as Robert Hewison writes in Cultural Capital — The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain, which include publicprivate partnerships; interactive engagement could see civic engagement accelerate into a movement where people have so much more agency and responsibility — care — for the way they move forward together as cohesive communities. And as the world navigates and understands the ever-changing global economy, and what has been described as the fourth industrial revolution, learning how to shape and reshape a nation’s identity can take it forward towards great possibilities. Anyone who has engaged in creative pursuits will see that the simple willingness to consider options, make mistakes, and engage in exploring all kinds of thoughts, can perhaps imagine how this can impact us on an individual and collective level.
It has probably been exactly a decade since I wrote an article exploring the justifiable impact that a liberal arts education (of the pure, ‘renaissance ideal’ of critical thinking integrated into the more ‘marketable’ skills of traditional higher education) can have on the economy, job market, or society. And I find myself considering the same question for this subject, something that is increasingly important to me as well as organisations such as Kuwait’s Nuqat, and various private or public policy entities.
At the time, I argued how intensely important they are in helping young students become true thinkers and learners, highly employable people contributing to vibrant economies, and builders of strong, developing communities. And now, one can only argue the same for the ‘creative economy,’ and its integration into the way we run our businesses and develop our nations. Although it continues to be a little hard to define, hard to justify, and sometimes hard to measure in the way they impact us, taking a closer look at the creative economy can help illuminate the way for us in the way we explore how creativity brings our community together, and the way we can envision our identity of the future — together.
By Nur Soliman
Social Communicator for Nuqat Nur graduated summa cum laude from the American University of Kuwait (AUK) with a degree in English. She has since worked as a curatorial assistant, cultural programmer, and writing consultant. In addition to her work with Nuqat, Nur continues to write professionally, and has also published academic articles and poetry in various journals as well as blogging about historic film. Nuqat is a Kuwait-based nonprofit organization for cultural development, founded in 2009 by a visionary team with a passion for inspiring critical, constructive dialogue. Through its events, collaborations, and conversations, Nuqat works with the community to set in motion innovative, sustainable cultural and creative development in Kuwait and the region