Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Creativity can lead us out of recession and beyond

Nelson McCausland says we shouldn’t underestimate the economic importance of the creative sector

The coalition Government at Westminster is being heralded by some as a new era of political collaboration. That remains to be seen, but consensus certainly exists across the realm's Parliaments and devolved administrations on the need for new solutions to diverse problems.

The United Kingdom faces major economic challenges and an era of fiscal austerity. The danger is that the creativity and innovation required to tackle these challenges will be hindered by short-sighted cuts that disproportionately impact on catalytic programmes that are helping to lead economic recovery.

Culture and the arts might be considered by some as lower priorities in such difficult times. But this overlooks the development of a sector globally recognised for its economic impact - the creative industries.

Prosperous economies are characterised by a strong creative sector. These industries create wealth and jobs through the content they devise, the services they deliver and the experiences they provide.

Approximately two million people in the UK are employed in the creative sector and the creative industries contribute a greater proportion of GDP in the UK than in any other nation.

Many British designers, architects and film-makers are world leaders in their fields. An exciting growth area is digital media, which provides new opportunities for business endeavour.

But creative entrepreneurs do not appear spontaneously. Investment in the arts and creative sector directly strengthens the economy, for it fuels the emergence of creative people, services and enterprises.

This potential should not be underestimated. Belfast was once the world-leader in shipbuilding and linen manufacture, today the city that built Titanic is establishing a global reputation based on creativity and innovation.

Northern Ireland has been hugely successful in attracting major film and television productions. It boasts a massive built space that doubles as a quasi-film studio - the former Paint Hall in Belfast's shipyard.

The US cable network HBO recently announced that the series Game of Thrones will be filmed in Northern Ireland. This will be one of the largest television productions ever shot outside the US and demonstrates the region's ability to compete on the world stage.

Furthermore, a growing and vibrant local sector includes the many individuals and small businesses working in digital media.

From iPhone apps to leading-edge digital animation, Northern Ireland creative talent has the potential to develop as a world-leader for both film location and the lucrative post-production market.

The Executive, through my department, oversees a diverse remit that includes the arts, sports, museums, libraries, languages and public records.

Consider for a moment how increased participation in sport reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes - major challenges costing billions of pounds annually.

Museums and libraries are catalysts for learning and community engagement and provide inspirational education and training opportunities.

The promotion of language diversity and access to historical archives promotes social inclusion and a shared future through better understanding of history and identity.

The joint manifesto produced by the Westminster coalition states that "a vibrant cultural, media and sporting sector is crucial for our well-being and quality of life".

The challenge for all UK political administrations is to fully realise and invest in the potential of the creative sector and its ability to catalyse creative ideas, partnerships and innovative solutions that help tackle key challenges in health, education, social inclusion and the economy.

Nelson McCausland is Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure

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