Why is I.T in the Creative Industries?

This is something that pops up from time to time, sometimes loudly, sometimes subtly or probably much more often by simple omission.

Creative Computing June 1983

“Creative Computing June 1983” by blakespot is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Economically, I.T is a huge part of the Creative Industries, so there is naturally a suspicion that ‘it’s just in there to bump up the numbers’. At least from the predominately more ‘arts-y’ end of the creative industries. It was around a third of the totals whether in terms of jobs or GVA, the last time I checked, I’ll leave you to interpret whether this is ‘dominating’ or not, but certainly made more noticeable by being a relatively recent addition to the ‘officially creative’ economy.

I also think this suspicion shows a degree of snobbishness and ignorance around who is allowed to say what is; officially, creative labour or not.

I think the situation has improved and people generally are clearer on definitions than was the case, say, 10 years ago. “Creative and Cultural Industries” tends to be the phrase du jour and we* get separate stats for each without having to dig into it quite as much ourselves. (*me and maybe 10 other losers).

There’s an interesting parallel in all of this too around arts education, from the numbers studying art & design at university to the way arts are taught in earlier education. Big nasty STEM’s coming for you whether you like it or not… The ‘Two Cultures’ fight continues…

Also see musicians* recently kicking off about visa-free touring in the EU. I’m sure many would rather not be in the situation of special pleading to begin with, but if you’re after special treatment: definitions matter! (*Not just musicians, but I think it is fair to say the touring restrictions have the largest impact, compared to say, visual artists).

This isn’t a full discussion about the creative industries or about the wider economy or late capitalism, the culture industry; but it is a big mess that touches on some of that stuff. I know, sorry to disappoint you. There are better read people than me to go to for that sort of thing anyway.

How did we get here?

The DCMS emerged (in 1997) from a re-branded Department for National Heritage (from 1992). Prior to 1997 the relevant non-departmental public bodies responsible for these areas directed their activities and information gathering largely independent of any significant departmental oversight. As such, the DCMS inherited a wide range of ad-hoc sub-definitions, benchmarking and statistical approaches that it has generally tried to co-ordinate and unify.

The cultural sector was initially defined by the DCMS as seven domains: visual art, performance, audio-visual, books and press, sport, heritage, and tourism.

The Creative Industries as a recognized policy term has risen within both the cultural sector and wider economic policy; particularly since ‘The Creative Class’ by Richard Florida in 2002. While this emphasised the positive direct and indirect effects of cultural activity; particularly in urban and high-technology contexts, it introduced another set of definitions to an already nebulous field. Florida used “3Ts” of Technology, Talent and Tolerance in his work, though I don’t think there was any particular suggestion that the underlying metrics he used, specifically, would ever go on to be directly implemented in policy; it seemed to be more of a one-off, top down ‘mapping’ type of approach rather than something for ongoing, consistent reporting, if that makes sense. Whatever: the general approach was undoubtedly influential.

As with the cultural sector, the creative industries were initially defined in a fairly effective yet ad-hoc manner, covering the following sectors: advertising, architecture, art & antiquities, design, designer fashion, film, video & photography, music & visual & performing arts, publishing, software/electronic publishing, digital & entertainment, media, TV & radio. The UK often trumpets its success in creative policy by referencing that other countries have adopted the same approach. (Incidentally, note that ‘tourism’ has dropped from the earlier responsibilities).

Bottom line, in economic and jobs terms, we pretty much just scooped up everything and everyone in those industries and said: “This is the Creative Industries and these are the Creative workers within it”.

A more comprehensive definition

This ad-hoc grouping didn’t last (well, 16 years is pretty good). There was growth over this time but the unhappy marriage between more profit-driven commercial enterprises and more public / civic-minded organisations, presumably, began to sour. What does a regional theatre and Silicon Roundabout really have in common? More to the point: what industry does not employ some degree of creativity?

“Every industry would surely lay claim to some measure of individual creativity, skill and talent; equally, it is difficult to think of a product which does not exploit some intellectual component in the form of patents, design elements or other intangible, symbolic properties which make that product unique.”  (Bilton and Leary quoted in Chapter 1, Origins of Creative Industry Policy, Flew)

In 2013, building from research led by NESTA, the DCMS revised its definition of creative industries, for the first time with a more consistent theoretical underpinning based on the concept of ‘creative intensity’ across both industries and occupations.

This is often a bit I think gets ignored in many discussions, whether deliberately or unknowingly. Employment should not, by default, be classed as ‘creative’ purely by virtue of the industry in which it takes place, and vice-versa. It is not a thing that is unique to certain buildings, practices or sets of tools.

The new definition was: “A role within the creative process that brings cognitive skills to bear to bring about differentiation to yield either novel or significantly enhanced products whose final form is not fully specified in advance.”

Breaking it down further, there are five core criteria for defining creative labour, summarized as / being:

1: Uses a novel process
2: Mechanisation resistant
3: Non-repetitive or non-uniform function
4: Creative contribution to the value chain
5: Interpretation, not mere transformation

Not all five would have to be met simultaneously or to the same degree. Both individual jobs and the overall concentration of creative jobs within industries were taken into account when establishing the new definition. It was no doubt a pretty huge task to go through swathes of SIC & SOC definitions (Standard Industrial/Occupational Classifications) and decide ‘how creative’ an industry or occupation was. It’s certainly more thorough than the decidedly ad-hoc and top-down approach from before. It has led to some surprising but I think ultimately welcome conclusions.

Some industries have quite a lot of creative jobs but fell short of the overall concentration required to be ‘officially creative’. Education was fairly close, for example.  I remember someone at the time being quite happy that town planners were now seen as ‘officially creative’. No, none of this top level industrial stuff is going to have an immediate impact on your day-to-day but it clearly shapes policy.

Why is everyone so put out by IT?

Let’s say you want to direct business support towards these new exciting ‘Creative Industries’. Can you support potters and programmers via the same events, workshops, loans, workspaces and other mechanism?

I did some work for Creative Leicestershire around the time these new definitions came in, so I have ruminated on it all for quite a while since then. Even a novice like me could see the longer term implications of this redefinition; where a local support organisation, having originally badged itself as representative of ‘the Creative Industries’ was faced with both a changing potential clientele and the changing, underlying terrain itself.

Just for reference, here those IT related codes that are now ‘officially creative’:

5821 : Publishing of computer games
5829 : Other software publishing
6201 : Computer programming activities
6202 : Computer consultancy activities

It gave me a chuckle to see the Creative Industries Federation has given these IT jobs their own little subtitle: “Creative Tech”. (“It’s not I.T, mum! It’s Creative Tech!”)

Even further back than that, say the late 2000s, I remember asking related questions of the Leicester Creative Business depot; how do you define the businesses that are eligible for your support? Even at this time, IT related businesses were among the ones that were the hardest to decide. Wonder if anyone ever complained about it.

Who are the people who get turfed out by ‘not being creative enough?’.  “Yeah we saw the new layout you did for the car dealership. Not very innovative, was it? Just a few simple revisions was it? Well, I’m afraid we’ll have to increase your rent if you don’t offset it do some more creative pro-rata stuff for this local kids group. You know, a mural or something.”

I’m guessing this situation has never happened, but in a way, the fact that it probably hasn’t raises a question over how useful the definition is. Proof by negation: Is this Russell’s Teapot for the creative sector? “It’s creative because I say so and you have no measure by which to prove me wrong.”

Is creativity really something you either binarily are or aren’t? Or if there is a sliding scale, then where are the cut off points? Is writing creative? Not if you’re writing a grocery list. Is coding creative? Not if you’re writing pretty much the same tic-tac-toe program to learn C as thousands of other computer science students. Is animation creative? Not if you’re drawing anime in-betweens for about $2 a frame. This is why further thinking like the five core criteria above are required and I don’t think it’s usefulness is solely limited to big government statistics departments either.

I also remember chatting to various techie start-up type folks at local meetups over the years. I often end up trying to bore them to death about this too. I’ll ask “So, you know Javascript, do you think of yourself as a creative worker?” Answers were often: 1: I don’t know what you’re talking about, 2: I think I am creative to a degree, but I don’t think I am specifically a creative worker, 3: Only if I was working on something particularly innovative or outwardly ‘artsy’ at the time.

Probably you could have a similar conversation with a Visual artist or Performer; but regardless of whatever they thought about themselves, very few people on the outside would consider them to not to be creative workers. (Well, if I’m doing workshops and education then maybe that’s not as creative as my main practice… what about when I’m sweeping up the workshop or filing my taxes for the year, am I still a creative worker then?)

Anyway, another ten years on or so, in Leicester, ‘High-Tech’ businesses got their own equivalent space in a building called The Dock, perhaps further illustrating the distinction – but still, residents of both buildings (and more besides) would end up being classed as part of the Creative Industries.

Problem solved?

Currently the DCMS has definitions for the Cultural Sector, Creative Industries and the Digital Sector; which I think is appropriate but you can definitely see the space for confusion even among people who give a flip about economic data and policy in this general area:

“DCMS have defined the Cultural Sector as those industries with a cultural object at the centre of the industry…there is substantial overlap between the Creative Industries and the Cultural Sector and also between the Cultural and Digital Sector, with some SIC codes appearing in all three sector definitions…Please note that the Cultural Sector is almost entirely within the definition of the Creative Industries.”(Link)

Am I imagining a degree of passive-aggressiveness in this? “Fine, have your three separate definitions!… they’re basically all the same anyway… GOD.”

Well, at least we now can be confused about the overlaps rather than arguing about who is or isn’t creative?

Ha ha ha. Of course, not. The arguing will continue regardless.

Has this all been just so much ‘definitional chicanery’ ultimately in the aid of fairly typical neoliberal policy goals? Everything of perceived value will be filtered through a financial lens until we can’t imagine an alternative?

This has all been an issue since anyone uttered the term ‘creative industry’. I don’t think there was a grand conspiracy to chuck all the cool new programming and coding jobs in the creative industries just to bump up the numbers…

…I mean, it has done exactly that and many people are knowingly or unknowingly on board with that – but at least the definition has continued to develop so that we can talk about this or that bit specifically, if we need to. As mentioned at the outset, capitalism certainly likes bumping up numbers so it’s no great surprise and I don’t have the space or brains to get into that further here.

More seriously then: Does the wider labour movement need reliable employment data and statistics? With everyone as disparate, temporarily scattered, non-unionized and under-recognized in the official stats as we are? I mean, clearly I think it would be pretty useful, yeah, else I wouldn’t have gone on about it for 2000 or so words.

Yes, the bigger organisations and networks are better at using this stuff for lobbying, getting money and making noise when things go wrong… Yes the local, smaller organisations and individuals don’t get a fair share… But I don’t think any of this is particularly unique to any particular ‘branch’ of the creative industries and as always it’s nice to see more solidarity. Who benefits from encouraging the programmer and the potter to see each other as so different?

Only quasi-related at best but I did like this piece which touches briefly on the general curses of sloppy thinking and sentimentality in The LeftTM. There’s something more interesting and useful about personal, industrial and policy relations in here somewhere but I think I’m out of time for now and need to quickly get back to being economically productive. Winter heating bill doesn’t pay itself.

Going back to my brief experience talking to IT people about whether they considered themselves ‘creative workers’ in a ‘creative industry’; probably the lesson I should have learned, or the question going forward, would be:

“How does anyone consider themselves a creative worker in a creative industry?”

(Is there a funding application to fill in? Well, sure, then just call me whatever you want!)

I also wrote something similar here for WonkHE about universities and creative industries.

Or for something even more ranty and pedantic, see here about STEAM vs STEM education

Finally, for further reading, I quite liked this pair of short articles from a while back advancing the definitional arguments against and for using the metaphor of a cultural ecology. Not enough time to get into it now, but for instance:

“At the time of writing, the UK Government doesn’t have an industrial strategy for creative industries… How much less confident are we, then, that the ‘hard cases’ specific to industry sub-sectors, from performing arts to design, can be solved in anything other than a short-term and piecemeal way?……It allows people with responsibility for the sector to imagine that it is in some ways a self-regulating and inherently resilient system.”


“All metaphors have their limitations, but I think Professor Holden’s analysis is right, and that the ecological metaphor is greatly superior to the linear metaphor of ‘spill-overs’…. For the creative industries, dead or alive, investment is the key challenge, and in the UK chronic short-termism is the enemy.”

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