If ever there was a divisive term, it’s the phrase “creative industries”.  People just seem to either love it or loathe it. Advocates of  an Irish “smart economy” economic recovery see the creative industries as a collection of innovative business sub-sectors who generate novel intellectual property and redesign/recombine existing technologies into new products that are both intermediate inputs into the economy-wide innovation process and finished products in their own right. At first glance, this doesn’t seem so objectionable. While not being a panacea to the economic travails we’re enduring at the moment, it offers the hope of enhanced productivity and (dare we say it) a “competitive edge” for Irish firms in the domestic economy and in the global marketplace. The creative industries may even generate some sustainable employment, if not directly then indirectly (though nowhere near the number of new jobs we need to absorb our ever-growing dole queues).

Critics of the “creative industries” notion, however, would beg to differ. First, there’s the term itself. Creative industries are generally defined as those industries which generate intellectual property (IP). But this implies, according to the critics, that creative ability is only harnessed for economic gain and that it can be measured in economic terms. What’s more, this established definition can be traced back to the UK’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport in the mid-1990s – which leads some to dismiss “creative industries” as Blair-era spin aimed at rebranding the economy and producing flattering measures of both current and potential economic activity. A second (perhaps more pragmatic) critique is similar to that voiced on RTE’s recent The Front Line discussion of the Smart Economy idea (May 10th): basing strategies for economic recovery on the creative industries would involve investing serious amounts of taxpayer’s money in R&D activities that may or may not succeed in the long term, and are unlikely to create significant employment in the short-term for the cohort of people (such as construction workers) who have been hardest hit by the recession.

No doubt, the debate regarding the merits of the “creative industries” will rumble on indefinitely. However, we would like to offer a few  suggestions: first, maybe the hostility engendered by a term such as the creative industries could be mitigated if we reframe it as something more limited, such as “those industries that generate intellectual property and other novel products/ processes from existing technologies”, and accept that fact that creative thinking itself will never be amenable to industrial classification. Second, instead of talking in terms of a sub-set of creative industries, we could think in terms of “creative” activities embedded across the entire economy. Thirdly, we think those familiar what are deemed to be creative industries would accept that the industry itself is not one to generate large-scale employment opportunities, but instead is centred on micro-firms and the self-employed. In light of this, it would be wrong to trumpet the creative industries (or smart economy, or “innovation island” etc) as the potential source of short term employment, but rather as a source of differentiation that enhances domestic products and services though novel inventions and processes.

Even if one is not overly enamoured with the idea of the creative industries, it is still informative to have an impression what exactly is meant when we speak of the Irish creative industries.  Established industrial-classification based definitions of creative industries such as those discussed above point to the following as the creative industries sub-set: advertising; architecture; the arts and antique market; crafts; design; designer fashion; film and video; interactive leisure software; music; performing arts; publishing; software and computer services; and radio and television. The Arts Council have estimated that at a national level these sectors generate approximately €5.5 billion in terms of gross value added. A recent report published by Dublin City Council (which we have authored) estimates that, in the Greater Dublin Area, that same subset of industries employ over 77,000 people (59% of Irish Creative workers; 10% of total Dublin employment) and generate approximately €3.25 billion a year for the Greater Dublin Area. [The full report is available from Dublin City Council’s International Relations and Research Office and can also be accessed as a working paper here].

While the sub-set of industries included in this type of estimation is open to debate, the key message is that there is a significant reservoir of creative abilities in place within the Irish economy. The report also indicates that this sub-set of industries appears to be relatively more concentrated in larger urban centres. However, rather than being ammunition for a “Dublin versus the rest of Ireland” argument over job creation, the question facing us is how do we mobilise these creative resources (wherever they are located) to enhance the competitiveness of the broader economy in the medium and longer term.

Declan Curran and Chris van Egeraat