2 Oct 2006

Cultural and Creative Industries

The idea of promoting cultural and creative industries has become the major investment for most developed countries for about a decade, especially in northern America and Western Europe. Of course, both Taiwan and China also participate in this new trend and invest in this new industry. It has been about 10 years since the beginning of the competition between the two countries in this filed, and we have seen very different results in both investments.

Yesterday I read a long report about this issue on the local newspaper, and later the night I watched a short news programme on this topic again. Both have very harsh but precise comments on Taiwan's failure in this field. I don't really know why this topic suddenly becomes the focus for the local news. I can only guess, because of the current unstable political situation, the news channels and newspapers want to point out how incapable the current government is. The success of China in this field highlights the failure of the policy making and execution in Taiwan.

What is "cultural and creative industries"? According to the description of this term on the UNESCO website, its meaning is as follows:
"this term applies to those industries that combine the creation, production and commercialisation of contents which are intangible and cultural in nature. These contents are typically protected by copyright and they can take the form of goods or services. ...(It) may also be referred to as 'creative industries'. ... Cultural industries add value to contents and generate values for individuals and societies. They are knowledge and labour-intensive, create employment and wealth, nurture creativity - the 'raw material' they are made from -, and foster innovation in production and commercialisation processes. At the same time, cultural industries are central in promoting and maintaining cultural diversity and in ensuring democratic access to culture. This twofold nature –both cultural and economic – builds up a distinctive profile for cultural industries. During the 90s they grew exponentially, both in terms of employment creation and contribution to GNP. Today, globalisation offers new challenges and opportunities for their development."
In other words, promoting cultural and creative industries in fact creates employment opportunities for the public, strengthens the economic development of the nation, and raises the visibility of a country in the international society. The outcome of investing in this field is positive, and this is why, after the traditional industries move to cheap places for cheap labours, most developed countries would focus on and invest in this new field.

Let us analyse the UNESCO definition of this term more. It says cultural industries promote and maintain cultural diversity, and it ensures democratic access to culture. This is a very important concept for us when we are positioning ourselves in globalisation. How do we maintain our distinctive place without being marginalised in the process of globalisation? I believe most people would say building up the political and military power would be an advantage to maintain a country's international place. Many would suggest to develop the high tech industries or the IT related ones so as to secure the country's economic progress. Yes, I agree with both ideas proposed, and I firmly believe that these two measures would definitely bring good effects to both the public and the country. However, we seem to forget one very simple idea that can lift a country's competitiveness effectively, that is, the power of creativity and culture.

As explained by UNESCO, creativity is the raw material that generates culture, and culture adds values to the society. Due to this close relationship, creativity and culture are tightly linked that cannot be separated for discussion. If we invest our time and money in this field, we certainly will gain great values from it, and this great value will strengthen the society. A society would be free from the danger of being marginalised because it recognizes its culture. A society would have good confidence to compete with others because its value-added culture has become the true identity of the society. All we need to do is to allow the expansion of creativity, to build up good educational strategy for creativity, and to fulfill the needs of creativity. Though values gained through this measure would never be as concrete and solid as those gained through military or high tech industries, they are in fact more effective and perpetual. Therefore, I would argue that the best way to secure a country's place in globalisation is to promote cultural and creative industries.

Taking the Edinburgh International Festival as an example, this is the most famous international arts festival in the world. Its mission is to
"promote the cultural, educational and economic well-being of the people of Edinburgh and Scotland"
Starting from a very basic idea, the festival positioned itself as a platform for performing arts on the fringe and to promote cultural activities in the region. After years of development, this fringe festival gains good support from the government and attracts the international attention. Now it has become the leading arts festival in the world and represents both the arts scene and cultural industries of UK. Its success not only guarantees the country's place in globalisation but also fosters the economic growth in the country. Same story is happening in China now. The 798 SPACE in Beijing is on its way to be one of the most important cultural symbols of China. Its mission
"to host high-level cultural and commercial activities"
reflects what cultural industries can bring about. When this space gains its fame and attracts more tourists, we see new restaurants, cafes and bars opening, and this creates new employment opportunities. In fact, who benefits from this new art scene? It is the public, the municipal government, and even the whole country. As a result, its success represents what China can offer culturally. This invisible power not only promotes the cultural and economic well-being of the Beijing public but also lifts China's cultural position to the level of London, New York or Tokyo.

There are many successful examples in the world, and I have found the government's policy making and execution play the key to success. As I have mentioned, Taiwan has devoted almost a decade to promote cultural industries, but at present we have only produced a few internationally well-known ones, and they are all suffering to survive due to the lack of governmental support. We have set up many policies to promote our cultural industries, but most policies contradicted to the notion of promoting the cultural, educational and economic well-being of the public of Taiwan. Instead, what we have done is always about presenting big shows and conferences without giving references to what Taiwan is culturally. These big shows and conferences are always about what is the trendiest or the most discussed in the world. When an event cannot achieve what is expected, such as the participation of the public, their solution is always to invite a pop star to give a performance. How could this lift the cultural well-being of the public of Taiwan? Can a pop star performance innovate our creativity? The worst is the central government, for no reason, thinks cultural industries should be the responsibility of the local governments and is not keen on organizing policies in this filed as the main focus for national development. As a result, we can have more than 100 cultural activities in a year, all named as international festival or international conference. The funny thing is that almost none of these activities can survive in the next year. This is plainly wasting money and resources.

We do have some good examples in Taiwan, but all of them do not receive proper respect and good support from the central government. The most famous one would be the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Even these groups have gained their international fame and are regarded as the representation of Taiwan culture, in politician's point of view, cultural industries are still not worth talking about. This is really sad. How could we expect the country to be strong when we are not taking our culture and the development of it seriously? Frankly speaking, Taiwan does not have any international influence despite the IT industries or maybe our foreign savings. Worse than that, we are already losing our advantage. Moreover, we cannot compete with other countries politically or militarily because we are not even recognized as a nation-state. We should really take our chance to build a society where creativity is freely expressed and culture is progressing. I believe in the twofold nature of the cultural industries. It can help the economic development in the country and can guarantee the country's international place in globalisation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, there

    seeing ur blog by coincidence during my research for studying in the UK. Just want to let u know that your writing is great n keep doing.