14 September 2023

Unleash Britain’s thriving creative industries by focusing on ART

By Patrick McCrae

Is Britain’s art market thriving or diving? Well, that depends on what you read. 

You don’t have to look far to find negative stories about the UK’s culture sector, from Brexit sending the UK art market into a tailspin, to diminishing arts funding, or even previous Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’ war on Channel 4. 

But that’s only part of the story. What is too often overlooked is what a resounding British success story the creative economy is. 

The UK’s creative industries are growing at 150% the rate of the wider economy and contributing £108bn in gross value added annually. The sector is also a fantastic job creator, with employment exploding at five times the rate of the rest of the economy over the last decade. 

The raw ingredients are there for the UK to establish itself even more emphatically as one of the world’s leading arts economies. In a post-Brexit reality where soft power is of pronounced importance to Britain’s standing on the world stage, facilitating further growth needs to be a priority. 

The government has taken the first, positive step towards realising this ambition by unveiling its Creative Sector Vision. This marks the industry out as one of its five key sectors for growth (digital technology, green industries, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing are the others), and pledges £77m of new investment. 

Ambitions are lofty, with a goal to maximise growth of the creative industries by £50bn by 2030. The government announcing its commitment to growing the creative sector will help to address perceptions that the arts are a soft, ‘nice to have’ rather than an economic powerhouse. 

The next step is to create a regulatory environment that supports creative businesses, and ensures we have the most competitive creative economy on the planet. This is where the current shortfall in the government’s strategy is. There is huge focus on how we regulate and make a success of AI, Tech, and other sectors from political stakeholders and the media. But all are overlooking a huge opportunity to win big by creating an environment that ensures the UK’s creative sector is the biggest, best and most vibrant in the world. 

As a creative business based in London and working in more than 20 countries, we at Artiq believe three key policy changes can give our sector the boost it needs, and they’re all about ART –  Awareness, Red tape, and Talent. 

We need to demonstrate to the most promising upcoming talent that there is a pathway to a successful and lucrative career in the arts or we risk losing them to other sectors. 

Awareness of arts careers is poor, and more needs to be done to redress the imbalance between the creative sector and the likes of tech. The government recently invested £100m in improving computing teaching to increase the number of pupils taking computer science at GCSE and A Level. This is more than the total £75m committed in funding towards the Creative Sector Vision to 2030. 

Perceptions that there is little money to be made in the arts are a significant barrier to entry. The government has cut funding for art and design courses by 50% across higher education institutions in England, while 62% of students say they do not feel they receive adequate information about creative careers at school. 

An awareness campaign that highlights the career opportunities in the arts, in the same way the Government has done for STEM, can continue to change attitudes to working in the sector. 

Red tape issues need solving. Between 2019 and 2020 UK cultural goods exports fell by 47%. Disentangling the impact of the pandemic and Brexit is difficult, but some other countries achieved growth in the same period. Shipping delays are a continuous problem, and four to six week delays are not uncommon. 

The onus is on the Government to talk to the industry and find solutions to make trade easier, quicker and less costly at customs if British businesses are to compete in the international art market. 

Expanding the talent pool can give UK businesses a further competitive edge. At Artiq we are our client’s cultural conduits, opening doors to the arts and cultural worlds. This often requires us to deeply understand local cultures and what better way to do this than by working with someone from that culture. 

Before Brexit, we had access to the entire European talent pool and as a result 40% of our team are not British, proof of our international reach. Since Brexit, that talent pool is much harder to access.

Expanding the global talent visa to recognise those working in creative business and consultancies, as the global talent visa does for tech companies, can solve this by ensuring the best international workers can work in the UK. 

This is a moment of immense opportunity for both the government and the creative sector, but we need those making policy to be bold and focus on ART if the sector is to realise its enormous potential.

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Patrick McCrae is CEO of international art agency Artiq.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.