Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


DEBATES 2011 - Investing in culture - Interview of David Throsby

What is the link between growth/economic performance and creativity?

It is becoming increasingly clear that creativity is a key resource in promoting innovation in the economy.  Creative ideas are an essential ingredient in both product and process innovation, and these sorts of innovation are the drivers of technological change which in turn fuels economic growth.  Thus a link between creativity and the economic performance of businesses and of whole economies is established.  The cultural industries have an important role to play in generating creative ideas.  If we imagine the cultural industries as a system with the creative arts at the centre, we can begin to understand how artists and arts organisations generate ideas that diffuse outwards through creative industries such as film, media, publishing, fashion and design, and contribute to innovation both in those creative industries and also in the wider economy.  Moreover creative workers who are trained in the core arts also move from there to apply their talents and skills in other industries that may be far removed from the cultural sector, such as manufacturing or financial services.  Any economy wishing to maximise its innovation potential should nurture its cultural sector, and in particular should ensure the health and sustainability of the core creative arts where new ideas originate and where creative people gain their skills and experience.

What are the risk and success factors in cultural investment?

The term “cultural investment” is a wide-ranging one, covering a variety of different forms and levels of expenditures on culture by the public sector, by private enterprise and by public-private partnerships.  At one extreme is the sort of long-term investment in cultural infrastructure which will continue to generate economic and cultural value over time, and which is essential to underpin the cultural health of the community and the nation.  For example, investment in cultural institutions such as museums, galleries, libraries, archives, public broadcasting systems, historic heritage and so on provides the foundations needed for a reflective and vibrant cultural life.  It should also be understood that such expenditures, whether by governments or by private patrons, are not limited to large-scale organisations, but also apply to the smallest artistic enterprises, where relatively modest amounts of support can be seen as an investment in the artistic and financial sustainability of creative businesses.  At the other extreme lies investment in speculative ventures – a new festival, a film project, a heritage tourism development, an avant-garde theatrical production or an initiative using new media or digital technologies with cultural applications.  These sorts of investments are similar to research and development expenditures in the economy generally, insofar as their likelihood of success may be difficult to predict.  In the cultural sector such riskiness is part of life, but when the project succeeds the payoff can be very high -- sometimes culturally, sometimes financially, and hopefully in both.  There are policy implications here.  Public agencies can help venture capitalists and other investors by sharing the risks – such incentives to innovation are utilised in many industrial arenas and their applicability to the cultural sector needs to be more widely appreciated.

Can we imagine cultural development without financial investment?

If by “cultural development” is meant the progress of the arts, the answer is probably “yes”, insofar as artists have always continued to create art out of an inner drive to realise their artistic vision, regardless of their economic circumstances.  But there is absolutely no doubt from many surveys of contemporary artists across all art forms – writers, visual artists, musicians, actors, dancers, and so on – that financial constraints prevent artists from devoting as much time to their artistic work as would be most fulfilling for them.  Thus there can equally be no doubt that enlightened investment in cultural development by governments, by corporations, by foundations, and by private citizens is essential to bring about the conditions for a full flowering of creative activity. One has only to look at the long sweep of history of the creative arts to recognise that the most productive periods have been those in which creativity was fostered by stable systems of financial support for artists and for a range of cultural organisations and enterprises.  These arguments are important in industrialised countries, but are also relevant in the developing world – it is becoming more widely understood that financial investment in the cultural industries can be a significant element in promoting development in poorer countries, given the role that these industries can play in fostering social cohesion, economic empowerment, poverty alleviation and cultural sustainability


Credits: Macquarie University