Hamilton's Planning & Economic Development Department must take care not to define creative industries too narrowly. The good news is, they're listening.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published November 24, 2009
The Planning & Economic Development Department of Hamilton (I'll abbreviate this as EcDev) has been engaged in developing an Economic Development Strategy for Hamilton. EcDev has identified six "clusters" to focus on: Advanced Manufacturing, Clean-Tech, Goods Movement, Biosciences, Agri-business, and Creative Industries.
I was privileged to attend a strategy session for the Creative Industries cluster in the spring of 2009, representing the Hamilton design firm factor[e]. At the time, the cluster was described as consisting of "Film and Culture", and most of the attendees were artists.
As a technologist, I felt like the odd one out, but my company is most definitely a creative one, which I pointed out during the session. We are engaged in many activities that are more accurately described as engineering or computer science than art, but they are still creative, and I felt they ought to be included in the definition of creative industries.
As well as these technological activities, we are engaged in graphic design, illustration, logos and branding, print design, web design, video post-production work, and many other creative activities. Our CEO and founder is an artist (paint and sculpture) who is well-known in the artist community in the city, and we employ several artists, since it takes artists to create great graphic designs, websites and logos.
Many other people at the session also objected to the focus on film, advocating for a strategy that also included musicians and other artists. The message was clear: the definition of creative industries in Hamilton should not be a narrow one.
About a month ago, I received a draft copy of EcDev's Economic Development strategy with a request for feedback. The document has a separate section for each cluster. I read the section on the Creative Industries Cluster and not long after I sent a response containing some criticism, which I'll share here.
Before I do so, it's important to note that this process is very promising, and that's because the City's Economic Development Department is listening. Identifying and engaging the people working in the sectors they hope to promote is the single best thing EcDev could have done, and they deserve kudos for that.
Looking at the draft strategy for the Creative Industries Cluster, it is clear that EcDev heard the message that the original focus on film was too narrow. The draft strategy now focuses on the "measurable creative strengths of Hamilton's economy, namely, Music and Film". Unfortunately my colleagues and me, this definition still skips over the industry that employs us.
The only activity we are involved in that fits the categories identified in the draft is video post-production work, but that is a minor part of our business, so we appear to be excluded from the strategy.
This is a mistake for several reasons.
First, Hamilton has a growing community of designers and web developers. This is a strength which I believe should at least be measured before it can be deprioritized.
Second, in the strategy, "creative industries" are melded with "cultural industries", which are then essentially defined as entertainment. Creative endeavours and entertainment are not the same thing, however, which is clear when you consider Richard Florida's definition of the "Creative Economy" (Florida is referenced in this part of the strategy), which is wide. Florida's Super-Creative Core is "a wide range of occupations (e.g. science, engineering, education, computer programming, research) with arts, design, and media workers making a small subset".
Care must be taken not to make the definition of creative industries too narrow - or too wide. I don't think that education should be included in the sector. However, I do think that graphic design clearly fits within the definition, and so does architecture and engineering. Furthermore, the economic and cultural incentives that would serve to spur music and film in the city would work equally well for other creative activities.
Third, Hamilton has a strong background in industrial design, given our manufacturing and industrial base. It is probably difficult to turn someone formerly employed in a steel mill into a painter or a filmmaker, but they may be perfectly suitable for jobs that lean more towards the design and scientific side of the creative spectrum. In other words, we have people here that have a better chance of finding employment in the creative sector if it is more broadly defined than just music and film.
Fourth, some of the activities listed in the strategy are economically limited. The strategy mentions a number of theatres, musical venues, and art galleries. One example from close to my home is The Casbah. Yes, The Casbah hosts a lot of great musical acts, but I would argue that many of the jobs provided by The Casbah (waiting tables, tending bar, etc.) do not have positive economic impacts as great as jobs in graphic design, web design, photography and architecture do.
Finally, there is an important threat to the strategy that goes unmentioned: the rapidly changing landscape of the Internet. The music industry is undergoing enormous, transformational change right now. Film is going to be next to undergo these changes, as the ability of the Internet to transmit film and television improves. Any strategy which focuses on industries that are going through this much change is highly risky.
In contrast, the very forces that are threatening music and film are the same ones that are driving digital media companies forward. EcDev should hedge their risk and include more activities in their definition of creative industries.
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