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So you think you’re a ‘creative’? Not until unless you’re fluent in ‘agency-speak’

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Confused about what a creative industry is? It’s simple: film, TV, video games and digital culture. That’s what the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) does and it’s why, three years on from the announcement that the Central Victorian city Bendigo was getting a Creative Industries Hub, the state’s Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley has announced that ACMI will be the “new operator” of this Hub.

If you’re a connoisseur of agency-speak, you’ll delight in the very elegant phrasing of the Minister’s “release” of the ACMI announcement this month: the team behind one of Melbourne’s leading creative institutions will “bring the much-anticipated Bendigo Creative Industries Hub to life”.

Much-anticipated? Well, long-anticipated at any rate. The Hub idea was part of a $7 million funding announcement made three years ago, and while its slow progress is understandable, given the ambitious reach of the idea, it’s also instructive. Is a government agency telling a community they need a “creative hub” a bit like the AFL telling Western Sydney they need a footy club? Would it be better to, say, put a footy club in Tasmania where there is already passionate interest and grassroot support? And what then, would it look like if that $7 million was invested into something that already exists, has support and is ready to benefit from funding and assistance?

This Creative Industries Hub is a local story, so probably not of much interest to those beyond Central Victoria (and possibly not even to many of them). But I do think its vagaries are instructive: I think it tells us a fair bit about what happens when the arts become creative industries, when government agencies try to become entrepreneurs, when the language of arts bureaucracies imposes strictures on the activity of those bureaucracies and when people who want good things to happen then try to mould their thinking into the shapes imposed by that language and those strictures.

So, trawling back over the rather sparse information since the first funding announcement, we learn that (this will not surprise you) a report was commissioned.

A “boutique creative and strategic agency” (a what? oh, never mind) based in Chippendale (yes, Chippendale in Sydney because… oh never mind) won the tender  “to undertake a research project under the guidance of a joint Creative Victoria and Regional Development Victoria steering committee, with the purpose of setting the strategic and commercial foundations for this hub”.

So, turns out that marketing and advertising are creative services, while film, TV, music and “the arts” are cultural production. But they’re both hot. And government agencies with “creative” in their title want to help them. With a report.

Apparently, two reports were produced, with the “final recommendations delivered to Creative Victoria setting out the key priorities for the hub, and the best way to progress with the preferred model, while working within the constraints of the project budget and governance opportunities.”

There doesn’t appear to be any mention of access to those reports, so let’s assume they were useful. Next step was the appointment of a Bendigo-based group “Becreate”, as organisers, who then seem to have become “cocreate”, who then withdrew within a year. Must have been a mismatch between the preferred model reported by the boutique agency and those “constraints” also mentioned.

Three months later, and Creative Victoria announces ACMI will now run the Bendigo Creative Industries Hub, intending to appoint a “Bendigo-based” coordinator (which you’d think was a given). They will also set up a “hot desk” in Bendigo for use by Melbourne-based creatives, and also one in their Melbourne base, for use by Bendigo creatives.

A Bendigo architecture company will now fit out the vacant building on Mitchell Street, with 2020 as the promised opening of a space that will host exhibitions and workshops. Certainly will be good to have a new gallery space in Bendigo and if it specialises in digital culture, or work from the region, that will be worth the wait.

Creative Victoria is, at this time, part of an ambitious research project, in partnership with ArtsNSW as well as the Australian Research Council. According to the people at the University of Newcastle, who are funded to run it, Bendigo has been identified as a hotspot – that is, somewhere that has “higher levels of cultural and creative activity”. Apparently, this research into 20 hotspots across the country will “generate direct benefits for creative practitioners and businesses”.

What’s a hotspot? It’s a place that has “above average numbers of people employed in creative services (e.g. design, architecture, marketing and advertising, digital content services) and cultural production (e.g. film, TV, music, the arts)”.

So, turns out that marketing and advertising are creative services, while film, TV, music and “the arts” are cultural production. But they’re both hot. And government agencies with “creative” in their title want to help them. With a report.

Many younger or inexperienced journalists do not understand the difference between public relations and marketing, between reporting and having an opinion.

Journalists used to analyse expenditure by government agencies and the effectiveness of outcomes, but we know what’s happened to journalism so media releases talking about hotspots, hotdesks, hotwhatevers now are published without comment. And even if there are reporters with culture rounds, they have probably been trained in universities in courses that are called “strategic communication”. Many younger or inexperienced journalists do not understand the difference between public relations and marketing, between reporting and having an opinion.

And I think this is maybe allowing the hall of mirrors-style model of what used to be arts funding proliferate unchecked. It must be awful to be the clever and passionate arts advocate who got the terrific job that would enable them to nurture artistic culture, only to discover where the money goes and to what effect.

Research does have to be done. And reports written, in order to keep communication channels open and flowing. But if the research is not actually a search for what we might not know but instead a validation of what we think we already know, you can tell, because the report will look and read like it could have been written without all that research.

If people who consider themselves creative – whether producers or service-providers (forgive my use of that clumsy term) – have lost the ability to speak and write with originality, courage and competence, we may as well close the office that reports to the Minister for Creative Industries and give the funding dollars to a plant nursery. Grow something that doesn’t require a report for us to convince us it’s worthwhile.

Main image: A view of Bendigo (via Wikipedia). If you want to make it in the ‘creative industries’ try not to think of it as a Central Victorian town or city,  but as a ‘hub’.

4 responses to “So you think you’re a ‘creative’? Not until unless you’re fluent in ‘agency-speak’

  1. This is a welcome green shoot in a desert of empty concepts and university driven “industry friendly “ research. Most arts people don’t criticise as they’d never get funding again. Acmi will take what it can. But the sheer lack of any real thinking within CV is filled by creative industry rhetoric which not only hollows out any cultural value but simply does not work.

  2. True, a bottoms up concept is best managed through collaboration and cross disciplines at a local level, I totally agree, but this has been attempted on numerous occasions over many years without real success. I congratulate the efforts of those who have tried. If ACMI can deliver what is needed/wanted so be it. I agree it is a pity that bureaucracy requires yet more research and reports. Well said Rosemary.

  3. Thanks for this outstanding research and writing, Rosemary. Sounds like arts funding is disappearing up its own expressive outlet.

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