Friday, 8 June 2007

Blueprint - Growing Auckland's Creative Sector

This post might get a tad contentious - or if not that, then a trifle cranky. I get like that when I can't understand something that I feel I ought to. It's like an old client of ours who when faced with a particularly dense set of specifications, in reply to the question, 'is something wrong, Roger', said, 'I can't for the life of me see what I'm being asked to decide'. Note the verb he used - see - not understand.

Another image comes to mind - this time- the classic Hancock Half Hour episode, The Bedsitter: our local hero, Tony Hancock is spending the day reading and generally being the cultured gentleman he so aspires to. He's got Bertram Russell's History of Philosophy out of the Library, and is trying to read the first chapter - after three goes, each played to camera , he throws the volume down in exasperation, saying, 'Its ridiculous , I'm English, he's English, he's writing in English, I can read, but I don't understand a word of it'.

That's me - right now - Friday afternoon - the thin blue volume lying reproaching me from the desk, its little spine, hurt, resentful at my idiocy.

Blueprint - Growing Auckland's creative industries,
L0vingly prepared by the City Council, and presented last week to an audience comprising representatives of the creative sector, councillors, and officials, it represents the way forward for the great and the good of the creative sector to prosper as key contributors to the economic transformation of Auckland. It's a lovely thing - but the trouble is, like our Tone, I just don't get it.

I thought I did at the time - somewhere , after the speeches and the PowerPoint, and then the tea and the muffins - everything seemed really clear - that the creative sector at long last had a real civic champion, one which recognised that far from being supplicants to the real economy, they, the creative sector, head for head, contributed as much, if not more, to Auckland's economy than any other sector.

Moreover, not only did Auckland City get this in spades, when we all got home and opened the document, we would see the road map: would be able to count the initiatives, and the yellow brick road for the creative sector would be stretching for all to see, bright, clean and vibrant in the sun.

Three goals - nine strategies - one vision.
First the vision - to grow the City's creative industries and enhance the city's economic performance on a sustainable basis.

Then the three goals: first, raise the profile, so that Auckland's creative industries are acknowledged both nationally and internationally to be world class.

Second, support Enterprise, which I think means helping creative industries to both see and contribute to the regions competitive advantage. Third, create the environment , by making Auckland a stimulating city to work and live in.

After that come the nine strategies - you can work through these for yourself, here, however, just like when Tony Hancock reached Logical Positivism, that's when it all starts to go horribly wrong for me, because try as I might, I just can't see how the detail on all this is different to what happens now.

Goal 1 Raise Profile
For sure some bits make sense, for example, as part of raising the profile the Council will continue to support cultural events from the Writers Festival, NZ Fashion Week, Art Fair,Pasifika, et al.

But isn't this stuff mothers milk? Don't all Councils in the entire history of the world do this kind of as par of their knitting. So how will continuing to do this make the big difference?

Perhaps I'm missing the detail? Perhaps, 'promoting Auckland's creative sector as a key economic driver', as well as 'promoting the creative sector, by showcasing the diversity of the creative industries, including people and places' has a meaning which others can see, and I'm missing.

Believe me, I'm not being weird - I just don't understand what this means - is it blue - green - an apple - or a tangerine - and once you sort that out, who does what with whom?

Goal 2 - Support Enterprise
I'm equally at sea here - I think it means picking some winners - creating a couple of incubators, running a Cube like competition, and/or telling ever one over and over again until they are made to understand , but properly this time, that artists are creative people in their own right who actually earn money - pay taxes, and even employ people.

If that is the case, then fine, I'm in: I'm part of a digital media company that has been employing people for 10 years, and yes, it's hard work, especially. But that's true of any industry, and I suspect, as the Better by Design people have been saying for a couple of years now, every industry needs to feel 'creative'

Goal 3 - Create Environment
Now here I can feel glimmers of understanding - mostly because I can see objects, and places arising from the page - e.g. develop "creative quarters" like Aotea Quarter, Learning Quarter, Victoria Quarter. But plenty of other cites have done this - e.g. Wellington - and , for sure, if there are rate incentives, and some decent buildings made over into cute cheap studio spaces, it might just be a winner.

Throw in lots of street makeovers - and keep planting lots of trees and palms, then definitely, I'm back on the page going ra ra ra to that one.

But is that it? Is this all it takes? Somehow I have a feeling there is a whole lot missing, becuase, surely, it cant be that simple?

Soft Infrastructure
Surely it isn't all about the environment, whether environmental/ physical/ economic - isn't there some soft infrastructure to think about as well?

For example, isn't the creative sector, especially the next generation, embedded in communities, especially around the edges where the next wave lives.

And aren't these where the next Peter Jackson will come from -among the edgy guys who clutter up the streets, use the City Libraries, hang out in City community centres, run around City public parks with digital cameras , trawling the City council supported local festivals, posting photos on You Tube , playing games in Library Thing, raiding flickr, , swapping clothes in the Salvation Army op shops, buying toot on Trade Me, and then going home on public transport.. . blah blah blah.

In other words, creativity, and the creative sector grows inside the heart and soul of a city, with the best of them having their own personality and unique purpose; which in turn is made from a million incidents and accidents, many of which are caused, supported, or endorsed by a City Council going about its daily business with confidence , and dare I say a bit of pride of purpose.

In other words isn't the best thing that a City Council can do for the creative sector is to be brilliant - i.e. really really good - at everything it does? Including making sure its digital infrasture [web sites, ,community, learning, library facilities, customer relationships] are the best they can possibly make them. And isn't that just more than enough to be getting on with right there?

Public /Civic Space
And while I am finally making some sense, if only to myself here, isn't it a bigger worry that in all this fascination with the power and purpose of the "creative sector" and the Council's role in promoting the same, there is a huge danger the Council starts ignoring it's older but far more unique role of creating and maintaining public space.

Again, I'm not just talking physical space here - but that crucial intersection between government and business which in the good old days we used to call 'civic space' - a place where conversations about the city, what it is trying to be - and how we are going to get there was something worth having?

As the lawyers would have it, on these matters the document is silent.

Which to me is a great pity - cities for me, are not just places that a few lucky people get to be inspired in, they are, by definition, places for citizens - i.e. a place where people build communities with a common sense of purpose through a rich and active civic conversation.

The Vision Thing revisited - orchestrate compelling civic conversations
Increasingly, for sure, many of these conversations will be digital - and some of them will involve and be inspired by the creative sector, and if sucessful, there will be no shortage of opportunity for innovation and enterprise.

But carts and horses come to mind here - and if the City Council can help start these conversations, and support them by being responsive and accountable, then wouldn't they be provided us with the best vision of all?


Anonymous said...

*haha* I feel like that when I read some of the things you bring up on the blog. I know it's just a matter of making the connection - I can see the knowledge on the other side of the hedge so to speak but buggered if I know how to get through it. :)
The best thing about some of those vision-style documents is that it all becomes clear once you actually get into it and start to be involved in things. As it evolves - over years sometimes - one day you wake up and go "Aha! So that's what they meant by that - it's so obvious now."
Maybe a follow up post in a few years time? :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul - like the way in which you have tried to unravel some of the thinking here.

The report looks to be Woolly mammoth territory - half digested and well meaning but, somewhat disingenuous.

For another view check my post on
creativity & innovation-linked.

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