Rise of the Creative Industries. Marshmallow Laser Feast project, Sao Paulo, 2015. Photo ©

Sandra Ciampone, adapted from the original.

January 2019

The latest government figures show that the creative industries are for the first time worth more than £100bn a year to the UK economy.  Kate Arthurs, British Council Director Arts, explains that there is much more the UK can do to make the most of the sector around the world.  

The Rise of the Creative Industries

The creative economy is one of the global success stories of the past 20 years, driven by technology, the growing wealth of many developing nations, the demand for international content, and of course creative talent and skills. Not only does it create cultural and economic value for the communities it serves; but it has also shown itself to be remarkably resilient as one of the few areas of the global economy to continue growing despite the financial crash of 2008. 

The UK’s creative industries have been growing faster than any other part of the economy. Services exported by the sector are worth £19.8b to the UK economy and account for 9% of total UK service exports

According to new figures published by DCMS at the end of 2018, the UK’s creative industries have been growing faster than any other part of the economy. Services exported by the sector are worth £19.8b to the UK economy and account for 9% of total UK service exports. British acting talent, for example, has played lead or supporting roles in 80% of live action titles in the top 200 films since 2001; while sales of British music outside the UK recently surged 11% to a record £365m. These are just a couple of the many success stories.

The creative industries don’t just play a vital role in the economy, however – they also help shape a country’s international image. In terms of the UK, cultural icons as diverse as JK Rowling, Alexander McQueen, Adele, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Adjaye (never mind James Bond, The Beatles and Shakespeare) have contributed hugely to how others see us. These and hundreds of other creatives – as well as our universities, museums, heritage, BBC, the English language, the Premier League, and the Royal Family – are our cultural assets, which contribute to our ‘soft power’. And the most recent Soft Power 30 Index (produced annually by Portland Communications) put the UK back at the top of the world, pipping France to the post. 

Supporting the sector

Through programmes such as festivals and seasons, cultural delegation visits to targeted countries, and many others, more can be done to help raise the global profile of the UK’s creative industries. Specifically, it is possible to support established cultural organisations and the ‘younger’ creative industries to forge new and deeper international relationships.  

Arts organisations from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are working internationally more than ever before, with China, India, South Korea, South Africa, Colombia and Indonesia being increasingly popular destinations. International work has become essential to many Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations’ business models with, on average, international activity now accounting for 14% of their income. 

In order to work successfully overseas, all cultural organizations, big or small, need to network. From flagship institutions such as Tate or V&A with well-defined international strategies to smaller ‘cultural SMEs’, international opportunities are often less about selling a product and more about sharing approaches and growing their networks.  Tailored opportunities to explore new markets and understand the context on the ground can help smaller cultural SMEs spot opportunities for monetising their expertise through creating training packages. 

It’s not all about money - it’s also about relationships and influence

Cultural engagement is two-way. And helping countries (especially developing ones) grow their own creative economies – through skills projects, sharing knowledge in conferences and inviting creative influencers to the UK – can be mutually beneficial to those countries and to the UK, which can gain from developing trust, contacts, and network which can then develop into future business opportunities. This long-term approach to internationalising and, as such, the Return On Investment sometimes takes many years to be realised. But it’s not all about money - it’s also about relationships and influence.

Kate Arthurs, Director Arts, British Council

See also