Don’t let our creative talent go to waste

Many hope that the V&A Dundee will stimulate greater interest amongst young people in design as a career
Many hope that the V&A Dundee will stimulate greater interest amongst young people in design as a career
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More resources are needed, says Robin MacPherson

If Scotland post-referendum is to fully realise the cultural, economic and social potential of the arts and creative industries we will have to work harder to encourage young people’s creativity both inside and outside education.

Though no-one seems able to agree the precise scope and definition of the creative industries, one thing is indisputable: individual talent and creativity are central to their growth and sustainability. The UK creative industries as a whole grew at a rate three times that of any other major economic sector between 2008 and 2012. But such a prodigious growth rate won’t be achieved in Scotland without more attention being paid to how we identify, nurture and retain the content producers of the future. Indeed, over that same four-year period Scotland’s creative industries have stood still or declined in terms of turnover, gross value added and employment.

Politicians of all stripes continue to assert the importance of creativity – from Jack McConnell’s St Andrew’s Day speech in 2003 “placing culture at the heart of government” to culture secretary Fiona Hyslop’s belief that “an independent Scotland will be a place where our arts, our creativity and our heritage is collectively celebrated, valued, nurtured and supported across the public, private and third sector”. But are we doing enough to make that vision a reality, particularly in and around our schools and institutions of further and higher education?

The introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has been an important step towards an environment in which creativity is valued both for its intrinsic value and its growing significance to our economic future. Meanwhile, the recent government and multi-agency Scotland’s Creative Learning Plan is a vital step forward, but needs real additional investment to achieve its commendable vision.

A good gauge of how seriously an education system, and learners, take a subject is which qualifications are studied. In Scotland, around 9 per cent of Higher entries in 2012 were in “creative industries” subjects (advertising, marketing, drama, media, music photography, visual arts), the same proportion as in 2008. Over the same period in England and Wales, A-level entries in creative industries subjects rose from 13 to 14.5 per cent of the total – a significantly higher proportion. If Scotland is to avoid falling further behind in educating the people who will fuel our creative economy as well as sustain our arts and cultural life, we need to address our school provision with more determination – and resources.

What happens outside school is equally important, and here too there are signs of progress, but still a great deal more to do. The recently launched National Youth Arts Strategy and the development of regional youth arts hubs will do much to spread government resources more evenly around the country. But disciplines which bridge arts and the wider creative industries – such as design or architecture – are too easily overlooked in strategies focused on visual and performing arts. Many hope that when the V&A Dundee eventually opens it will stimulate greater interest amongst young people in design as a career. However, without a truly Scotland-wide commitment to providing young people with access to inspiring design and designers, we risk failing to mobilise their imaginations and aspirations.

Similarly, government investment in the Youth Music Initiative has helped mitigate the long-term decline in local authority support for instrumental tuition. But we could do a lot more nationally to develop the interface between musical talent, technical and commercial skills – for example, ensuring young artists, producers and audio specialists have opportunities to come together to develop, record and market their work.

Across the country our further and higher education institutions offer a wealth of opportunities for young creative talent. And talent we undoubtedly have. Nonetheless, the sector remains relatively poorly resourced, while the system which feeds it is still something of a postcode lottery. The long-awaited Skills Development Scotland investment plan for the creative industries should help focus energies in the skills sector. Rightly so. Because both for its intrinsic value and its potential to contribute much more to Scotland’s economy, creative talent can and should be placed much more firmly on the education agenda.

• Robin MacPherson is Professor of Screen Media at Edinburgh Napier University


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