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There are many long term challenges facing the creative and culture sector in the UK, as discussed in our previous election blogs (here, here and here).

The rather unimaginative consensus we have seen in the election campaigns serves to disguise the nature and extent of these challenges, but also does nothing to recognise the fundamental ways the sector is working to reinvent itself. 

At BOP, through our work with clients across the creative industries, arts, culture and heritage communities, we think there are signs of a totally new landscape in the making – as organisations and government start to recognise the importance of ‘opening out’. Any incoming government will do well to pay attention to this emerging paradigm.

So, what does ‘opening out’ mean in practice?

A new contract with audiences and the general public.

In spite of strenuous efforts in programming, marketing, education and technology, the demographic profile of audiences for culture has remained stuck in the same place for the past 40 or fifty years. This state of affairs is not sustainable in business or public service terms – especially with increasing competition for people’s attention and wallets. It must be changed. As the experience of the Heritage Lottery Fund* shows, where there is a will (especially from leaders) there is a way.

New model cultural organisations that are conceived as open platforms.

For cultural buildings, this means engaging with their neighbourhoods to become (cultural) public spaces, and enthusiastically engaging their audiences and supporters to shape their programmes. For non-building based organisations, this means maximising the value of technology, networks and partnerships to achieve an equivalent opening out. Think the Barbican’s new innovation centre in East London, Fish Island Labs, or Home in Manchester, the new base for Corner House and The Library Theatre.

New model creative service organisations…

…whose core purpose is to address the big social challenges of our time. Two significant new developments are the incubator set up by Tim Joss and the Arts Impact Fund.

New patterns of public and private investment…

…that work together to build the new infrastructure described above, and to reward innovation and opening out. Within this, a more considered allocation of public funding across the UK, taking account of London’s dominance as well as the capital’s greater access to private income.

A digital public space.

The cultural hegemony of GAFAT** is not inevitable. Neither is the privatisation of the internet. With our existing cultural and civic institutions – and with newly created ones like – there is a historical opportunity to create a digital public space that hugely expands opportunities for the people of the UK to experience, contribute to, and benefit from cultural and creative activity.

A new commitment to creative and cultural education, within formal education and beyond.

The evidence is increasing that the reforms across the education system in the last ten years may be decreasing the take up of creative and cultural learning at secondary school level and narrowing the range of opportunities at post-16 education and beyond. The result is a situation where your ability to experience culture as a young person and the likelihood that you will choose it as a career is based the wealth of your parents and what kind of school you go to.

More, deeper linkages between the publicly funded and the commercial parts of the sector.

Whether you call it an eco-system or not, encouraging these inter-connections can only help to grow the size and reach of the sector. The recently created Creative Industries Federation is an important new catalyst.

A more clearly understood skills compact…

…between employers (large and small), the government and individuals. One which opens new, fair gateways into creative employment and which enables individuals to upgrade their skills as they progress though their careers. Within this, there needs to be equal emphasis on creative, technical and management/entrepreneurial skills.

Renewed commitment to the free international movement and exchange of talent, ideas, products and services.

A great part of the UK’s success is down to its historic role as an international hub for creative talent and investment. At the same time, there are many emerging markets for the UK’s creative products and services.

Our experience at BOP is that in the UK we have the ideas, the ingenuity, and the creative raw material to build this new order. We have the cultural and civil institutions (although we may needsome new ones). But above all what we need is a clearer shared vision for the cultural and creative industries – not just as a sector but as a public good whose root value increases the more it is opened out, spread and shared across the population. Once this vision is in place the necessary investment is much more likely to follow. The returns to the UK could be incalculable.


*BOP’s report on the impact of the HLF’s Major Grants Scheme 1994-2014 will be published in June. 

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Paul Owens

Co-Founder and Director

Paul is a leading international advisor and practitioner in cultural policy and creative economy. He is Co-Founder of BOP, and alongside his fellow directors he has pioneered now well-established methods to measure the impact of cultural policy. 

Paul Owens - Founder and Director | BOP Consulting

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Paul Owens

Paul Owens

Co-Founder and Director