The latest edition of Cultural Trends leads with two articles on the way that those who support the UK’s creative industries create and then use data and ‘evidence’ for their usefulness. One example of the sort of advocacy that currently happens might be — an organisation feels the need for a publication that will showcase “best practice” in using artists to consult with isolated communities. They can find no such pre-existing “best practice” projects, so they recruit some community artists to do these projects. The results are set to be featured as “best practice” in the publication, in order to help elicit future funding.  It’s to be hoped that the projects are indeed successes.  But the risk of failure, in even the best managed project and with strong artists, is significant. What if the artists fail? One might suspect that bureaucratic momentum will mean that their project would be massaged to appear as a “best practice” project anyway, since the editors of the publication will be those who paid for the projects. The same kind of massaging happens at a wider level, with regional cultural organisations exhibiting an …/cough/… “overly pragmatic attitude to evidence”, especially to evidence about employment figures.

So, back to Cultural Trends. The lead article is:- “Beyond advocacy: “Developing an evidence base for regional creative industry strategies” by Calvin Taylor. This is part of the current scrummage among policy wonks, ahead of the Treasury’s forthoming Spending Review, which is expected to significantly cut arts spending across the UK and pave the way for a drastic reduction / rationalisation of business-support agencies.  Some snippets…

” … despite the number of mapping and economic assessment exercises that have been carried out, there has been no consensus about the central issues concerning methodology, definitions of robustness and the balance between primary research and secondary analysis of existing data.”

“… growth patterns [of the creative industries in the UK regions, 1998-2002] are in an important respect the product of classification [i.e. DCMS figures lumped in all .dot com ‘Software consultancy and supply’ as being ‘creative industries’], rather than the observable behaviour of the relevant economic activity. Equally problematic, from a cultural sector advocacy perspective, are the corresponding figures for the combined arts activity classifications [because it appears the contribution of ‘the arts’ to regional creative industries has – in the three regions sampled – stayed static at around 12 percent].”

When he takes out ‘Software consultancy and supply’ from the 1998-2002 calculations, the author sees a very different picture. A much more modest growth in creative industries employment, with some regions like the North West being essentially ‘back where they started’ by 2002.  He concludes that…

“The current danger is that regional policy will potentially misfire unless advocacy for the creative industries rises to the challenge of developing a credible evidence base,”.

Is this credible evidence base being speedily developed in the West Midlands?  Thankfully the second Cultural Trends article, “Extending the cultural research infrastructure: The rise of the regional cultural consortiums in England” reports that a cultural industries researcher is indeed being recruited to cover the West Midlands, paid for from a regional research budget of £60k (£36k in real terms) over three years, and they’re to be based in the Regional Observatory. Let’s hope they’re a quick worker. [tags]creative industries[/tags]