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An assistant director stands by as a production vehicle sends smoke down Yonge Street, during the shooting of the movie "Suicide Squad," in Toronto on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
An assistant director stands by as a production vehicle sends smoke down Yonge Street, during the shooting of the movie "Suicide Squad," in Toronto on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Edgar Cowan

Canada’s creative industries can lead the economic charge Add to ...

Edgar (Ed) Cowan is a media and cultural industries executive and part-time political operative.

Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum reported that Canada’s global competitiveness had declined from ninth place in 2009-10 to 15th in 2014-15 – and that our capacity for innovation had declined one place to 22nd since 2013-14. Devoid of seriously needed investment in innovation in recent years, one has to wonder how far we’ve fallen since.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada has estimated that the annual contribution of our arts and culture industry is 7.4 per cent of real GDP (as of 2007), accounting for 1.1 million jobs. As a gross total, that’s more than our mining, forestry and fisheries sectors, plus the Canadian Forces, combined.

Our creative industries, with the arts and cultural sector as its cynosure, could be an ideal gateway to a long-term strategy improving our competitiveness and our capacity for innovation, leading a more certain, sustainable future economy.

Canada’s base creative industries are hugely diverse – advertising, architecture, craft, design, fashion, television, information technology, software, publishing, museums, galleries, libraries, plus the performing and visual arts – and they have never been stronger. Our video game developers create some of the world’s bestselling titles. Our video animators populate Hollywood’s leading animation studios. And our architectural firms create some of the world’s highest-profile projects.

Any reduction in public investment in these industries will seriously undermine our creative and cultural ecosystems, creating a downward spiral in which fewer creative risks are taken, resulting in less innovation and declining returns, to the detriment of our economic future.

The one sector within this that has had to rely on innovation to survive and flourish is the arts and cultural sector, especially in the wake of so many serious decreases in recent public and private support.

However, if we are to grow, steps have to be taken to begin to build cross-party political support for a new national sustainable economic plan, based on innovation, with the creative industries – supported by solid government belief and understanding – leading a major charge.

Step one in this initiative should evolve from the development of a creative industries mapping document, a tool kit to accurately and authoritatively measure the sector’s contribution to Canadian economic health.

A similar process was an unqualified success in Britain – in 2001, it led to the British government becoming the world’s first to recognize creativity as a proper industrial sector. The British mapping document also proved that the creative sector outperformed the rest of the British economy in both growth and job creation.

In addition, the order of a second Massey Commission could add depth to a mapping initiative by recommending the creation of a new cultural industries innovation strategy, like its predecessor did in 1951. The Massey report led to the creation of the Canada Council for the Arts, Library and Archives Canada, federal aid for universities and conservation of Canada’s historic places, among other initiatives.

A new commission could focus on the public and private investment required for the growth of this cornerstone sector. Tax incentives for film, television, software development, theatre and orchestras are essential, but other forms of public investment could be examined: supporting R&D, testing new ideas, developing new talent and opening doors to innovative collaboration with other industrial sectors. Stimulating this variety of investment and income is a vital national priority.

Without adequate baseline investment, we cannot expect to maintain, let alone build on, our fledgling cultural and creative successes. Our cultural and creative industries can drive technological progress, as well as benefit from it.

While we are just 15 years into the digital millennium, it is crystal clear that creative and innovative uses of technology are essential to our future sustainable economic success.

The digital revolution has increased participation in informal creative activity and expanded the universe of artists into potential collaborative interfacings with other industrial sectors. It has created the opportunity for new networks and new forms of collaboration and interaction, transformed the production and distribution of established cultural content and allowed new forms of art and culture to emerge, thus enlarging the economic palette for innovation.

The public sector has a vital role to play in supporting digital R&D in the creative industries, which must be aimed at increasing innovative content production, audience engagement and financial modelling – thus resulting in new forms of social value, as technologies evolve. Clearly, a strong cultural and creative ecosystem would lead to greater intrasector collaboration and innovation.

This isn’t just about economic sustainability, though. The fruits of creative-sector collaboration, among the commercial creative industries and the purely cultural sectors, already range from familiar products, such as co-produced TV programming, to adventures in multiplatform storytelling that draw on expertise in technology, film, theatre and more. The possibilities are endless.

We must also be prepared to fully harness, and financially support, the importance of creativity in education and skills development to maximize our full creative potential. Doing so will ensure an innovative future and national well being, based on both a traditional and a digitally based education system, and a new-world curriculum that is infused with multidisciplinary creativity and economic enterprise. Failure to understand this educational issue dramatically reduces our capacity to produce creative, world-leading scientists, engineers and technologists.

Making decisive progress is both a social and economic imperative. Public and private financial resources need to be refocused across the cultural and creative industries to achieve this goal.

In Britain, the argument over the importance of creative industries and investment has prevailed. We cannot fully enrich Canada unless we do the same.

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