In the last couple of years, I’ve become curious about the relationship between the creative industries and current post-industrial society. I can’t avoid questioning their contribution towards the cultural development of London. I wonder whether the industry has become just another mechanism of reinforcing the stratification of society. Or does it provide artists with the exposure that is so vital in terms of accruing cultural capital and transcending the predetermined social structure?

London is possibly the most multicultural city in the world, with over 300 languages spoken across countless international communities. It is a bustling hub, where the ‘creative industries’ employ over 550,000 people – equivalent to around 12% of all working Londoners. There’s little doubt – creativity contributes massively to the economy, and the sector has been growing continuously by almost 7% year-on-year from 1992 to 2004.

The industry remains one of the areas where the UK has firmly retained its competitive advantage. The country has invested a lot into safeguarding its future as a creative nation, but that is not to say that we’re in for an easy ride. The artistic aesthetic continues to be challenged, both in traditionally defined areas as well as new areas of enquiry. The Arts, education, resistance to commodification and the artist’s autonomy in disrupting the status quo are all under scrutiny, as are more recent innovations around skills development and the protocols of the internet.

Creative industries constitute a vital core of this country’s economy – most of their commercial operations have become vital generators of wealth and employment. Unfortunately, they can also create inequalities in the public cultural landscape. As John Hartley states in The Creative Industries, 2006, the core of culture is still creativity, but creativity is produced, deployed, consumed and enjoyed quite differently in post-industrial societies from the way it used to be.

So, how important is it that these creative activities can contribute to increasing cultural capital, diversity and artistic freedom, while at the same time preserving the ability to generate income?

In a recent interview, Tessa Jackson, CEO of the Institute of International Visual Arts, defended her strong commitment to championing these issues, including the commodification of goods and services. However, she maintained that her first priority is protecting innovation and the diversity required for producing an artistic context, critiquing societal structures and encouraging change without following the ‘mainstream’ institutions.

From my point of view, it is crucial to promote and support innovation and creativity within the creative industries. However, it is also important to keep cultural development equitable, and to allow for full participation and empowerment.

“Culture is the fountain of our creativity. Once we shift our view from the purely instrumental role of culture to awarding it a constructive, constitutive and creative role, we have to see development in terms that encompass cultural growth.”

– UNESCO, Our Creative Diversity, 1995