Image: Kalgoorlie musician Zach Inglis playing at an Eleven13 Records gig on top of a mining headframe at WA Museum Kalgoorlie.
A few years ago I wrote an article for Meanjin about the economic contribution of the creative industries. I know the research shows us that arts, culture and the creative industries make significant positive impact on a range of measures including health, education, social inclusion, wellbeing as well as having intrinsic value.
But the creative industries also make a substantial positive contribution to both our economic performance and employment (just as an example, they employ three times as many people as mining).
Here’s the article, which seems especially relevant in the current conversations about investment in the arts.
Why the hottest new thing in arts is publication 5271.0
A few months ago I was interviewing an arts bureaucrat on stage at a cultural event. Interview is a strong word; we were having a chat about some agreed topics, with microphones and an audience. During this chat he quoted several fascinating data sound bites I hadn’t heard before. He also revealed, in response to my request that he tell us his ‘arts secret’, that he has a half-finished book in his bottom drawer.
As soon as microphones were off I turned to him and gushed ‘wow, thank you so much for sharing that with us, it was very generous, it sounds really interesting, please tell me more about your … statistics’.
I love data. In fact I heart data. I heart spreadsheets. I heart modelling and statistics. I heart empirical information that allows me to understand the big picture shape of things that I can’t perceive. I admit it: I’m one of these people who gets excited when it is Census night, who cares what questions are asked and wants to fix the gaps in its reach.
I also love stories. The ground-truth, textured complex experience of how things really work, the bits that the numbers don’t tell you.
But above all, I love it when a sophisticated piece of empirical analysis confirms something that you’re sure of in your gut.
That is exactly the gem which has been given to the cultural and creative industries sector by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Luckily my arts bureaucrat stage-mate ignored my faux pas of expressing more interest in statistics than secrets, and passed me a copy of a hot-off-the-press study of the economic activity of Australian creative industries by the ABS.
Don’t be put off by its cumbersome title. The Australian National Accounts: Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Accounts, Experimental Report (aka ‘publication 5271.0’) is a cracker.
The ABS study measures the economic contribution of cultural and creative activity in Australia. ‘Big whoop’, I hear you say, ‘that happens all the time’. Ah, but this one is different. In Australia most estimates of the economic contribution look only at these activities defined primarily as ‘arts and recreation’.
Rather than focus only on these arts and recreation activities, this analysis uses a range of mechanisms to capture the full economic contribution of creative industries. This includes, for example, the economic contributions of creative industry roles which are embedded in diverse sectors, from financial and insurance services to manufacturing. The document includes an appendix of these roles, and this provides a key insight: creative industry roles are important to many different economic activities, not just these defined purely as ‘arts’.
The study found that cultural and creative activity contributes an estimated $65.8 billion to Australia’s Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2008-09.
To be clear, this figure excludes the give and take of taxes and subsidies. The creative industries create $65.8 billion of value every year. To put it another way, $65.8 billion is the value other industries put on the annual output of the creative industry.
Diverse Australian industries are willing to pay for this work; in fact they require this work to do their business. Without a local creative industry, $65.8 billion worth of creative services would have to be imported.
To put this in perspective, the economic contribution of creative industries was 5.6 per cent of Australia’s total GVA. This is on par with that of Health Care and Social Assistance (5.8 per cent). It is ahead of the GVA by wholesale trade (4.5 per cent), by retail trade (4.9 per cent), and of transport, postal and warehousing (5.4 per cent). It is more than twice the GVA of agriculture, forestry and fishing (2.5 per cent). Ahead of it are several industries, but perhaps not as far as you’d expect, including manufacturing (9.3 per cent), mining (9.8 per cent) and rental, hiring and real estate services (10.2 per cent).
The applications of this in the context of sector response to the 2014 Federal budget are immediate; some key statistics were used in the open letter on the future of arts funding from the writing community published in The Guardian (noting the $86.0 billion (6.9 per cent) contribution to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product in 2008-09). But the report has a longer and broader application than that.
There is an enduring—and very tedious—assumption in Australia that people who work in the creative industries are either doing it as a volunteer, or are the recipients of inordinate amounts of ‘taxpayers’ money’. Leaving aside that people who work in the creative industries are taxpayers themselves, these attitudes rely on the erroneous assumption that the value of the creative industries can be seen only in intangible contributions to ‘cultural identity’.
The report from the ABS knocks this firmly on the head with a satisfying thump. Creative industries contribute to our bottom line. Their contribution, their financial contribution, is there in the middle of the pack, not trailing sadly behind.
There’s more in this report (so much more!). I urge you to read it for yourself. Don’t be put off by the financial terminology; there’s a glossary at the end. Persist, read, and re-read. Contact me with your questions and opinions; I’m still digesting it and would love to discuss it with you.
Of course, this report isn’t the be-all and end-all of empirical measurement (the report itself includes notes on its limits, oh sweet data how I love rigorous, ethical scholarship). And yes, the creative industries contribute to our nation in many and diverse ways, not just economically. But nonetheless, this report shows us, in economic terms, what we have known in our collective gut: the creative industries are economic contributors, not takers.
It is critically important that people working in the creative industries use this hard, dry data to help shift the conversation about arts and culture in this country. The ill-informed argument that arts and culture are an expensive luxury we can’t afford is a) wrong and b) boring. For the minute leave aside the raft of evidence that shows an investment in the arts improves desirable outcomes in health, wellbeing, education, engagement, reducing recidivism and building community cohesion. Leave aside the social benefits. Leave aside heritage. Leave aside innovation.
Let’s just look at the numbers.
When it is all adds up, creative industries make economic sense.