Culture and growth



Creative industries strategies to generate economic growth go back only to 1997. They encourage cooperation between clusters of small and medium-sized firms based on individual creation, skill and talent, and generating intellectual property values. They also encourage cooperation between high-technology industries and conventional cultural industries. The concept originated in the United Kingdom in 1997 and were adopted by the Australian and Queensland governments in 2001 and 2004, respectively (with a high-tech orientation in the former and a greater leaning towards the cultural sector in the latter).

Long before these strategies became policy, however, there was evidence that cultural activities were growing relatively fast (despite relative lack of encouragement from the Commonwealth Government, at least in recent years). The first evidence Economic Strategies was involved in producing was a study for the Australian Copyright Council in 1987.


Copyright-related industries

The Australian Copyright Council (ACC) has commissioned three reports on the economic contribution of copyright-related industries in Australia, by Economic Strategies in 1987 and 1994 and by the Allen Consulting Group in 2001. The latter report supports our original finding in 1987 that copyright-related industries contribute an increasing proportion of GDP, by showing that it rose continuously from 2.2% in 1980-81 to 3.3% in 1999-2000. Copyright-related value-added and employment both grew at significantly higher rates than total GDP and employment. Australian exports grew faster than imports of copyright royalties and goods, though from a lower base so imports still exceed exports. These findings have been consistent in the three reports.

The first Economic Strategies report was a pioneering effort (together with Sweden and Austria though the Australian study was conducted in isolation developing an approach that has been largely followed since). It is said to have inspired the start, in 1990, of the United States studies of the economic contribution of copyright industries, which have become hugely influential in that country.


The arts

The Australia Council in 1992 asked Hans Hoegh-Guldberg to produce a set of indicators that could demonstrate the relatively strong growth in arts-related activities. The result was Artburst! Growth in arts demand and supply over two decades, based on a wide range of indicators from participation and employment in the arts to indicators of major art forms and activities including Indigenous art and culture.

In November 1967 then Prime Minister Harold Holt inaugurated contemporary federal arts funding in Australia. The new Council would be concerned with the theatre and film making, with the first funding being made available in 1968-69. The original organisation morphed into the Australia Council in 1973 representing a broad range of art forms.

To celebrate thirty years of federal arts funding in 1998, Hans was asked to research three decades of arts growth in Australia. The result was The Arts Economy 1968-98 with the first chapter setting the theme: More than economics. It dealt in turn with the state of the arts economy, cultural occupations, the value of the arts sector, Indigenous artists, and other indicators including cultural centres, tertiary arts training and intellectual property rights, before taking a rear vision view ‘back to the future’ to compare the arts economy thirty years ago with the achievements as the twentieth century came to a close.

Years after The Arts Economy report, the ‘more than economics’ theme is assuming new significance in Economic Strategies thinking, inspired by its dual focus on ecology and culture. The notion of economic capital based essentially on manufactured resources has expanded from neo-classical economic theory to embrace, successively, modern notions of natural, human and cultural capital playing an economic role in their own right. Gary Becker’s human capital is a vastly more powerful force than the old ‘factor of production’ called labour, because of its dimensions of education and research. The Stern Review in late 2006 famously called climate change the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, and therefore a unique challenge for economics. There are parallels in the area of cultural economics, where David Throsby has explored the notion of sustainability in cultural capital. Hans concurrently explored these issues further for the Music Council of Australia knowledge base, further described on the music sector page of this website.


Cultural tourism and Indigenous people

In 1992, Hans Hoegh-Guldberg and Peter Brokensha (Adelaide-based cultural consultant with a special interest in Indigenous culture) won an Australian Government tender to study cultural tourism. The report, A Study of Cultural Tourism in Australia, is still widely referred to and was instrumental in prompting the Cultural Ministers Council through its Statistics Working Group (SWG) to initiate a compendium on cultural tourism statistics, compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2001. Peter’s and Hans’s research involved personal visits to all States and Territories and extensive interviewing. The ABS compendium refers to it in its customary one-sentence description as “a comprehensive analysis of cultural tourism in Australia”, probably as high a praise as one can expect!

Judging from current references on the Internet, the study may have been particularly important for the advancement of Indigenous cultural tourism. The Canadian cultural observatory, for example, quotes the report as follows (our emphasis):

Cultural tourism is a growth industry in Australia with increasing numbers of indigenous Australians becoming involved in performing arts groups, cultural centres and in guided tours in protected and other areas. By far the most important avenue of Aboriginal involvement in the tourist industry is through the production of arts and crafts … [The] Aboriginal arts and crafts industry is a fragile one under threat from a range of external pressures and … will require special structural and financial arrangements to ensure its survival. 

This picture probably persists. In 2002, Hans was commissioned to do a scoping study of Indigenous arts and crafts for the Cultural Ministers Council which suggested that despite improvements associated with greater general awareness and knowledge of copyright among remote Aboriginal communities, little of the value of paintings that are now selling at tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars at capital city auction sales has come back to the artists and communities. He estimated the value of the total market for genuine (as distinct from bogus) Indigenous arts and crafts at $100-120 million of which half was sales to overseas visitors boosting Australia’s export income and image abroad. A substantial proportion of the primary sales go through remote arts centres in the Northern Territory, South and Western Australia (benefiting the artists and communities), but the growing auction market may not provide direct benefit to the artists and remote communities. In short, the situation may be improving but requires constant monitoring and nurturing.

Another scoping study, this time for the Australia Council, concerned Indigenous music and musicians (2005), again raising a large number of issues. It revealed a complex part of the Australian music sector with diverse cultural, social, educational and economic issues. Identification of issues seemed at least as important as establishing an exact numerical base for this part of the music sector.

Our research into Indigenous music activities casts doubt over the previous finding that arts and crafts are the dominant source of income for Indigenous communities. At least potentially, music may be a close second with some groups and individual artists already very well known and accepted on the world music scene.

Last revised: 28 April 2009


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