A holdover from Tony Blair's "Cool Britannia" vision, the New Labour invention has turned its back on what makes art greatby Oli Mould / September 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
Every time you watch a television advert, go to a museum, play a computer game, or swipe right on a potential suitor, you’re indulging in the outputs of the so-called “creative industries.” Unless you can remember the time when a “smart” phone was one that simply had a snazzy cover, you would have grown up during the birth of the creative industries. The sector was created in 1997 under Tony Blair’s New Labour when they rounded up an errant group of industries into a (relatively) stable construct. Bundled up with the party’s Cool Britannia motif, workers as diverse as advertising executives, software engineers, dance music DJs and ceramic potters were put onto the same balance sheet and hey presto, a new vibrant and crucially, sellable, sector was formed.
The accompanying political narrative was that the creative industries would champion the social utility of arts and culture as progressive realms to engage fractured communities, realise progressive values and create a more sustainable economic world. In 1999, Blair himself argued in one of the foundational documents of the creative industries that “our aim must be to create a nation where the creative talents of all the people are used to build a true enterprise economy for the twenty first century — where we compete on brains, not brawn.”
Now it seems impossible to doubt the economic success story that is the creative industries. According to the (un-neutral sounding) Creative Industries Federation, a membership body that lobbies government of behalf of the creative industries, the creative industries contribute £101.5 billion to the UK economy, more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil & gas sectors combined. According to research commissioned by the ‘Britain is Great’ Campaign, the UK is ranked first for “cultural influence” in the world (although how much of this is down to the existing contours of centuries-old imperialist oppression is not explained in the methodology.)
The trouble is that all this “success” has come at the expense of any cultural, artistic or creative integrity that the sectors once had before they were herded into a single political concept. As art world researcher Max Haiven has pointed out, financialisation has now been hard-wired into cultural…