Why culture matters (economically speaking)

By Maarten Bul

As an introductory piece for Overdose.am, thank you for the opportunity, I would like to highlight a political and economic principle concerning the creative and cultural industries of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is the heart of the Dutch creative industry and the cultural sector is a large part of that. The creative industry has a higher job growth rate than the wider economy and has the focus of the Dutch government to ensure international competitiveness and economic growth for the future. The target is to be the most creative region of the EU by 2020, a goal the Boekman Stichting devoted their most recent issue to.

We are looking for innovation, and thus creativity, to deal with the problems we face socially (elderly care), ecologically (sustainability) and economically (international competitiveness). There are two basic routes to instigate more creativity in our society and businesses: inspiration and workforce.

When the creative industry innovates design or the use of technology, others can be inspired and implement these innovations. A good example is the coalition between ‘techno-poet’ Daan Roosegaarde and project developer Heijmans. Daan developed a dance floor that produces electricity when people dance on it, and a ‘field’ of lights that follows somebody that walks by. For Heijmans these creative concepts are applied and translated to highways.

For businesses (or governments) to be more creative, their people need to be more creative thinkers. As it turns out, one third of professional designers are not working in the creative industry. These creatives are using their skills in more commercial businesses, fueling the creativity of those companies. The possible strength of using people with cultural backgrounds in a more commercial context is especially clear in advertising. It leads to highly artistic, distinctive and memorable campaigns like the ones Amsterdams’ finest Kessels & Kramer made for the Hans Brinker budget hotel.

I have been very inspired by the possible synergies between the business world and the cultural industry. Although most people have a hard time to grasp the practical use of the arts, it is the cornerstone of the creative industry and therefore, the creative region. As Florida (2002) suggested, and others later proved, culture fosters a climate where the creative class likes to work, live and share ideas. It is also important to note that it is not only the creative mindset that matters, but also the knowledge of the history in design or arts, with which true innovation can be determined. And last, based on the latter point, autonomous arts inspire creatives (or artists) to turn these into applied arts. At which point economic value comes into sight.

Currently, the cultural sector in the Netherlands (and mainly Amsterdam) is dealing with huge budget cuts, because the discourse tells us the relevance to society is unclear or overestimated. This might be true, but only if we acknowledge relevance has shifted because society has shifted. The arts remained the same, but its relevant function has changed from a sociological mirror to a creative and innovative accelerator for business and society.

Appeared on Overdose.am on January 15th, 2013