Day two of the Creative Coalition Festival was rammed to the rafters, as we once again welcomed thousands of attendees for keynote talks and panels on the Summit stage and interactive workshops and thought-provoking discussions on our Factory stage.
The day took ‘redefine’ as its theme, with speakers seeking to take stock of where we are while asking the form our industries might take in the future, from adapting existing paradigms to blowing them apart completely in order to rebuild anew.
We had representatives from some of the UK’s biggest cultural organisations, as well as disruptors and innovators working at the forefront of that shiny place where technology and the arts intersect.
Never ones to shy away from the big issues we set out our stall early with a keynote conversation between Bloomberg’s Stephanie Flanders and Tim Davie CBE, Director-General of the BBC. It was an illuminating hour that dug into the learnings of 2020 before discussing how we can work together to rebuild the creative economy. Key points included how targeted, evidence-based investment in the right places can kickstart local and regional economies, and how leveraging modest amounts of capital for creative businesses can reap considerable dividends – as borne out by creative hubs in Belfast and Cardiff. Davie was also keen to make the case for greater socioeconomic diversity in the creative sector, proposing a widening of the pathway that goes beyond studying at top universities.
Our CEO, Caroline Norbury MBE, then spoke to Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal Neil Mendoza for the first of two sessions exploring what comes after the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, lifting the veil on how the funding was secured and what the sector needs to do in order to hammer home its importance. As well as stressing the need for hard facts, stats and data, Neil spoke of applying the concept of natural capital to the creative industries, and how we can explore the knock-on societal benefits of our work. The second session saw Paul Bristow (Arts Council England), Gerwyn Evans (Creative Wales), Nóirín McKinney (Arts Council Northern Ireland) and Clive Gillman (Creative Scotland) discuss how they have been allocating funding in their regions, as well as the challenges that lie ahead and how they see creative culture evolving and developing in their respective areas.
While it might have been sidelined in many peoples’ minds in the wake of COVID-19, Brexit still looms as a huge challenge for an industry that, like ours, relies on the free-flow of ideas, talent, expertise and knowledge. This panel with Matt D’Ancona (Tortoise); Alexandra Ampofo (Metropolis Music); Steven Roth (Scottish Ballet) and Sarah Sands (Hawthorn) explored how we can maintain strong, productive international relationships. While there are significant challenges on the horizon, the group were keen to highlight the opportunities for capitalising on new and existing partnerships, as well as making use of new platforms and technologies. As Sarah Sands so unequivocally put it, “the art must happen!”
Our next session delved into the mysterious world of memes, with creators and meme-makers discussing the form’s pros and cons, from a source of creativity and finance to their murkier uses and the way they obfuscate IP ownership. As well as discussing Blockchain and the launch of the Creative Passport initiative, musician Imogen Heap also had a wonderful anecdote about how the reuse, redistribution and memeification of one of her songs ultimately paid off (with a little help from pop megastar Jason Derulo).
For his wide-ranging chat with Konnie Huq, creator Dan Gillespie Sells discussed the transition from fronting rock band The Feeling to the world of theatre, as well as identity, growing up in an LGBTQ household and something as theoretically simple as ‘joy’ being a radical act. “We all need to embrace complexity,” he said. “The more diverse thinking we have and the more diverse our worlds, the more open-minded we can be and the freer we are as artists.”
Writer, ‘workplace culture enthusiast’ and former Twitter VP Bruce Daisely then delivered a factoid-strewn talk on team creativity, pinballing from hard science to playful anecdote, referencing thinkers and scientists as readily as popstars and TV writers. This segued neatly into a chat about the future of the workplace, with Bruce joined by Alex Pumfrey (Film and TV Charity), Farrah Storr (Elle) and artist manager, board member and community manager Amanda Maxwell for a chat about the challenges of home working and the opportunities it offers – from the personal through to the chance to kick open the door to freelancers and new entrants from across the country. “We’ve had to put physical and mental health front and centre as an industry,” noted Alex Pumfrey. “We’ve proved that it can work – it’s not a perk or an afterthought, it’s not a fruit bowl or a yoga class, it’s actually about how we operate safely.”
With so much content available freely online, our penultimate Summit panel asked whether access to culture should be free. Phil Edgar Jones (Sky Arts), Nicholas Allott (Cameron Mackintosh), Tamara Rojo (English National Ballet), Ben McOwen Wilson (YouTube UK) and writer/producer Tobi Kyermateng agreed wholeheartedly that it should not, while also acknowledging that the bigger question was how to capitalise on and work with new tech. From using archives to bring in new audiences and new revenue to the reach afforded by new platforms, the opportunities are very real indeed. “Our artistic programme has shifted,” said Tamara Rojo. “Previously the digital sphere was very much a marketing tool for us, but it’s now part of the concept from the very beginning. In fact, we’ve already commissioned a full programme of digital works that will never be seen, necessarily, on the stage.”
While much of the day discussed challenge, our final session, Pioneering Places, provided a beacon of unbridled positivity. Examining the power of heritage and culture-led projects, the session explored exciting ways in which innovative ideas have helped empower, enliven and enrich local communities, unlocking local landscapes as well as the creativity of the people who live there.
That might have been a wrap for our summit sessions, but the day was very far from over – Konnie Huq was back for a chat with the brilliant George The Poet and Sky Arts gave us a street art masterclass, while networking continued at pace and our Factory sessions continued with insights and intel from a wide range of mentors, CEOs, educators, producers and storytellers. It was then down to the other-worldly practitioners of Keiken to sign us off for the night with ‘a call to the future’ – how very, very appropriate!