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This week has seen the launch of a ‘Special Edition’ United Nations Creative Economy Report 2013, co-published by UNESCO and the United Nations Development Programme.

Principal investigator, writer and editor of the report, Yudhishthir Raj Isar was speaking on Wednesday 22nd January at the AHRC Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity conference at the BFI Southbank (more on the whole conference on this blog soon!). The report has chapter-long contributions from respected academics David Throsby and Andy Pratt and this special edition was produced with the UN Office for South South Co-operation and focuses on creative economy at the local level in developing countries in the global South.

It can be downloaded from here.

He told us that at its launch the previous evening, the response to the report from those who were there was that it was also relevant to developed countries. In a presentation that linked academic research with the policy world, he said the same issues affect the growing subsector of the economy labelled as ‘cultural’ as affect all cultural practitioners: intermediaries, policy and place. He added “It suits us to be included in the cultural economy because it is a sector that is moving ahead” but this is a tendency in economic development that continues to ignore the deep-seated and persistent inequalities between North and South.

However he went on to urge for caution in wrapping creative industries policy up in economic growth terminology, describing it as counter-productive. Success is contingent on many conditions, including geographical, structural and cultural, and any development must pay attention to local strengths. Outside influences may contribute to the generation of highly original hybrids (as is frequently seen happening in music), but they must not impose a model or an agenda for development. Raj mentioned Justin O’Connor’s response to the report on this blog in which he supports it for building on a 2005 UNESCO convention that supported a “diversity of cultural expressions” over what Raj referred to as ‘the reigning paradigm of the creative economy’ that reduces cultural value to the bottom line.

Commercialisation of cultural forms also loses sight of cultural forms that are a communities’ rights to communicate and pays no attention to disonnant voices, leading to disenfranchisement and decreased social capital of local communities. To quote Justin’s article again “purely market-oriented development erodes local cultures and undermines the ability of individuals and communities to access material forms of cultural expression”. Alternative futures for cultural economy development need to be imagined. Funding is one element to be considered in these, but others include ethical decision-making, trans-national connections, access to markets, leadership and education; intermediaries may emerge from many backgrounds. “It is an argument that suggests a new approach to cultural economy would not just ask what kind of culture we want to produce – but what kind of economy we want to help us do this.”

This also begs the question – what kinds of intermediaries are capable of providing meaningful support to the development of cultural economy sectors?