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December catch-up: creativity applied conference (RSA, ICC, Creative Scotland, NESTA and others)

In the short lull between teaching and marking, when I should be working directly on my PhD research, I have a chance to write up some notes from a conference I attended on 21 November 2011: Adding Value – Creativity Applied. Held at the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh we heard from a  wide range of speakers, each reflecting on creativity and primarily in a Scottish context. Organisational thanks to the Royal Society of Arts MCICH and Institute for Capitalising on Creativity.

Prof Georgina Follett (University of Dundee) spoke about the ‘Knowledge Exchange Hub: Design in Action’ that she heads up. It doesn’t appear to have its own site just yet… I’m sure that’s on its way. The agenda they’re following is to contribute to, perhaps help direct, a design-led network across the country, seeking to embed design and designers at the start of projects rather than calling them in for a lick of paint at the end. The KEHDIA project will adopt a sandpit approach, granting flexibility to contributors and hopefully facilitating connections and collaborations. This also a chance to free up intellectual property currently locked away in universities and ‘stuck in log jams’.

Jeremy Myerson’s talk, from the RCA in London, was less about the networks and more about designers. He emphasised that to a designer ‘a good problem is a gift’, something to be solved and improved. A nice quote was that designers have spent too much time thinking about their own problems, and should focus more on others. Reference was made to ‘The Problem Comes First’, an exhibition of work driven by the needs of users (such as paramedics). Time was spent looking at the globalising process of sending both the design and delivery of such ideas off-shore, meaning that designers increasingly need to pitch themselves as researchers as well. Towards the end of the talk Myerson discussed the relationship between designers and users, the advent of anthropometrics and his current drive to promote design by users. There are clear parallels here with events and festivals that are open to involvement from host communities and associated interest groups: what works for them and what are they interested in?

Roanne Dodds, from Mission, Models, Money, brought the focus onto the role of artists in creative ecosystems. She drew from work with Watershed in Bristol and recent work done by the International Futures Forum into that venue’s attitude towards innovation. What is needed to nurture these creative ecosystems? What works in particular environments? How can we break free from a society that only recognises a money economy: what of other economies, those which deal in other currencies, such as an economy of culture which uses a ‘currency of meaning’? …at the heart of such questions is the issue of value and the process of valuing creative work: 20th century methods of valuing work focus too much on financial methods. Networks and ecosystems were to the fore in this talk and are a driving motivation behind their work.

Rob Woodward, of STV and NESTA, talked about the latter’s creation in 1998 and its mission to ‘bring ideas to life and make innovation happen’. Available in the foyer were copies of their November 2010 report into ‘Creative clusters and innovation’. Woodward raised the problem of getting the creative sector to speak with one voice – although his broad definition of what constituted the creative sector made others question the likelihood, or worth, of attempting this. The problem however is the difficulty government sometimes has with relating to the sector as a result. Scotland received a good write-up from Woodward, with arts organisations north of the border seen as relatively effective in providing leadership to the overall economy in areas such as innovation: a multiplier effect for the whole economy. Edinburgh has been identified by NESTA as one of seven ‘creative hotspots’: hosting clusters of innovation that feed into the surrounding region. The potential now exists to exploit these clusters and try new ideas, such as ‘creative credits’ in Manchester. Woodward closed by emphasising that policy makers should provide the environment for such activity and ways to share knowledge.

Andrew Dixon, from Creative Scotland, drew on his time at NewcastleGateshead to talk about ‘packaging creativity’. Some of this talk reflected his lecture of this time last year. Speaking as perhaps the key public sector representative in the room Dixon emphasised the partnership approach, investment over grant funding, the acceptance of artistic creativity as a symbol of growing confidence and seeking to tap into existing expertise. The ten year aspirations of CS were focused on: Scotland as a festival nation; high levels of participation; recognition as a creative nation. Towards the end of his talk Dixon highlighted the work of Richard Florida, author of ‘Cities and the Creative Class’.

Overall this was a packed afternoon’s work, which attracted an engaged and well connected audience. The themes of networks, cities, creativity, innovation and partnerships were present throughout, some of it with tangible research behind it while other contributions were comparatively conceptual and anecdotal. This reflects the fluid nature of such discussions and the importance of bringing people together to provide this mix – this was a creative meta network event therefore, discussing networks and creativity.


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