18 November 2021
Overheard at WCCE
The second World Conference on Creative Economy (WCCE) was hosted at the Dubai Exhibition Centre over 7-9 December as part of EXPO2020. Over three days, over 70 talks saw local, regional and international stakeholders discussing the mechanics of the global creative economy, how to bolster it, improve it, invest in it and catalyse it. Buzzwords at the talks ranged from sustainability, diversity and inclusivity, to innovation, education, NFTs and good governance.
Following the announcement that the UAE’s National Strategy for Cultural and Creative Industries will double the contribution of culture and creativity to the country’s GDP (to 5 per cent over the next decade) Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said, “It feels like we have transcended time from this moment to the past and the future of the UAE, and its global creative economy. How do we harness creativity for a post-pandemic world?” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO added, “Creativity has been the lifeblood of humanity even in the depth of time. In times of crisis, we must rely on culture and creativity to fuel resilience and bind people together.”
The pandemic featured heavily in discussions. The rise of digital performances, the new online audience, and the forced change of business models of arts institutions was mooted by Mr. Christopher Deacon, President & CEO, National Arts Centre Canada. “Audiences and institutions have to help, support or get out of the way of performing arts,” he said “We have to evolve from earned money models, to raised money models, of funding the arts.”
Will Governments Build Creative Economies?
Across the board, ministers, art practitioners and cultural stakeholders offered ideas on better governance as well as the investment in people and ecosystems to allow creativity to be grown, and rewarded. Her Excellency Hala Badri, Director General of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority stated, “97 percent of creatives in the Dubai are entrepreneurs. You have to provide the platform for creatives and an ecosystem for them to thrive in creative clusters, where they can interact and grow ideas.” Mr. Albara Alauhali, Cultural Strategies and Policies Deputy, Saudi Ministry of Culture agreed stating, “Unleashing creativity in an economy has a direct effect on its growth. Cross-disciplinary interaction between creatives has led to increased experimentation with ideas.”
Sheikh Sultan Al Qassemi, Founder of Barjeel Art Foundation asked his panel and audience whose responsibility it was to cultivate creativity in an economy. Dr Pradeep Sharma, Director of Arts, Culture, and Heritage at the Salama bint Hamdan Foundation said, “The responsibility of a government is not to lead creativity, but it can create the conditions for it. We individually are responsible for creativity. It is worth investing in the talent of your people.” Mrs. Caroline Norbury, Chief Executive of Creative UK retorted with “It’s also about investing in failure and giving people the chance to fail. The biggest investors do not invest in risk in the arts; they invest in things they know will give them a return on investment. They have to invest in intangible talent and give people a chance.” Similarly, Mrs. Andrea Chung, Executive Director of Kingston Creative put good governance in the spotlight saying, “You can’t call yourself a global creative city if your creatives are not building wealth for themselves and their families — if they have to emigrate to the UK and the US to tap into a system to succeed. Talent is not enough; a thriving ecosystem is vital.”
To wit, Dr Tita Larasati, a researcher, cartoonist and lecturer on design and sustainability at Institut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia, suggested creating intermediaries between government and grass roots organisations to understand the aspirations of a creative economy better. Speaking on the importance of community, El Seed, the calligraphic street artist, talked about how a garbage collector taught him that his now-famous art work in Cairo was about switching perceptions and opening a dialogue with communities we wouldn’t usually get to know.
Technology as a driver of the creative economy, was a key focal point of the WCCE talks. Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York talked about how the pandemic had forced MOMA to make ‘digital’ their primary mode of reaching people. He said that this had created a glue to knit communities together to talk about art, exhibitions and engage in dialogue. He even credited NFTs with raising revenue and helping engage, and increase the global community’s experience of MOMA’s art collection. Mr. Anthony Dennis Henry Geffen of Atlantic Productions walked us through the rise of technology in filmmaking, virtual reality and augmented reality saying whatever we’d seen in augmented reality, “Don’t worry about it. It’s going to get bigger. We’re going to bring live music performances into your house and to your table top. There isn’t one metaverse, and the technology we are going to bring you will change the way you see everything. It will be a new dawn.”
Inclusivity and Diversity
Creative pundits at the WCCE suggested that investment in creative spaces and infrastructure would lead to an exchange of ideas, reduced prejudice and community-building through the unifying power of ideas. Her Excellency Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, President, International Publishers Association talked about a study which demonstrated that the reading one paragraph of a book on minority experiences led to empathy and reduced prejudice. “If reading a snippet of a book made such a difference, imagine what the world would look like if more multicultural books were available in the marketplace.”
In terms of diversity, Mr. Geraint Bungay, Co-Founder, Board Member, Boss Bunny Games said, “We will support anyone who wants to build content and games out of Abu Dhabi. But our largest challenge is recruiting staff in the UAE – developers, artists and designers. Finding the right people is hard because these careers are new to the region and the culture in the region favours traditional jobs such as doctors and lawyers. Game developers can sometimes make a lot more income than doctors and lawyers. The gaming industry makes more money annually than all other creative fields combined — TV, streaming and cinema included.”
Noorjehan Bilgrami, Director of KOEL called out the use of sustainability as a buzzword in fashion saying “The fashion and creative industry is not making any effort to make the creative economy sustainable for the next generation. It’s a buzzword that’s in vogue.” Dr Santiago Calatrava talked about localizing sustainability in the cities he has designed structures for, saying that he has adapted not just local materials and surrounding colours of the land and sea into his works, but even the use of topographies and tides to make his creations eco-friendly.
Dr Malcolm Gladwell talked about the limitations of imagination and creativity in music and art, citing Cezanne and Picasso, the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon. He said that unless one was willing to take risks, engage with different voices or go through uncomfortable processes, one would never grow the roots of experimentation. Alluding to cancel culture, Gladwell said, “The desire to be comfortable is the enemy of diversity.”
Her Excellency Jameela Al Muhairi, Cabinet Member and Minister of State for Public Education, UAE said, “Art, creativity and innovation are central to what makes us human. Art improves critical thinking. These must be embedded in schools. Our hope is to encourage everyone to use their creativity, imagination and unique cultural background to create opportunities for economic growth.”
Closing the second WCCE, with the announcement that the next conference will be hosted in Bali, Indonesia, Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi remarked, “This is the beginning of an ongoing conversation around the creative economy and a renewed promise for acti