Curators of Cultural Enterprise

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In the UK, the creative industries have been on governments’ agendas for 20 years. Agencies have sprung up to make creative workers more business-like but we really know very little about them. In their path-breaking new book, Curators of Cultural Enterprise, three Glasgow academics have investigated how such new cultural intermediaries actually work.

The UK Government estimates that creative industries are worth £76.9bn, accounting for 5% of the UK’s total economic turnover. So they are now a central pillar of both the Scottish and UK governments’ plans for economic growth.

In the UK, most creative businesses are microbusinesses – employing fewer than 10 people. To increase these businesses’ chances of success, the UK and Scottish Governments have funded support bodies to pass on know-how. There are increasing numbers of intermediary agencies whose role is to support creative microbusinesses to survive and thrive.

Professor Philip Schlesinger, Dr Melanie Selfe and Dr Ealasaid Munro of the Centre for Cultural Policy Research have investigated one such typical body – Glasgow-based Cultural Enterprise Office (CEO). The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded their research project. Titled Supporting Creative Business,their study was part of the Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange scheme, so the team worked in close partnership with CEO’s staff to ensure they could maximise the impact of the project.

The research investigated the tailored business support that CEO provides to creative businesses in Scotland. It also shed light on the complicated set of policy pressures that influences the delivery of CEO’s services – a focus on the wider scene that has been largely ignored until now. The research team also spoke to CEO’s clients about whether the support they received had made a difference to their businesses. Clients were also asked about the difficulties they faced when attempting to build a career in the creative sector.

The team found that, irrespective of who is in power, intervention in the Scottish creative economy is modelled on received wisdom produced by policymakers, think-tanks and academics working in London – the pre-eminent centre of creative activity in Europe. The distinctiveness of the Scottish context is little considered north of the border as it is largely assumed that what works in London will work elsewhere. But the team’s research has shown that local economic, social and cultural conditions really do matter when considering the effectiveness of intervention.

CEO offers mostly ‘soft’ business support – advice and training. As only one of a number of business support agencies working in Scotland, it can be difficult to articulate its distinctive impact to funders. As a result, CEO’s position is inherently precarious, meaning a constant hunt for funding – much like the working lives of the clients that they serve. The team have concluded that for intervention in the creative economy to work, intermediary agencies need to be given stable funding so that they can operate much more strategically within the sector, building strong and trusting relationships with policymakers, other business support agencies, and their clients.

Curators of Cultural Enterprise is published by Palgrave Macmillan. The first in-depth study of its kind, it offers a detailed analysis of how Cultural Enterprise Office supports creative businesses and how it negotiates many pressures simply to stay in business.

Angela McRobbie, of Goldsmiths University of London says of the book, “Giving a close-up account of a key cultural organisation in Scotland over a period of almost 15 years, it provides detail and insight into issues which are of great importance to the cultural policy world as well as to those involved in wider debates on the creative economy and its workforce.” Justin O’Connor of Monash University thinks the research will be of wide use for those interested in the creative economy. He says, “This book is a rigorous, engaged and far-sighted attempt to present this experience and knowledge in a way that can be useful for academics, policy agencies and activists.”

To speak to the research team please call 0141 330 3806 or email Professor Philip Schlesinger.


Initially published Oct 2015 in Reach 07, the College of Arts Industry Engagement Newsletter.

If you wish to find out more about this article or about how you can progress your ideas (i) as an academic wishing to engage with a non-academic organisation or (ii) as a non-academic organisation interested in engaging with the academic knowledge base, please email the College of Arts KE Team.

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Post Author: Nicole Cassie

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