HAVING studied at length the creative economy and government policymaking in the creative sector, I should have been thrilled by the decision of Secretary Ramon Lopez of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to push the creative economy as a key initiative for Asean 2017.
But after seeing the Asean Leaders Meeting come and go and a number of smaller meetings and forums, I find it disappointing to note that the creative economy initiative has proven to be a false start or a dud. It generated little interest across the region and in the media, except for a couple of press releases and a photo opportunity.
Secretary Lopez was surely correct when he speculated that the creative economy could spur new growth in the Asean economy. But he and his department did not do the spadework to make it a real Asean initiative by crafting a strategy to make it happen.
In fact, all he had in place was the Design Center unit within the DTI. From here, they got the bright idea of proposing the holding of the Asean Creative Cities Forum and Exhibition (ACCFE) on April 24-27, 2017 at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.
Through ACCFE, they fantasized that the country could ignite the lucrative economic potential of its creative industries, creative clusters, and creative cities, as a viable strategy for sustainable and inclusive development.
They envisioned the Asean Creative Cities Forum and Exhibition as featuring the initiatives of 10 Asean member states through various activities that highlight the role of culture and creativity in driving sustainable and inclusive development in their countries. Key influencers, advocates, and champions in the field were projected to hold discussions during the exhibition.
They jumped from the fact that at present, there are only four Asean cities that form part of the Unesco Creative Cities Network. These include Bandung in Indonesia for Design; Pekalongan in Indonesia for Crafts and Folk Art; Phuket in Thailand for Gastronomy; and Singapore for Design.
So now, DTI fantasizes that by 2018,there will be at least one Philippine city in the Unesco Creative Cities Network, and this will support the development of the 2017 Creative Industries Roadmap.
Where are the artists?
Roadmap? Development? Do they know what they are talking about?
They only got the idea of launching a creative economy initiative as DTI’s contribution to the Philippine hosting of Asean 2017. But when the time came to put up, they had no clue what to do and where to go. They completely forgot about the people who actually constitute the creative economy in this country. Nowhere in their minds were the artists, writers, filmmakers, advertising minds, animators, software creators, and cultural workers who work within the sector.
Is the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) even aware of this Asean initiative?
A business management executive, in a note to me, has asked:
“Is the understanding and experience there or is this just another initiative which sounds good but will fall by the wayside after Asean 2017?
“Creative economy should not be seen in isolation but as part of a jigsaw of economic segments which inter-connect and overlap and which need coordination not duplication, and focus not fragmentation. Synergy and collaboration is the key.
“This is not a question of raising up the creative economy to an Asean level, but of getting the national act together and becoming competitive.”
What is missing in the DTI program is an overarching strategic vision.
Series on creative economy
I do not butt into the subject cold, because I have worked in the creative economy for much of my professional life, having worked by turns as writer, journalist, publisher, policy–research director in government, and entrepreneur.
In January this year, I published a three-part series on the creative economy, to outline and identify the specific policy directions and actions the Philippines should take in order to jump-start the development of the nation‘s creative economy, and to realize its potentially strong contribution to the economy.
The series consisted of the following:
1.“Creative economy: a new paradigm for PH development” (Manila Times, January 10, 2017)
2. “Creative economy2: Key policy initiatives” (Manila Times, January 12, 2017)
3. “Creative Philippines: Which way to go? — department, commission or center?”(Manila Times, January 13, 2017)
In three days of publication, my series surveyed the whole field, including the following: key definitions of the vital concepts; the policy options before nations; and the best practices of representative nations. I also managed to insert a bibliography of books and materials on the creative economy
The creative industries
Not surprisingly, Shakespeare’s realm—England, the United Kingdom—is one of the most sterling exponents of the creative economy. In one glorious visit to England, I visited Cambridge University, where I saw several buildings, which were stacked to the rafters with books. Books, you see, are one of the biggest exports of UK. Brainpower.
When it officially launched the creative economy in the 1990s, UK listed down the following as the main creative industries:
3. Art and antique market
7. Film and video
9. Performing arts
12. Television and radio
13. Video and computer games.
Design is huge in the UK, but it does not stand alone.
According to Creative Economy Report 2008 (United Nations, New York 2008), first usage of the terms “creative industries” and “creative economy” should be credited to Australia, which published in 1994 a report entitled, Creative Nation.
The terms were given wider exposure by policymakers in the United Kingdom in 1997, when the government, through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), set up the Creative Industries Task Force. It is noteworthy, says the UN, that the designation “creative industries” has broadened the scope of cultural industries beyond the arts and has marked a shift in approach to potential commercial activities that until recently were regarded purely or predominantly in non-economic terms.
In the process, the idea of “creative economy” as a new paradigm for economic development was born, especially with respect to the development of poor or developing countries.
A new development paradigm
The UN Creative economy report series is a partnership between the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
The first in the series, published in 2008, stirred worldwide discussion of the concept of “the creative economy.”
Today, creative industries are among the most dynamic sectors in world trade.
Asean creative economy
Asean would be on the right track if it embraces creative economy as a new regional initiative. The power and vibrancy of culture is a common denominator among the countries of Southeast Asia.
To see how the regional perspective would fit Asean, I recommend to Secretary Lopez that he consult The Economy of Culture in Europe (KEA European affairs, 2006), a study prepared for the European Commission.
The creative economy contributed 2.6 percent to EU GDP in 2003. The sector’s growth in 1999-2003 was 19.7 percent higher than the growth of the general economy.
In 2004, 5.8 million people worked in the sector, equivalent to 3.1 percent of total employed population in EU.
The Asean creative economy should eventually rise to this: a meaningful brief of intelligible facts and figures that mirror the real life of the peoples of Southeast Asia.