United Nations Creative Economy Report 2013: Q & A with Chris Gibson

The United Nations Creative Economy Report 2013 was launched in Paris this week. AUSCCER’s Professor Chris Gibson was a major contributor to the report. Here, Chris discusses his involvement as an expert consultant for the report.

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Front cover of the 2013 Creative Economy Report

The United Nations Creative Economy Report 2013

This report focuses on creative economy at the local level in developing countries. How did you get involved and what are these reports about?
Late last year a chance meeting with Yudhishthir Raj Isar at a creative industries conference led to be being approached by UNESCO to author a paper for the 2013 UN Creative Economy Report. Previous United Nations Creative Economy Reports appeared in 2008 and 2010. They are essentially big global overviews of research, statistics and ideas about culture, creativity and development, commissioned by UNESCO (and for 2013, jointly by UNDP) and aimed at informing the global policy agenda for sustainable development.

How are the reports useful?
I’d always found the 2008 and 2010 reports very useful as overviews for teaching and research, and the data within them is impressive – the kind of comprehensive information only the UN is able to assemble, and well beyond that normally found within narrow academic research articles. When my friend and colleague Andy Pratt visited AUSCCER a couple of years ago, I heard his stories about being involved as a consultant for those earlier reports, and how they were effective in injecting academic research into higher level policy debates. So, when Raj suggested I might like to author a paper that could inform the 2013 edition, I jumped at the chance.

The 2013 report is a Special Edition. What’s different about this year’s report?


The emphasis of both the 2008 and 2010 UN Creative Economy Reports was on the importance of the creative industries to trade and economic development. Much of the data within them was necessarily national in scale, and quite quantitative. I subsequently learned that the aim for the 2013 report was to explore the role of culture in sustainable development at the local level, and how this might inform policy-making. The need was to document the reality of the economy of creativity on the ground. Creativity drives economic and social development in practice, generating diverse new pathways. Yet such pathways are not predictable or necessarily replicable – requiring conceptual dexterity and empirical depth to understand their contours and texture.

Where do we find these new pathways?
Critically, many such pathways are to be found at the sub-national level – in cities and regions in developing as well as developed countries. Some countries have specific national cultural policies, frequently around protecting languages, customs and expressions from the perceived threat of cultural globalization. Others have embraced the logic of creative industries and developed creative economy strategies – quite famously in recent years in South Korea and China. In many impoverished parts of the world there is simply little in the way of formal policy-making, even though the cultural sphere forms the basis of diverse activities with “economic” dimensions. Notwithstanding the contributions of the 2008 and 2010 reports, there was a distinct absence of a global overview of ‘grass roots’ observations of culture and creativity informing sustainable development. We therefore needed the next global report to focus on interactions, specificities and policies at local levels and how the ‘creative economy’ might be practically promoted in communities, cities and municipalities.



What was your specific contribution to the 2013 report?
My contribution to the 2013 UN Creative Economy Report took the form of a 16,000-word paper that was absorbed into the structure and content of the final publication, Widening Local Development Pathways. In it, I profile new thinking about the creative economy that opens up the scope of what we mean by culture and development, and builds links to diverse cities and regions. In particular I was keen to draw on the influence of cultural-economy thinking, which sees the ‘economy’ not as distinct from ‘culture’, but as emerging from the practices, technologies and tactics of particular actors. As Timothy Mitchell argues, the economy is a ‘project’ rather than as a ‘force’ somehow separate from human society. Recognising this is an important first step to take creative economy policy and planning outside of a narrow, commercial frame of reference (within which distant ‘market forces’ are seen as preeminent), towards diverse, locally-grounded alternatives and possibilities. This includes exploring the relationship between the economic contributions of creativity and its non-economic benefits, from appreciation of cultural diversity, to tangible and intangible heritage, cultural rights, and intrinsic value as means to expression.

What else can people find in this report?
Crucially, throughout the wider 2013 UN Creative Economy Report, are numerous case study examples that situate creativity in diverse communities, places of work, cultures and cities. The focus is on developing countries, while also drawing on “fourth world” contexts – especially indigenous communities within western countries, which are frequently places of extreme socio-economic disadvantage. Featured are examples from cities and regions of varying size, and from some of the most remote parts of the world, including locations where colonial legacies are strong and which deeply influence cultural activities, including those in the creative industries.

Can the creative economy really thrive in developing countries?
Contrary to what some might believe, the creative economy can flourish in even the most economically poorest parts of the world, despite limited infrastructure, institutional capacities and investment inputs. The key is to understand the creative economy not as a unified entity, or as a single ‘logic’ of market economics to be imported wholesale across the world, but rather as an invitation to rethink – creatively – what development might mean in the everyday lives of people in diverse circumstances.

You can download a full copy of the report here.

You can follow Professor Chris Gibson on Twitter @profcgibson. Chris’ last post was ‘Transition, adaptation, metamorphosis: framing climate change and regional response‘.

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