Push for creative industries

CREATIVE Industries (CI) is not exactly a new concept. It was first introduced as a potential contributor to United Kingdom’s GDP in 1997 by the then newly-elected Tony Blair government.

CI is an umbrella term for a wide range of creative sectors and activities, namely, design, performing arts, art and craft, television, film, advertising, technological innovations and cultural heritage. Depending on the available infrastructure, resources and focus, CI’s component sectors in different countries might vary.

CI rests on the development of viable intellectual properties (IPs) through creativity, or more specifically, innovation. Most of the time, the economic impact of CI is derived through its direct contribution to economic growth and employment rates. For instance, Hong Kong’s CI contributed 4.4% to the city’s GDP and accounted for 5.6% of total workforce in 2018.

In Malaysia, the economic impact of the CI is less significant. A 2018 report by the Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana) highlighted that over 2% of Kuala Lumpur’s economy was contributed by the CI. The rate is likely to be lower if presented as a ratio to the entire country’s GDP.

The Global Innovation Index 2019, which rates the innovation of countries, placed Malaysia in 33rd place, way below Singapore and Hong Kong, which was ranked eighth and 13th respectively.

So, does it mean that there is a lack of creative talent in Malaysia?

The obvious answer is no!

It is widely known that creative people from Malaysia have taken on crucial roles in many internationally acclaimed projects, including the special effects design of blockbuster movies such as Life of Pi and Star Wars, as well as the design and development of video games such as Final Fantasy XV.

In terms of higher education, Malaysia has no lack of academic programmes in design, creative multimedia, advertising and broadcasting. A quick search on the Malaysian Qualifications Register revealed over 500 related programmes.

Yet, CI does not thrive on creative talent alone. While the arts, culture, and creativity cannot and should not be managed, the industry itself needs to be looked after by professionals who have good sense of its current and future trends and developments.

In order for Malaysia’s CI to be a significant contributor to the economy, institutions of higher education should actively look into developing academic programmes in arts and cultural management, creative industries management, and design management. Currently, there are fewer than 10 such creative management programmes in Malaysia.

In my opinion, these programmes should be developed with the following considerations.

First, the programme must equip students with adequate contextual knowledge of the creative sector(s). Contextual knowledge, in this case, includes the historical and aesthetic developments, as well as current policies and issues informing the creative sectors. At the end of the day, these creative managers have to be sensitive to policy developments and make viable recommendations.

Having said that, it is almost impossible for one academic programme to cover all creative sectors within the CI. Institutions, therefore, have to decide which sectors to focus on.

Next, students of the programme should be trained to develop new consumer markets for the chosen sector. This includes enhancing knowledge and capabilities in branding, marketing and psychology of consumers.

At the same time, it is important not to inculcate students with the mindset that creative expressions or productions can only be consumed by people who could afford them.

At the end of the day, creativity is a universal language, and a professional creative manager should ensure that subordinated communities can make the best use of their collective creativity as a means to improve their livelihood. Examples of relevant courses include community arts and social design.

Third, the programme must instil the spirit of accountability in the various stakeholders of CI, which include the government, creative practitioners, creative managers, investors, media, consumers and educators.

Accountability can be achieved through developing the students’ effectiveness in strategic planning, human resource management, financial management, and legal management.

In some countries, it is not uncommon that artists and creative practitioners are still struggling despite the healthy economic contribution of the CI. Creative managers need to achieve balance in the interests of all relevant stakeholders, and in this case, ensure that benefits are cascaded to the creative practitioners.

It should also be noted that not all creative initiatives are meant for economic contribution. Sometimes, creative expressions and productions are meant to build communities or display one’s soft power.

Last, but certainly not least, students must be given opportunities to immerse in the creative sector, so as to get firsthand experience in its management. Research is also equally important as it propels students to explore new trends and possibilities in the CI.

Generally, the cost of setting up a programme in managing the CI is much lower compared to skill-based creative arts programmes, which might require initial capital expenditure.

Creative management programmes are often cross-disciplinary in nature, involving the collaboration of different faculties. For instance, a university with programmes in design, communication studies, and management could roll out a Design Management programme.

Time to up our game to take Malaysia’s CI to the next level.

Dr Benny Lim is a professor and director of the Masters programme in Communication and Media Studies, Università Telematica Pegaso (Italy). The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent the university he is associated with. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com