Igniting the spark of creativity in Brexit Britain

Saturday 28 October, 14:0015:30, Frobisher Auditorium 2Culture Wars

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Perhaps understandably, many who work in the creative sector, from architecture and design to the arts and film industry, are concerned that Brexit might damage the cosmopolitan and borderless spirit of British culture. More practically there are worries that Brexit represents a retreat from the international market place of ideas and risks undermining creative and educational sectors that rely heavily on workers and students that come in from neighbouring countries. As non-UK EU nationals are an important part of the creative economy, there are concerns that the UK will struggle to attract and retain talent from across the world in order to maintain its high reputation in these industries. But with leaving the EU on the horizon, there might also be opportunities to ignite Britain’s creative spark, with even advantages to be reaped from a reimagining of a new cultural landscape.

In recent years, ‘disruption’ has become something of a buzzword as everyone aspires to be the next Uber. Tom Hodgkinson writes in the Guardian, ‘everywhere I go, I hear about how entrepreneurs are planning to disrupt various industries. Disruption, it seems, is cool.’ Perhaps the disruption caused by Brexit might be embraced as an opportunity, a chance, in the words of Suella Fernandes of the European Research Group, to ‘reignite that ability to inspire and enthral’? Of course, Brexit presents real risks. But creatives and policy-makers alike bemoan ‘risk aversion’. Indeed as Nesta has noted, ‘risk taking’ is becoming a core skill taught at school. Some creatives, who would usually relish disruption, experimentation and risk-taking, seem to look at Brexit with dread rather than excitement. Is it fair enough to relish disruption, but not that disruption? Risk-taking but not that risk?

Similarly, perhaps shaking off EU regulatory bureaucracy might spur more ambitious thinking? After all, designers often complain about tick-box approaches to quality of design; architects grumble about prescriptive regulations; the arts are often buried beneath bureaucratic agendas; academics object to being ‘forced’ to undertake advocacy research to produce pre-determined outcomes, with measurable impact, rather than being allowed to conduct open enquiry. Is Brexit an opportunity to imagine anew, to develop innovative relationships with the world based on a creativity unleashed as Britain begins to do things differently from our European neighbours?

Or should we be worried that Brexit represents a retreat from the international market place of ideas and risks undermining creative and educational sectors that rely heavily on workers and students that come in from neighbouring countries? And while some have argued against the regulatory burden, others see regulations as useful protections against downgrading quality. The EU’s funding and sponsorship undoubtedly has involved onerous grant-applications and money with strings. But at least it has guaranteed official support of the arts. European programmes like Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 (an £80 billion pot of research and innovation funding) have played a significant role in encouraging UK creative companies. Better than a free market in which creative endeavours may be side-lined in favour of the bottom line, where parochial philistinism might drown out the artistic commitment to aesthetics and universalism. Between these competing narratives, where does the truth lie? And can we move on in a creative way, to make the best of new challenges – and opportunities.

Artist Grayson Perry, always one for seeing beyond black and white, summed up one possible approach when he said: ‘For me as an artist, I love it when something comes along and makes me think “Wow that’s a bit shocking”… We can’t keep on peddling our same old comfortable ideas and preach to the already converted. No, let’s go out there and genuinely engage with the majority of the population.’ Can this positive spirit become a new rallying call for a new creative energy? What do we need to prioritise in order to secure a springboard for transformation, shaped by the creative and cultural sectors in Brexit Britain? If creatives seek greater freedom in our practice, to create new options for collaboration, to be innovative and take risks, how can we use this new period to grow and develop?