How was the idea for a creative agency born? Why did you see a need?
In the late 1990s, I worked as a research associate on a programme to explore the evolution of the creative economy in the UK and to benchmark it against emergent practice across Europe. I then, in 2000, worked to help set up a new cultural industries development agency in East London, which involved a lot of inspiring engagement with many creative enterprises and cultural organisations in an inspiring and transforming part of the city. These two jobs helped me identify the need for a new type of creative consultancy: one which was closely linked to the sector and which was inspired by the distinctiveness of cities and regions and the role of the creative industries and cultural sector in their transformation. At this time, public agencies across the UK and Europe were seeking evidence-based approaches to identify how to support growth and innovation in the creative economy. There was, and continues to be, appetite for building fresh approaches to, for example, culture-led regeneration, creative hubs and clusters, inclusive talent development and spillovers. The consultancy was born with these opportunities in mind, with a real aspiration to make a difference across a portfolio of projects and programmes.
What kind of obstacles did you face during the development?
The main obstacles were to manage a growing portfolio of clients while at the same time recruiting staff with the range of skills required for a diversity of needs. In the first instance, the consultancy was just me, and then we developed and grew a team and network of associates internationally.
What are you currently working on?
We have a dynamic portfolio of projects, some with long-term clients. - Internationally, we continue to work with UNESCO, European Commission, World Bank and British Council. Recently this has involved creative economy strategies and baseline studies in Brazil, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Egypt. We are embarking on some major evaluation and creative economy baseline studies for Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. We are also advising European Capital of Culture candidate cities, including Oulu 2026 in Finland and we have a range of projects in Portugal, Armenia, Netherlands, Lebanon, Peru and China. We are also very excited to be founding members of the new European Cultural Policy Designers Network . In the UK, we are busy with several place-based cultural strategies and creative economy baseline studies, including several across London, Lancashire Exeter, Preston, Swansea and Lincoln. We are also working with Arts Council England to evaluate a long-term place-based approach to culture in Luton and have recently completed a study on the impact of public investment in culture for place-making.
What are your next steps?
Our major priority now is to launch our new office in Porto. This is to establish an office in a fantastic city which we have grown to love over several years and multiple projects. It is also a response to the disaster of BREXIT. We are a European company and wish to not only celebrate that but also ensure we have a legal status within the European Union. We also have some exciting new projects in the pipeline, including a creative economy and cultural strategy for Kuwait and a set of international speaking engagements.
How do you think cultural and creative stakeholders can benefit from networks like NICE?
It is vital to build the confidence, profile and connectivity of the sector. The creative industries are quite fragmented (although increasingly convergent) sector. NICE can help broker purposeful encounters across the sector, encouraging dialogue and helping to build communities of practice. It can also help to build awareness of the role and value of the sector to Governments and investment partners.
In view of the NICE Award 2019: How do international solutions / cooperation have the potential to form a better society?
They are so vital – to help initiate intercultural dialogue, to champion talent from a diversity of places and to identify the social impact of creative practice. If we don’t build the social capital of the sector, we will close the door to so much talent and we will lessen the innovation potential of the creative economy.
Find more information about the creative consultancy here