Creative Spaces of Precarity and Possibility

Building for creativity –Places, spaces, educating and collaborating (Martin Bouette and Ian Elwick, Werks Group)

Brighton has become a coherent creative city and the Werks Group has been central in this development. This talk explores the development of creative hubs in Brighton and in particular the relationship between physical and virtual support. The Werks group has an enviable track record of business success with less than 2% business failure rate and a lexicon of amazing creative enterprises that have succeeded.

Director Dr Martin Bouette transcends creative hub development with an academic career coordinating the business courses for fashion pathways at the University of Brighton. He has also written and directed an MBA in Creative Industries Management. Director Ian Elwick has been at the forefront of creative hub development setting up Brighton’s first digital media centre in 1992. Since 2014 Bouette and Elwick have developed 9 creative spaces in Brighton and have undertaken research, projects, business planning and hub development for Kent County Council and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Bouette and Elwick see the juxtaposition of space, community and support being at the heart of creative hubs. They will discuss their creative journey through the exploration of their practice. They will discuss developing creative spaces, implementing support at various levels, the importance of the virtual environment and connecting with local groups and HEI’s.

Within their talk Bouette and Elwick will discuss their experience of the changing landscape of creative spaces, the impact of Brexit, building connections with local groups, developing affordable spaces to meet the needs of specialist creative areas (digital, games, craft and fine art), types of spaces from offices and studios to co working and co making and the virtual community and the future.

Bouette and Elwick will conclude by discussing the  ‘Affordability Challenge’ How do private sector organisations secure and maintain supportive creative workspace that is affordable to make and therefore affordable to creative practices?

Creative labour and creative cities in a crisis of social reproduction (Harry Pitts, University of Bristol)

Drawing on 33 interviews with freelancers and creatives at 11 graphic design, branding and advertising agencies in London and Amsterdam, this paper explores the pressures placed upon the management and performance of creative labour by sectoral and geographical contradictions centred on the urban dynamics of the creative industries. It suggests that what goes on in creative workplaces is conditioned by a web of relations external to those workplaces. These relations support the social reproduction of the workers and firms that perform and engage it, of which cities are a crucible of contestation, conflict and manifold contradictions. The paper finds that the specific kind of creative agency leads to differently experienced material and economic outcomes in terms of the relationship with urban space and local processes of creative clustering: high-turnover large global media conglomerates, their subsidiaries, independent agencies, smaller ‘boutique’ agencies and, finally, freelancers.

The process of creative clustering and the cycle of gentrification associated with it inducts agencies into a spiral of initial cheap rent and plentiful labour gradually replaced by rising rent, overheads, and competition. A familiar cycle ensues whereby, owing to the creative influx, formerly cheap areas in which to live and work gentrify and become unaffordable both to the young workforces on which the agencies rely and, at the level of ground rent, business rates and so on, for the agencies themselves, generating higher overheads increasingly unsustainable as clients spend less through agencies undercutting themselves and others in pursuit of repeat work. Cost-cutting and intensified labour regimes drive creative talent to more liberated upstart studios taking advantage of cheap rent elsewhere. Freelancers, by breaking away from firms to go it alone, represent a further fragmentation of the creative field. From below, this groundswell of independent work and upstart studios places extra pressures on a top end of the market already locked in fierce competition for the available clients. This pressure is passed on to workers and managers in the creative labour process, which creates further outflow of creative talent. The paper explores some manifestations of these tendencies in the testimonies of workers employed in these fields.

Business for artists: a theoretical rationale for the Feral MBA (Kate Rich Independent Artist, UWE)

Recent scholarship has questioned the leadership role of the University in the troubled landscape of the creative economy, as provider of tools to economise individual creativity at expense of a host of other solidarities, subjectivities, schemes and activisms. Practices and vocabularies from business studies are invading the art school, negating its critical role, while artists are sent out as canaries of self-entrepreneurship into an increasingly insecure labour market.

This paper presents the thinking steps behind the Feral MBA (fMBA), a proposal for a radically different kind of business school, situated between the Academy and the Wild, where artists, small business operators and other researchers would gather to experiment with new shapes for business and enterprise designed for a fundamentally reimagined economy. What else could artists do for business? What other kinds of business education could be imagined/demanded? The aims of the fMBA are twofold: to provide artists with a curriculum of alternative and experimental discourses and survival practices in business and economics; and to supply the problems of business with the critical capacities and understandings of artists. This proposition is grounded in an emergent, feminist reading of economics, which re-frames ‘the economy’ not as a singular, capitalist domain, but as diverse, interconnected practices of sustenance and livelihood. Drawing on approaches from critical management studies, critical making, art and ethnography, this paper will outline the rationale, positioning, structure and methodologies for a new kind of business school which does not rest on the assumption that value equals money.

Chair: Ellen Hughes, UWE

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