Create wealth as well as art, council chief urges sector

Philip Esler vows to set up a task force to make a solid 'empirical case' for the arts and humanities' substantial economic impact. Zoe Corbyn reports.

January 17, 2008

A task force to investigate the contribution that the arts and humanities make to the UK economy will be set up as part of the Government's drive to increase universities' economic impact.

Philip Esler, chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, set out his thoughts on arts and humanities research and the "creative economy" in a paper presented at a seminar at the University of Leeds this week.

Professor Esler, who is also the Government's knowledge transfer champion for the seven research councils, wrote: "The role of arts and humanities research in the creative economy is of major, though still largely uncharted, significance.

"While it is easy to assert that arts and humanities research in our higher education institutions provides an important foundation for the creative economy ... an empirical case needs to be made for it."

Professor Esler said more attention needed to be paid to how innovation occurred within the creative industries and how much firms in the sector were investing in innovation.

He also called for more information on the careers that arts and humanities graduates pursued in the creative economy and the "match or mismatch" between their degrees and work.

Noting that the movement of skilled people was widely acknowledged to be the most potent method of knowledge transfer, he asked: "Are we offering the right degrees? Do we cultivate the appropriate understanding, insight, creativity and skills in our degrees?"

Professor Esler said that the AHRC would set up an "impact and advocacy task force" this year, although the project is understood to be at an early planning stage.

"We are working up the scope of the group," said an AHRC spokeswoman.

Professor Elser also said that the Government's "continuous stress" on technology in isolation "as the focus and driver of innovation largely misses the point".

Innovation in the creative industries, he said, was really about human expressiveness, not digital content alone.

The "creative industries" are currently considered by the Government to span 13 industries: advertising; architecture; art and antiques; crafts; design; designer fashion; video, film and photography; software; music; visual and performing arts; publishing; computer games and electronic publishing; and radio and television.

A study last year on the economic impact of the research councils looked at two examples of how arts and humanities research produced economic impact.

The first example was £100,000 of research from AHRC's Centre for Surrealism that led directly to the Undercover Surrealism exhibition at London's Haywood Gallery, which generated economic impact of at least Pounds 1 million.

The second example cited was a book on the history of the IRA by an AHRC-funded researcher, which was credited with influencing the Northern Ireland peace process.

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