«Creative work favours innovation and, therefore, growth»

Hasan Bakhshi, Director de Industrias Creativas, NESTA;

In recent years, the creative economy has grown at a greater speed than the rest of the economy. Creative work generates innovation and wealth, to the point that it could be the most important factor for economic growth in the long term.

Numerous studies have confirmed that the creative professions produce a higher level of happiness among workers, and this has repercussions on the global wellbeing of all citizens. Hasan Bakhshi explains that professional profiles should be broader, starting by reconsidering the traditional barriers of education which distinguishes between technical versus creative training.

Over the course of the interview, he also comments on how technology is helping with the understanding of the monetary value of art and culture, by providing macro-data on their consumption and the economic repercussions of this activity.


What should governments do to help the creative economy grow?

If there’s one thing we’ve understood in recent years is that the creative economy, which we define as that part of the economy which makes use of creative work for commercial purposes, that part of the economy has been growing very rapidly and for that reason alone, policymakers should focus on it.

We think of the creative economy as that part of the economy, which makes use of creativity and creative work for commercial purposes. If you look at the economic statistics in countries like the UK, we find that the creative economy in recent years has been growing 2 or 3 times faster than the rest of the economy. In a recent research report we’ve also learnt that the European economy also has a very fast growing creative economy.


Are there any differences among the workforce in the creative economy and the workforce as a whole?

If you think about what creative work is, creative work involves deploying cognitive skills, analytical skills to bring about novelty, product differentiation, new ways of thinking and doing things in a way that cannot be anticipated fully in advance. The quintessential idea of creative work is that it’s conducive to innovation. It gives rise to innovation and, hence, growth. So we believe that the creative element of the workforce is more important for long-term economic growth.


Are creative occupations associated with higher levels of subjective wellbeing?

We undertook a study using UK labour force survey data last year, which suggested that, in general, creative occupations were associated with high levels of happiness, with a feeling that people’s lives were worthwhile and with higher levels of life satisfaction than other jobs. But, of course, well-being is explained by lots of other factors. For example, income, how much you’re earning. If you control for those other aspects, those other determinates of well-being, what you find is that artistic and design oriented occupations have higher levels of well-being than other occupations, but another element to the creative workforce area is in IT related occupations, advertising, well-being appears to be actually lower.


What should be the scope of cultural policies in the context of the creative economy?

I think the first thing to say is that cultural policy should be mainly designed and implemented for cultural reasons. That said, it is undeniably the fact that countries which have very healthy and vibrant cultural sectors also tend to have vibrant, economically successful commercial creative industries. From the point of view of policymakers, they should try and understand the relationship between the cultural sector and the commercial creative industries and then where are these linkages or what are sometimes described as spill overs from the cultural sector and creative industries… they should be supported and maximised.

An additional thing I’d say is, “What do we mean by culture?” If one looks at the way cultural policy is actually implemented, in different countries in Europe, they’re remarkably conservative in what the definition of what art and culture actually is, the scope of art and culture. And, yet what we know is that culture on the ground, in reality is very, very dynamic. There are new forms of art and culture arising all the time, new forms of cultural participants and cultural participation, and yet policy sometimes seems to be behind the curve. One of the things I think governments generally need to do is to prove their understandings of culture as it’s happening on the ground. And then ensure that the way they support culture through cultural policy instruments is more fit for the purpose.


What are the benefits of combining arts and science skills in secondary education?

We published a research report in Nesta recently which suggested that businesses that employed both artistic and design skills as well as science and technology skills in the workforce, other things being equal, grew faster and were more innovative than businesses that just focused on science and technology skills in the workforce. There seems to be some pretty strong evidence, economic evidence, that there are economic returns to be had for a country from investing when more broad-based skills make up its workforce. The implication for the education system, of course, is that we should be very careful to avoid inadvertently introducing barriers to this multidisciplinary education. Sometimes there tends to be…there are incentives for younger people to specialise in either science or technology or the arts and humanities at a young age. This sort of research suggests that education policymakers need to be mindful that they’re not inadvertently discouraging the type of broad-based education, which appears to be valued in the workplace.


What should governments do to avoid disciplinary silos?

I think the first thing governments should do is to recognise that some of the disciplinary silos that have been created, for example in schools, are partly a reflection of what government itself has done. The way they have structured curricula, the way they’ve identified or valued technical or specialised skills that teachers have to teach their own subjects. They should look at the curriculum, for example, or they should look at the way in which school environments are structured to enable the more multidisciplinary education that we’re talking about.


What is the main evidence about the implementation of new technologies in cultural institutions?

All the evidence suggests… In the UK we’ve been conducting a longitudinal survey now for 3 years on how arts and cultural institutions use technology in their work, and all the evidence suggests that there is a high level of awareness amongst art and cultural organisations of some of the opportunities from technology. I think it’s fair to say though, that today what we’ve seen is largely incremental innovations; ways in which technology, for example, can be used by theatres and performing arts companies to break out of the physical constraints that are usually imposed by having a venue, using digital technology to broadcast live or stream their performances to wider audiences. We’ve seen that sort of incremental innovations. What we’ve not yet seen are the type of radical innovation, for example that we’ve seen brought about by technology in the case of music. If we think about the music industry, the way we engage with musical experiences, it’s a far cry from 10, 15 years ago where we were relying on physical recording devices like discs, albums… These days within seconds one can access or have new musical experiences from streaming services. That sort of radical innovation which is changing the very nature of the cultural experience, I don’t think we’ve seen widely in the arts and cultural sector. My prediction is that in the years to come we will see more of these radical, disruptive innovations in the arts and culture.


Can they contribute to social outcomes?

Can the arts and culture relate to social outcomes? I think the prima facie evidence that arts and cultural institutions can contribute to social outcomes is if you look at the missions of many of these organisations. Often, they are instituted as charities with charitable objectives and charitable missions. Those missions are often about as well as improving cultural well-being of the public but also achieving social outcomes. So, I think it’s undeniably the case that some of the outcomes that we see from arts and cultural organisations in terms of well-being are manifested in social well-being, social outcomes in terms of learning and education outcomes for young people, in terms of social inclusion, where communities have been previously disengaged from culture through the work of an individual theatre company, for example, are more engaged with culture. There are many, many instances of that. It might be worth saying that there can also be negative social outcomes. I don’t know if that’s relevant or not?



I think that there are many, many examples of institutions that are doing great work in achieving positive social outcomes through their work with local communities. We should also recognise that art and culture can sometimes be the instrument of social exclusion. It can be used as a way of creating barriers to engagements and I think that it’s very important that policymakers are aware of that potential outcome as well.


How do you think that Economics contribute to a better understanding of arts and culture?

The most obvious way in which economics contributes to our understanding of art and culture is by recognition of the fact that, like every other activity, art and culture happens within economic constraints. Artists work within economic constraints. They need, at a basic level, their time and financial resources to undertake their activity. So there’s a very direct sense in which economics can contribute to our understanding of arts and culture in the same way it can contribute to our understanding of all activity, which has an economic dimension. At the same time, economics provides value. We have hundreds of years of quite a developed theory of value, which can be applied to arts and culture, as it can in other areas. This is a utilitarian theory of value. It’s a particular conception of value. It should not be privileged over competing with alternative approaches to value, but as part of a multidisciplinary understanding of what art and culture is. Economists can also contribute their particular approach and conception of what value is.


Which topics do you think might be of interest for young researchers starting their careers in the coming years?

One of the points that the keynote speaker Andy Pratt, Professor Andy Pratt, made at the conference this morning was that in the past, the lack of good data and lack of opportunities for good empirical work in the arts and culture sector was one of reasons why there were not more economists working in the arts and culture sector. One of the benefits of the so-called big data revolution, associated with the internet and ICT, more generally, is that there are vast amounts of data more available now, in principle, for researchers to understand the phenomenon of art and culture. I think one of the things that we are going to see in the coming years is far more empirical work, far more data work to understand those aspects of art and culture activity, which up until now, have been hidden from the eyes of researchers.


It’s because it grows so fast and there is no register of data…

I think it’s partly to do with the fact that culture is very fast changing and dynamic, which makes it difficult for traditional ways that researchers use to try to understand the world, like surveys and censuses and registries. It makes it difficult for those data sources to catch up. So it’s partly about it being fast changing, but it’s also because of the fact that culture is increasingly mediated digitally. What that means is that culture itself is leaving a digital footprint in a way that it wasn’t before. One of the aspects is, of course, of the digital revolution is that it leaves a data footprint, which allows analysts to access that data and try to use it to improve their understanding of art and culture. A good example is social media data. We know that there are a lot of discussions and attitudes and perceptions and reactions to cultural experiences, they are now being mediated on line through social media platforms, which creates opportunities for researchers and analysts like myself to access that data, clean that data and make it fit for the purposes of research analysis and, hopefully, use that to improve our understanding about art and culture as it is today.


Do policymakers and other stakeholders take into account the research produced by universities and research centres?

That’s a very big question and I think the answer varies depending on what type of research domain you’re talking about. I think in the art and cultural area, which is obviously the subject of the conference, the ACEI conference here today, I think partly there’s a problem that there’s an insufficient number of academics who are addressing research questions that policy makers need answers to today. That’s not to say that there isn’t some policy relevant research being conducted, but I do think that there could be some useful re-prioritising of research priorities towards the sorts of questions that policy makers need answers for. So that’s one comment I’d make. I think another thing I’d say, which is a feature of all academic research, not just particular to art and culture, is that the horizons that policy makers often work to are shorter than the horizons that academic researchers work to. What that means is that, for example, where as it may take a couple of years for a monograph or an academic book or volume to be put together, designed and published, the research questions that the researchers were addressing in that volume, that policy makers were focused on at that time, they may have become of less contemporary interest to policy makers. Policy makers have moved on. So I think there is a sense in which there’s a bit of a disconnect between the horizons of policy makers which are shorter and academics which are longer. There’s no easy answer to that, but I do believe the academy can do more to ensure that policy relevant research insights are codified and made more available and put in language that policy makers can act on more quickly than we currently can.



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