Igniting BC's creative economy
Early on a Friday morning in May, about 100 creative artists, academics and policy-makers filled a lecture hall at SFU Vancouver. They were there to watch Iain Black, President and CEO of the Vancouver Board of Trade, interview Ryan Holmes, the founder and CEO of Hootsuite, a wildly successful Vancouver-based social media management company. Topics ranged from venture capitalist financing to exit strategies. Holmes talked of “exiting” when Hootsuite is valued at a billion dollars, a fantastic thought for the start of a conference on creativity.
This event was part of the first annual BCreative conference, the brainchild of SFU Publishing professor Rowland Lorimer, who saw the need for British Columbia’s creative sector to attain a greater presence in the government’s economic and cultural policy. “It’s an attempt to engage in a different way than we traditionally have in getting these groups talking together,” says Lorimer. “For a book publisher to listen to Ryan Holmes throw around those numbers, it gives them a sense of the realities of digital industries. We want the creative sector to hear about building companies of that magnitude and thinking about what opportunities and collaborations might be built.” Lorimer is director of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at SFU. He points out that Canada’s creative sector accounts for 7.4% of GDP and 1.1 million jobs. “We need to understand the creative economy better to invest in it and try to move it forward,” he says.
The conference was organized by SFU Publishing workshop coordinator Suzanne Norman. “People are realizing the importance of working together at the grass roots as opposed to having government dictate to the sector how policy should be done,” she says. Presenter Mark Jamison, CEO of Magazines Canada, agrees: “The goal is to get collaboration among siloed cultural sectors. Then you can advance to what kind of infrastructure you might need.” BCreative is one way SFU can engage these communities.
The event was primarily an opportunity for people involved in creative business to meet. Most of the presentations were about money and business, not about art and culture. Participants learned how much money is being made in Ontario’s book publishing industry, or the movie industry in Paris, France. Presenter Karen Thorne-Stone, director of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, described the work of this crown agency reporting to the Ontario ministry of tourism culture and sport. “We are not an art council, we are an economic development agency focused on the creative sector,” she says. OMDC programs include tax credits, direct investment, a film commission, and international business development services. Lorimer would like to see a similar organization for BC.
Keynote speaker Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg (Chief, Creative Economy Programme at the United Nations) came to Vancouver to invite SFU to join a network of academic institutions who share policy-oriented research through the United Nations’ Creative Economy Program. The network is a platform to facilitate knowledge sharing, partnerships, and exchanges of information by building synergies among partner research institutions around the world. Duisenberg said, “It was great to learn about the recent initiatives and the determination of British Columbia to foster its creative economy.”
Duisenberg, an economist, is a cousin of the late Wim Duisenberg who, as the first president of the European Central Bank, launched the Euro in 2002.
Richard Smith, SFU communication professor and director of Vancouver’s new Centre for Digital Media says, “The days of looking at the demise of various cultural industries, like book publishing, are over. It’s exciting to see people embracing new digital models and engaging with new ways of doing things.” He cites as an example Louis CK, who put his comedy videos online for free, but with the option to buy them for $5. He made a million dollars overnight. In Canada, singer songwriters who put their music online with similar payment options are averaging $1.30 a song, more than what they could get by selling their music through iTunes. As another singer songwriter once said, “The times, they are a-changing.”
Learn more about the BCreative conference at the website, www.sfu.ca/bcreative and the United Nations Creative Economy Program: unctad.org/creative-programme.