By Adrian Duyzer
Published May 26, 2009
factor[e] design initiative, the company I work for, was invited to participate in the Cultural Industries Cluster Strategy Session at the Crowne Plaza hotel tonight.
This was a city-run focus group designed to pick the brains of people in Hamilton-based creative industries, to determine how to increase arts- and culture-based economic activity here. I attended on behalf of our company.
The first interesting thing about the session is that this type of consultation is happening at all. The city expressed their desire to hear directly from the people who know the creative "cluster", or sector, best - the people who work in it - rather than hiring a consultant. Fantastic!
The event was facilitated by Steve Howse from Millington & Associates. He ran into early opposition to his somewhat corporate style and his use of the words "customer" and "consumer" to describe what an artist later called the "audience". To his credit, he did manage to cover the entire agenda and he also ended on time.
The city is focusing economic development efforts on six clusters: manufacturing, agribusiness, biosciences, cultural industries (which apparently employ approximately 10,000 people), goods movement, and clean & green technologies.
The city's draft strategy for this cluster is currently called "Film and Culture", and takes a very film- and television centric viewpoint, with an eye towards continuing to promote the city as a destination for film shoots, but also adding pre- and post-production facilities to try and attract more business.
Session participants, however, made it clear that this focus is much too narrow, and a city representative promised that a broader focus would be adopted. The updated strategy will, I expect, include a much broader range of cultural industries, including music, other performing arts, drawing, painting, pottery, etc.
The definition of cultural industries itself is in flux. Jeremy Freiburger from the Cotton Centre noted that Richard Florida, who was referenced several times during the session by representatives of the city and by attendees, has defined the "creative class" differently at different times, sometimes encompassing a very wide range of professionals.
I knew what he meant, because I felt a bit like the black sheep at the focus group, a fact I pointed out. Our company employs creative individuals and artists, but we also have a strong focus on technology, and I am not an artist at all (I'm a web developer). I argued for a broader focus that included technology, especially Internet technologies, when creating strategies for the cluster.
Rapid technological change online represents a clear threat to cultural industries but also an excellent opportunity for Hamilton to distinguish itself. The threat is from the destruction of traditional media advertising revenue in the print and television industries. This has a broadly negative effect on cultural industries - the loss of corporate sponsors - and also a specific negative effect on film and television producers, as television networks go out of business or cut back.
The opportunity is to focus on the future of video content: digital provision, in niche markets. Recent CRTC hearings have focused on the provision of video content online and on mobile devices. It's evident that the future of video content lies here, not with traditional television broadcasting, and that means trying to create a cluster that revolves around television show filming and production is risky.
Many other ideas were presented that my sparse notes don't do justice to, so you'll have to wait until the city releases something more comprehensive to learn more (I'll post something when the city sends it out). I'm also very curious about what's come out of the focus groups for the other clusters.
The session ended with some ideas for a vision for the city from the participants. One in particular struck me: "The city as a collection of dreams." Exactly the sort of vision you'd expect from an artist, and one that I think has great value.
(Another thing I noticed, that the facilitator, Howse, also pointed out: the quality of the doodling that goes on when you have a big meeting of artists is unparalleled!)
All in all, a good start. If the city broadens the focus, gets feedback from some groups that were not represented (e.g. architects), and follows through on the strategy when the planning is done, I think artistic and cultural industries in Hamilton will continue to grow rapidly.
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