The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all parts of our country but sadly, the situation facing the City’s and London’s creative sector is nothing short of a cultural catastrophe. These two words paint a simple and bleak picture but, if we work together, I fully believe that we can spark a cultural resurgence.
Prior to the pandemic, the creative sector was a major part of the economy. The City of London welcomed 21 million visitors in 2019, spending £2.1 billion, supporting 1,800 businesses and 20,000 jobs. The UK’s wider creative sector was growing at five times the rate of the wider economy.
As the pandemic started to take hold last year, Oxford Economics estimated that the creative industries would be hit twice as hard as the wider economy, with London suffering a £14.8 billion drop in GVA.
Arts and culture are important, not just from an economic point of view, but because engagement with them enriches our lives. This is why I set up the Culture and Commerce Taskforce in October, in partnership with the City of London Corporation and Culture Mile.
Senior leaders from a wide range of sectors, including financial services, tech firms, and cultural organisations, came on board. Over the course of a series of very productive workshops and one-to-ones, five priority areas came into focus, including growing sustainability and investment; strengthening professional skills and nurturing talent; and accelerating digital transformation.
And there was one take-away: the need for a deeper relationship between the creative, civic, and commercial sectors in order to boost London’s economic growth and maintain its position as a leading force in the economic recovery from COVID. Indeed, recent research by Wavehill, on behalf of Arts Council England, King’s College, and Culture Mile concluded that the sectors would benefit from working together more closely.
The report makes three key recommendations – ‘creative activation’ to develop urban renewal programmes to fill public and commercial spaces with visually engaging material to bring people in the City, when COVID guidelines allow; ‘creative exchange’, essentially, a greater emphasis on sharing knowledge and building skills between sectors; and developing ‘creative enterprise hubs’ from unused office and retail space to be made available for creative businesses, with a dedicated forum to give freelancers a voice in planning the future of the creative sector.
It now falls to culture, civic, and commercial organisations across London to consider the Taskforce’s proposals and implement as many of its recommendations as possible.
For our part, the City of London Corporation will look at how it can best influence, facilitate, and deliver work that will advance those recommendations. The City Corporation also last week reinforced our commitment to embedding culture at the centre of the Square Mile’s post-COVID recovery through a series of commitments. This included a major renewal of the Barbican Centre, a further grant for the London Symphony Orchestra and further funding for two years for Culture Mile.
These are very tough times and there are no immediate solutions or quick fixes, but this blueprint for recovery will help ensure that London’s creative industries have a bright future ahead of them.