Scan the horizon: reflecting on Creative England Live 2019

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Imagine this. You are a hotly-tipped developer, creator, filmmaker, designer, producer, or festival maker, selected for this year’s prestigious CE50: Creative England’s annual list of ‘exceptional talent’. You have been recognised and nominated by your peers. Your phone is lighting up with congratulatory messages. You’re ecstatic, hopeful, full of questions.

On the morning of the CE50 announcement, you’re also heading to Creative England Live: invited, along with many other industry experts, to ‘scan the horizon’ and consider the opportunities that lie ahead for you.

What on earth is going through your mind? What could the future hold? What should it hold?

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

On the day at Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

June Sarpong MBE hosting Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

The CE50 were invited to talk about their journeys working in the creative industries

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England’s CEO Caroline Norbury MBE opened the day with a keynote

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

The day rounded off with an in conversation with Kanya King CBE, founder of the MOBOs

CELIVE 2019

CELIVE 2019

The CE50 are certainly not an easy or cohesive group to cater for: they represent (as one would expect from such a list) a spectrum of established and critically acclaimed businesses, like experimental arts collective Marshmallow Laser Feast – whose clients include U2 and McLaren – to relatively young platforms, like Birmingham-based GirlDreamer who are training future female leaders of colour. In this sense, ‘horizon scanning’ means different things depending on who you speak to. The 50 have individual needs and concerns.

With that in mind, Creative England Live’s speakers offered hard-won and practical advice, from how to work with an angel investor, to what it’s like to rapidly grow your business or switch to ethical banking. A mixture of built-from-scratch creative companies, the panels included former CE50 recipients – some of whom had received investment from Creative England. Hosted by June Sarpong MBE, TV presenter, social entrepreneur and author (Diversify: Six Degrees of Integration), Creative England Live’s main takeaway was one of encouragement.

In an opening speech that congratulated the CE50, Caroline Norbury MBE, CEO of Creative England, took a moment to remind us how creative practitioners can not only foretell the future (consider that Jules Verne predicted the moon landing in 1865) but also has the potential to change behaviours. Look no further than BBC’s Blue Planet (“TV so powerful”, said Caroline, that “it’s widely believed to have sparked a turning point in the war on plastics”), or closer to home, to Creative England’s shortFLIX partnership with Sky Arts and ScreenSkills. A “genuinely life-changing” training programme that develops and broadcasts the work of young filmmakers not in full-time education, employment or training, Caroline outlined shortFLIX as a key Creative England project that is actively tackling “the economic exclusion of young people from the film and TV industry”.

In ‘Government Priorities for the Creative Industries’, Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, discussed her early years in Coventry, helping with her family’s waste management company – “My father was a salesman, he had an instinct for marketing” – and her own experience of running an international Pharmaceutical PR firm before she became a politician. Urging the audience to “definitely” seek out and utilise local enterprise hubs, James also recommended some bedtime reading for the room’s business owners (‘Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices’ report), and gave an update on The Creative Industries Sector Deal – one of the immediate highlights is that, creative companies across Greater Manchester, the Midlands and the West of England will soon be able to take advantage of a support programme to super charge their growth.

The day’s first panel, ‘It Pays to do Good’, grappled with purpose-led entrepreneurship. Conversation quickly and frequently turned to the old idea of investing in people, not business, and ideas that have social value being exciting to invest in. Crowdfunder patrons, explained CEO Rob Love, “see what that person is about and what they believe in […]Crowdfunding will always be purpose driven. It’s always about the people and their integrity.” His advice to the audience was to “stick to your purpose and do it well”, and for the government to take more risks, back projects and “don’t make creatives experts at getting money – the money should find them.”

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Networking at Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

The Next Chapter of Storytelling panel

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England’s Chief Finance Officer Mehjabeen Patrick hosting the Next Chapter of Storytelling panel

Creative England Live 2019

Creative England Live 2019

Enjoying the interactive board at Creative England Live 2019

Greenshoots, a partnership between Xbox and Creative England, invests in independent games companies. We heard from previous beneficiaries Pixel Toys, based in Leamington-Spa, who following Creative England’s investment in the company’s first mobile game, had grown their company from two to 70.  Applications are now open for games developers based in any of the English regions outside of Greater London (deadline Sunday 11th August 2019).

Wakefield might seem an unlikely centre for the music industry but the spotlight on Backstage Academy in South Kirby, Wakefield, from Vice Principal Rachel Nicholson thrilled the audience with an overview of their ambitious and audacious plans. Unveiling their new R&D centre, which will be experimenting with new technologies for the events industry, Nicholson also made clear how crucial it is to cater for the next generation of creatives who wouldn’t normally find their way into the sector. Accessing higher education in a former coal mining city, Backstage Academy’s 200 full-time students are graduating in stage and production management – learning skills in equipment suspension and rigging, pyrotechnics, electrics and more. “You don’t wait for people to come to you”, said Nicholson; “you go to the places where they are.”

In ‘The Next Chapter for Storytelling’, the panel had a lot to say about new narrative forms. Richard Lewis, Head of UK & IRE Content Partnerships at YouTube, reminded us of the sheer demand on viewers and producers alike: “420 hours per minute gets uploaded to YouTube. If you’re a content creator, you have to know how to cut through that.” Helping YouTubers understand and find the right distribution methods is key, Lewis said. Coming from two ends of the spectrum, playwright Sharon Clark, Creative Director at Raucous, and Robin McNicholas, Director of the aforementioned Marshmallow Laser Feast, discussed the wide range of new viewers they’re attracting in what would be traditionally understood as ‘high culture’. After McNicholas described taking VR into the art gallery (‘We Live in an Ocean of Air’ at the Saatchi), Clark explained how AR is affecting her theatre productions. “Augmented reality in live performance: we haven’t even seen it hit its stride yet”, said Clark. “If you’re a storyteller, it is an extraordinary thing. You can change architecture and environments, and place the audience within that. I could never build a set like that, I could never afford it.”

The final panel of the day, ‘Lessons from the Future’, pulled together astonishing anecdotes of persistence. Actress Rachel Shenton spoke candidly about her film The Silent Child: the speed in which she crowdfunded, co-wrote, starred in, and then won an Oscar for the film, in the space of around eighteen months, and the post-success crash. “It was really overwhelming. We were just in a fog. We had no other projects on the back-burner or anything that was ready to go. People were saying, well, you’ve got to move now, you’re hot right now, and that sort of nonsense, which just puts the biggest amount of pressure on that you don’t need.” Walli Ullah, founding partner of EMU Films, described the resolve needed to raise £4 million for Catch Me Daddy, which premiered at Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, the accolades that followed, and the hard questions they needed to ask to continue. “Creative England made us take a long hard look at what we were trying to do”, said Ullah. “It was critical that we had that wake-up call. They really helped us shape our vision and make our next film. We ended up with a BAFTA nomination.”

It was Kanya King CBE who had the last word. Speaking directly to those entrepreneurs who focus on addressing imbalances in the creative industries, King painted a picture of what it was like to push back against music moguls in denial about the existence – and cultural sway – of black audiences. Launching the MOBO Awards (‘Music of Black Origin’) in 1996, King remortgaged her house to pay for the first televised ceremony, which she secured with just six weeks to prepare. “Written off” as the youngest of nine children, King remembered being told by her school careers advisor to manage her expectations and get a job at Sainsburys. She became a mother at sixteen. “Naivety is a blessing”, King said; “if I thought hard about all the challenges, I wouldn’t have done it.” King’s fundamental advice was to gain credibility by being as transparent as possible, and to think carefully about the social and cultural contribution your company – like MOBO – could make. “Businesses need to do more than CSR to survive. If your business gives to the community, your community will give to your business.”

Laura Robertson is a freelance writer and editor, and co-founder of online arts and culture magazine thedoublenegative.co.uk. She is currently studying MA Writing at the Royal College of Art.

Photo credits: thisisdecoy.co.uk