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Monthly Archives: June 2010

The cancellation of tax breaks for the videogames industry announced in this week’s emergency budget is a loss and disappointment for the UK games industry. The successful case made by UK bodies TIGA and NESTA which evinced support from the Labour government holds no truck with the Coalition.  While this is a body blow for the UK industry, in Scotland it strikes at the heart.  For in Scotland, the games industry is more than just one of the Cool Britannia creative industries.  In a small nation, its an precious indigenous specialism with the potential to achieve exponential returns for Scotland. 

Dundee games companies are now reportedly considering upping sticks  Colin MacDonald, from Realtime Worlds

 We would hate to move away but we’re a business.When Canada is 40% cheaper and France has built-in tax credits, you’re looking at saving millions a year.

Its clear that the games industry in Dundee is a star which, with special support could deliver not only economic benefits  – jobs and wealth  but also enhance Scotland’s reputation in the world.  The video games industry in Dundee follows on the traditions of Scotland’s unique genetic trait of creative and canny innovation, from the telephone to the television. 

Despite raids on talent from Canada and Ireland, the core of the Dundee games industry has remained in the creative cluster of Tayside for reasons of loyalty, pragmatism and pride – and the expectation that fiscal support will come into play soon. 

Support for the Scottish games industry has been a political football for too long now.  While the Scottish games industry made a strong case for support, it was wrapped up in research by the well-endowed UK think tank NESTA and UK games advocacy body TIGA and its particular cultural significance diluted in a UK wide solution.  The Labour UK government planned tax breaks across the UK which Scotland could have enhanced with other financial support. The UK breaks cancelled, what will happen now?  Whilst recognising that it makes absolute sense, the SNP has declared for the last 12 months that its lack of fiscal autonomy prevents Scotland from fully supporting the games industry. The latest rumblings in the Scottish Parliament may herald a grand gesture of providing financial support from the budget underspend.  If that’s the goal the Scottish Government needs, shoot. But its no way to go on. Scotland needs fiscal autonomy to support our cultural and economic winners but until we get it, we need to find other mechanisms to provide steady support for growth.

Creative Scotland is formally and finally launched next week with a full team and board ready to hit the ground running.  With a remit to champion the arts and creative industries in Scotland, and a specific role in leading the coordination of the Creative Industries Partnership – involving  the public agencies charged with supporting the games industry economically and culturally.  One of their first causes surely will be to champion the Scottish games industry, not only for their economic value but for their cultural significance in the success of Scotland’s creative economy.

In these times of financial crisis, arts funders cry out for theatre companies to be more innovative and to find new business models.  Implicit in these challenges is the belief that theatre companies are at best conservative and risk-averse or at worst hopeless at business and organisation. While this is sometimes the case, most theatres and arts organisations are entrepreneurial, innovative and smart.  Its just that they havent established their value and this is often because of the lack of evidence.

NESTA has published Culture of Innovation, a report into how the National Theatre and the Tate innovate.

The headlines have been grabbed by the phenomenal success of NT Live, the livestreaming of NT productions which not only have seen the NT extend the size and social breadth of its audiences but have also shown that this platform has found audiences to be more emotionally engaged than those at the theatre – it breaks through the fourth wall.

But these headlines can obscure other key messages about theatre from the report:

1. theatres can be intrinsically innovative because they take risks with new plays

2. theatres can be as smart at business as other commercial outfits – managing programming, ticket yield etc

I guess many of us in the theatre knew that.  But the fact that funders dont know this stems in part from a lack of evidence of the value of the work that theatres do. NESTA argues for taking a research-led approach:

We hope to have demonstrated through this study the benefits of that experimentation being research-led. That involves: upfront identification of clear research questions;application of rigorous research methodologies(quantitative as well as qualitative); and analysis of revealed (audience behaviour)as well as stated (surveyed) preferences.Using such methodologies, research studies can generate robust evidence to inform policymaking within institutions, amongst cultural funding agencies and in government 

This makes absolute sense and a welcome relief from the usual way in which the case is made for the arts, which draws implications from events and programmes after they have happened. Instead of a research led approach, evidence on the value of the arts is often rhetorical.

An example is the latest report from Demos which describes how the RSC has used its own principles of ‘ensemble’ to reform to its own organisation, implying an added value from its instrinsic artisticness. At 180 pages, it tells the story of this theatre’s organisational change process through documentation and observation. Its hard to see how this report benefits anyone other than the internal audiences at the RSC, like many other reports before it.

Surely its time to get more focussed about where to put research funding. Its time to ditch the observerational rhetoric and move to  research-led experimentation to add value.