Creative Industries “Responses to social upheavals”

Dieter Gorny
Dieter Gorny | Photo (detail): © BMVI/Markus Nass

Creative industry is often a child of crisis. In an interview, cultural manager Dieter Gorny explains how it arises and how it can be fostered.

Mr. Gorny, “Creative industry” is now an often-used slogan – what does it actually mean? 

By cultural and creative industry, we mean cultural-economic processes that are triggered by the idea of an individual. For example, there is the writer who writes a book and finds a publisher, who in turn proofreads the book, produces it and in the end distributes it to the shops. There is the musician who writes a song, from which a recording is made with the help of a record label, and which is then presented to the public on a concert tour. At the beginning there’s always the idea of a creative brain, which is the basis for a cultural product that has economic effects. Such processes run parallel to the work of publicly funded institutions. 

Why is this distinction important? 

Certainly theatres and opera houses today have to think more and more in economic categories – for example, in terms of capacity utilisation. The public sector’s role, however, is different from that of creative industry: it should enable an easy access to cultural activities and need not therefore generate above all else a profit. Though this also applies to parts of the cultural and creative industry. Creative industry encompasses a wide range of things: from fringe theatre to the production digital offerings sold in the millions.

“Creativity needs scope and networking”

What can be done to initiate and strengthen such creative processes?

Creative processes never or only rarely arise in established structures. Creativity needs scope and networking. It is also often a response to social upheavals. Here in the Ruhr area, for example, the local identity is based on the region’s image of itself as a former industrial agglomeration, the cradle of the German coal and steel industries. Since the end of this epoch, the question about what marks this region, what its specific identity is, has been posed again and again. Creativity can grow out of this concern with your own situation and the resultant possibilities. The key tool is education, the universities and colleges and the young people who are taught there. Also important are the spatial possibilities offered by a region. 

When it comes to creativity and cosmopolitanism in Germany, people look above all to the capital, to Berlin. 

That’s right, but in Berlin you can now detect a certain satiety. The phase of the search for identity is over. In a booming region certain questions need no longer be asked; you’re no longer compelled to be creative. This in turn affords a chance for other regions. In the Ruhr area, therefore, we’ve set up what we call creative quarters: spaces where idea generators, developers, business people and city planners can meet and exchange thoughts. Such meeting places ensure that in the end good ideas also become good and marketable products.

“It’s a long process”

What has already been achieved in the Ruhr area in terms of creative industry? 

We can see the first successes in some areas – for example, in the development and design of computer games. All round what is called the “Dortmunder U”, a former brewery building in the city centre, has arisen a lively creative quarter. In addition, successful projects such as the musical Starlight Express in Bochum have already existed for decades. All in all, of course, it’s a long process. To create something new takes time. We’ve therefore first created places for learning where various actors and institutions can together develop ideas and so profit from one another. 

Many regions have high hopes for the creative industry as a new economic sector. Isn’t this problematic? 

I don’t think so. There’s no alternative to harking back to your own identity, own ideas and own creativity. This doesn’t mean withdrawal into a shell, but rather, for example, exchange at the European level – that is, coming to grips with the responses that other creative minds in other countries have found to the pressing issues of the future. Such European networks and alliances are tremendously important for the creative process. The study of other positions raises your own profile and makes you aware of where your own creative core lies. 

Dieter Gorny is Managing Director of the European Centre for Creative Economy (ECCE) in Dortmund. In the 1980s and 90s he was a pioneer of music fair Popkomm and the television channel Viva. Gorny is Professor of Cultural and Media Studies at the University of Applied Science in Düsseldorf. The musician and manager has been the recipient of several awards, including the Echo and the Grimme Prize.