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Europe and the cultural and creative industries

10 April 2015

Professor Barry Ife, Principal of Guildhall School of Music and Drama, reflects on why the creative industries enriches our economies, communities and socieities in Europe.

On Thursday 19 March, I had the privilege of listening to renowned Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen lead the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Sibelius at the Barbican. Listening to a young Finn, who studied at the Cologne Music Academy and whose career has since brought him around the world several times, lead an international group of young musicians, I was struck again by how essential international cooperation is for culture and the arts.

The best actors, musicians, artists or designers in the UK will inevitably want to collaborate with their counterparts across Europe and the world. Those who move around will improve their career opportunities by building international profile, broadening their audience, and exposing themselves to diverse influences, practices and peers. They will also enact international cultural diplomacy: building trust and understanding with talented people from around the world.

Funding and facilitating such mobility is an important way in which the EU supports higher education institutions in preparing the cultural and creative professionals of tomorrow. The Erasmus exchange programme provides opportunities for institutions across the UK to exchange students with their counterparts in other European countries, helping to ensure that graduates are ready for careers that will often span continents. My own institution, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, has exchange agreements in place with over 30 institutions. Outward mobility is also a key focus for Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance which has pioneered a BA in European Theatre Arts which incorporates obligatory time spent abroad, engaging with diverse European contexts and practices. An alumnus profiled on the course website describes time spent studying puppetry in Prague as formative, and integral to her decision to found her own performance company.

Closer to home, the framework of the Single Market means that EU students enrich campuses across the UK with differing perspectives on creative endeavours - without the difficulties associated with visa applications. 17.8% of the students from my own institution are from the EU and I have no doubt that this contributes to the dynamic environment on which the institution prides itself.

Mobility is only one way in which the European Union supports the success of the cultural and creative industries and their contribution to the local, national and regional economy. This rapidly growing sector already accounts for more than 3% of EU GDP and the EU will soon launch an integrated strategy for enabling further growth through subsidised loans, research and curriculum development projects, international conferences and targeted action in areas such as intellectual property and the innovative use of digital technologies. This focus represents an opportunity for the UK, which has the largest cultural and creative economy in Europe valued at 7% of UK GDP, and for the higher education institutions which are nurturing the talent required for a creative knowledge economy; streamlining processes and quantifying the value of such activity through cutting-edge research; and acting as hubs for innovation at the heart of regional creative clusters.

Without EU funding, Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham University would not have been able to bring together an international team of musicians, researchers and digital artists in the creation of new technologies for the performance of live electronic music. This project involved 16 multimedia musical commissions, over 30 live performances (including festivals in Birmingham and Copenhagen), an extensive education and outreach programme and a globally unique software application. Without EU funding, the University of Winchester would not have been able invite local young disabled people to discuss a Romanian-designed wheelchair which transforms into a car, or to support Irish video artists in collecting narratives from young Lithuanians living in Dublin and to show their work while touring the city in a lorry. Without EU funding, the University for the Creative Arts would not have been able to explore how to engage young entrepreneurs across Europe in digital textile development in partnership with university and civil society partners in Belgium and France.

These projects matter, and not only because they represent vital sources of funding for UK institutions in the context of national budgetary constraints, they matter because they genuinely contribute to building a Europe of the imagination - by bringing people from across the continent together to pursue the kinds of creative endeavour that enrich our economies, our societies and our communities.

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