I am presenting on behalf of the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway, which is one of the major research institutes, with my colleague, Dr. Pat Collins, who has been leading this research in terms of the creative economy. What I want to present today is a project funded under the EU as a Creative Edge project with a number of partners including the Western Development Commission and partners in Finland and Sweden. This will give the committee a sense of some practical pilot initiatives we have used to try and support the creative economy, given its importance in terms of both urban and regional focus. Our project is a €1.1 million project that finished in 2013. We focused on three key areas: the roles of people, place and creative production, and the milieu of those three areas coming together to form a very vibrant creative economy.
A lot of research has been carried out examining the creative economy in an urban area. This is the first time that a major research project has had an applied focus to look at this issue in a rural context. There are many definitions of the creative economy. Dr. Pat Collins and I are reconceptualising the way one would look at the creative economy, which would include creative expression, such as music and visual-audio performing arts, creative application and creative technology. This is the way we examined the creative economy in the west of Ireland, Northern Ireland, northern Sweden and Finland.
This is the first pioneering mapping, at a very micro level, of the creative economy in rural areas of peripheral parts of Europe. As part of the project, we established creative hubs. Our colleagues in Northern Ireland looked at using vacant buildings to support the creative economy. We also examined the possibilities associated with our website, mycreativeedge.eu, and ways a portal can support and internationalise creatives. That was led by the Western Development Commission. We had mentoring and training programmes. All of these were successful pilot initiatives that made a difference in supporting the creative economy.
If we take the west of Ireland as an example, on the slide is a visualisation of the sector when looking at application, creation and expression. We would consider it to be a diverse sector which crosses a number of different areas. Cultural consumption is important in terms of the number of theatres, museums and culture and heritage sites. These are the science parks of the creative economy in terms of supporting and enabling people to access those.
There is an overall high-level mapping, which is available online if committee members are interested in looking at it in terms of their own context. This is the high-level picture in terms of the areas that we looked at. If we take the audio-visual sector, which is very important in Galway and the west, we see that it is very highly concentrated. When we come down to the micro-level, we can see that there is a high concentration of audio-visual sector initiatives in Connemara, which is a result, I suppose, of TG4 and the evolution of that sector there. My colleague, Dr. Pat Collins, has done a lot of work in terms of understanding that significant cluster.
The other important part of it concerns creative education. We mapped the creative education institutions on the island of Ireland. We identified approximately 3,000 graduate places. There is a need to grow that sector. Graduates from creative courses are four times more likely to create jobs or to be entrepreneurial. They are very significant in terms of job creation and enterprise.
We also created a portal. Many of the creative companies are micro, one or two person, operations, although some of them are bigger. The Western Development Commission pioneered mycreativeedge.eu. This is a portal which a creative can join and put up a profile at no cost. This has been very effective in terms of internationalisation, generating more business and creating a profile for the creatives. In the first few months, up until 2013, 500 businesses had registered with it and it had approximately 36,000 unique visits. For creative industries and one or two person operations, this is a vital source to give them greater visibility.
In the survey, respondents said they wanted networking opportunities and more customised supports. They were seeking a strong international orientation and better mentoring in terms of working with colleagues and building their businesses.
Our colleagues in SEED in Northern Ireland established creative hubs. This might be relevant in terms of vacant buildings throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. They created a template and a toolkit and they set up four hubs during the course of the projects. These hubs are not-for-profit. One or two people can go into a location and set up their businesses. They receive mentoring and there is a whole stakeholder engagement which goes behind that so that these become sustainable hubs for creative enterprises. This has been very successful in Umeå in Sweden.
Our colleagues in Sweden pioneered the mentoring aspect. They also pioneered working with creatives, graduates working with business and creating international meeting points. Finally, our colleagues in Finland pioneered the idea of creative education, internationally, across the four partners, getting them to work with businesses in terms of the creative economy and looking at how they utilise their cross-media skills, which included working with a tyre company to create new products and services.
This is a critical sector for the national economy, one that would equate in terms of time to medical devices and ICT. It is undervalued and needs to be recognised more in terms of coherence and in terms of policy. We also suggest there be more detailed data, similar to what we have pioneered in this project to really map out the rest of the clusters of creative activity throughout Ireland because they are really important to society, rural society, and also in terms of economy. In some senses if one has vibrancy in terms of creative activity and consumption, and also in terms of creation, they are like having many foreign direct investment companies in particular locations. They keep coherency and vibrancy in the local economy.
We also would argue that there needs to be greater coherence at a policy level on co-ordination between the different actors responsible for this sector. Our analysis of Sweden and Finland proves that better policy co-ordination, better regional supports and a more customised approach works and helps in terms of the sectors growing and flourishing. We suggest having a ten-year plan to redevelop the sector, similar to successful models that have been followed for other sectors such as ICT, medical devices, life sciences, etc. We are finding that there is a great appetite from the creatives in terms of the willingness and need to develop this sort of support.
When looked at from a regional and peripheral perspective, the place is the aspect that needs to be protected but also the place helps to harness the uniqueness. Catalysts such as the specialised programmes we have just outlined will help to create new networks and create activity in terms of the internationalisation that is required. Our project has shown us that we can create great connections on a pan-European basis between peripheral regions, working together to boost the economic activity in international trade. Better use of broadband and access to all those kinds of things are critical.
On cultural consumption, 80% of consumption of cultural products comes from seven categories, the highest being television, radio and Internet. It is very important that Ireland is well positioned in these cultural categories to be a very strong and dominant force internationally. There needs to be more analysis of content because this is at the cutting edge.
On education, there needs to be enhanced, broadened understanding of skillsets, discipline and connections. More data need to be collected in terms of creative education. As we would do for other sectors, there is a need for creative innovation hubs throughout the country - mini ones like the creative hubs that we have pioneered with our project.
Those are just some thoughts we have on a project we have run for the past three years and also the research we have done for the past five years in this sector.