The Promises and Pitfalls of Creative Industries

The innovation of the creative industries has disrupted traditional workplace hierarchies and spawned new workplace norms. Many of these changes are positive–Davies and Sigthorsson interview bosses who care about their workers’ happiness, and entrepreneurs who have been able to better control which projects they want to work on by starting their own production companies. Sigthorson and Davies stress that those who work in the creative industries are knowledge and culture producers who add value through their ideas. They discuss new workplace methods such as “hotdesking”, or more egalitarian relationships between bosses and employers. However, it is important that we interrogate who is included in these new workplaces, and whether these innovations truly transform the workplace for marginalized people.

There is an age-old conflict between working for passion and working for money. Particularly in the artistic industries, there is an idea that creating a work of art for money rather than love taints its purity. It’s perhaps no wonder that the biggest artists who have been able to capitalize on commercialism are all white men–Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, to name a few. This idea hurts people whose work has been traditionally undervalued, and perpetuates the idea that they should work for “exposure,” rather than money. The funding model for creative industries has changed throughout time from models such as commission, shared ownership, and now crowdfunding. Old models of funding such as patrons now have a new online iteration through funding platforms like Patreon, where people can support artists and cultural workers directly. However, even as funding models move online, it’s easy to tell that they are replicating old ideas about whose work is worthwhile. A great example is the case of a white man who was able to raise money over $55,000 to make a potato salad while many queer and trans artists of color struggle to support themselves through their art.

Sigthorsson and Davies also discuss how cultural gatekeepers regulate what makes it on to the market and what ideas or phenomenon become popular. If people who have traditionally not been represented in the workplace do not have access to power or capital in the creative industries, gatekeepers will effectively reinforce hegemony. Additionally, much value has been generated by stealing from “underground” art and creative scenes which people without cultural power have traditionally worked in. These cultural phenomena are depoliticized and then repackaged to generate capital for companies, rather than the artists who created them.  As the innovation of creative industries is praised, a hard look must be taken at how diverse these workplaces are. Many sectors of the creative industry, tech especially, are predominantly white and male.

The rise of freelancing in the creative industries also poses a problem for those who have been traditionally marginalized in the workplace. When freelancing, a company can directly set the value of your work, and of course cultural ideas about whose work is valuable come into play in these interactions. Additionally, if one’s work is too politically radical, she runs the risk of cutting herself off from jobs from different outlets who are afraid to publish her work.

The creative industries present many opportunities to create more equitable workplaces that recognize the importance of employees as cultural producers. However, it is critical that we ask if these opportunities are available to all, and if not, how changes in policy can fix that.

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