Mt Auburn Associates were commissioned to do an evaluation of the cultural economy of Louisiana. A fantastic job, looking at a place with a strong culture, sense of place, and minority language, but a job that brought all sorts of challenges regarding definitions. The company came up with the following definition of the creative economy: “The people, enterprises, and communities that transform cultural, skills, knowledge and ideas into economically productive goods, services and places”.
For the Highlands and Islands, this seems like a very useful definition. It highlights the important mixing pot of cultural knowledge and skills ranging from Gaelic to digital downloads, and a sense of place. Just as importantly, it also recognises the importance that communities and people play in creating a successful economy.
There is often a tendency to look abroad to find examples of places that know how to promote themselves. Louisiana is one such place, as is Iceland.
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
The Highlands and Islands also offers something unique and exotic to other people. A location that offers a unique, colour, sound, feel, smell that is not something easily replicated by the multinationals who also share the creative industries market place. It is no coincidence that a festival like Belladrum, that really understands the local audiences and its location, is arguably one of the most sustainable festivals in the UK.
Seize the day
In reality, there has never been a better time for social enterprises to transform cultural skills and knowledge into products that will help sustain their overall work, and to take these to an international audience.
- Firstly, there are more digital platforms (Amazon, Google, Facebook …) that allow unprecedented access to people with common interests across the globe.
- Secondly, there is an ever growing demand for personalised products and services, that are ‘authentic’ and carry a story that maintains the link with place and people.
Overcome the challenges
There are challenges still – how to use the existing platforms effectively, how to get noticed amongst everyone else selling on-line, and how to monetise your on-line presence, but creative industries offers a great opportunity to do this.
The starting point for any social enterprise is to identify exactly what their story is. For something like the St Kilda Centre being developed in Lewis, there are a number of obvious choices – environment, culture, emigration, language – and perhaps for them, the challenge is to narrow down the choices. Identifying the story effectively though, helps link your products with people.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Social media, and platforms like Youtube or Vine offer the opportunity to generate a picture of yourself and your story, and to engage with wider audiences in a form that they are comfortable with. The important thing, is give your potential customers something of yourself, in return for their contact details. Even free content is not given away, it is an exchange for a larger mailing list, as realistically, your premises are likely to be the least accessible part of your offering when it comes to a global market place.
Creative and cultural products genuinely have a place in a world-wide market, and you don’t need to be a big business to enter that market. You just need to be a bit creative about telling the world who you are.
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Join like-minded people
The Social Enterprise Summit will take place in Inverness on 10-11 June followed by a series of study tours on 12 June. A major focus across the two day event will be Creative Industries with a dedicated session looking at the importance of this industry and showcasing social enterprises from around the Highlands and Islands.
Got ideas but don’t know how to execute them?
The Social Enterprise Summit trade show has a number of support agencies on-hand to provide you with free advice and guidance such as CEIS, Ready for Business, Just Enterprise, Digital Scotland. Pop by their stand or attend their expert ‘How to?‘ sessions.