Cultural and creative clusters, quarters and networks

Creative clusters in regional and urban studies

Alongside the increasing interest of policy makers in the cultural and creative industries, regional and urban studies of “clusters” of relevant businesses have become a booming field of statistical and other empirical studies. (cf. Flew 2010; Lazzeretti L. & Cooke 2008; Lindqvist et al. 2013)

To provide but one example, Boix et al. (2011) analysed a sample of 596,493 businesses which in 2009 were active in 16 European countries. They identified 1784 clusters across 15 creative industries. Heritage organisations presented the fewest and least dense “clusters”, i.e. relative co-location. Only 24% of the 4526 businesses (institutions) with a heritage focus showed a co-location pattern, compared to over 60% of the businesses in the software, film, video, music, design, architecture and engineering industries. Actually the study only identified 10 “heritage clusters”, for example, compared to 59 R&D, 82 Cultural trade, 102 Fashion, 241 Architecture or 313 Software clusters.

The most common results of the regional and urban studies are that cultural and creative businesses and organisations do cluster, and that the densest agglomerations are to be found in large cities (typically in the central part). Among the main reasons for this are the “creative milieu”, synergies and cross-fertilisation among people in the cultural, creative and other fields, as well as the urban habitat, infrastructure, and connectivity with other places (e.g. telecommunications, airports and train connections, etc.). Also highlighted should be that the “creative cities” (Landry 2000) and “creative class” (Florida 2002) value cultural diversity.

A useful concept for creative cooperation in cultural heritage?

In the CreativeCH workshop “Creative Clusters” at MFG Baden-Wuerttemberg (Stuttgart, 18.4.2012), the project partners and invited experts discussed the usefulness of the cluster concept for creative cooperation of cultural heritage, science & technology, and cultural and creative organisations and businesses.

The workshop participants understood that the key functions of industrial creative clusters are:

  • bringing together the relevant actors and stakeholders,
  • promoting a culture of creativity and innovation,
  • providing technological expertise and services, and
  • supporting business development (e.g. commercial partnerships or start-ups).

However, the participants felt that a primarily industrial perspective would not fit in the context of cultural heritage. Furthermore, “clustering” was seen as a long-term process that starts with bringing potential partners together, make them understand each other, and stimulate collaborative projects. Regular cooperation would also require sustained funding.

Two workshop participants came from digital technology & content clusters: Virtual Dimension Centre (Germany), with a focus on virtual and augmented reality applications, and Iconoval (France), a regional development agency that promotes the digital image and media sector in the Alsace region (some 400 companies with 5000 employees).

Such clusters bring together science & technology centres and companies that apply novel technology for clients of various sectors, including cultural industries, and sometimes museums and cultural sites. One example was “Limeswelten”, a virtual 3D presentation of a section of 60 km of the Limes in Baden-Württemberg, developed by ArcTron3D and 7reasons Medien for the LEADER Aktionsgruppe Limesregion.

Quarters, routes and networks

In the field of culture and cultural heritage, mainly the following three forms of “clustering”, with different functions and geographic dimension, were seen as useful:

Local cultural clusters (quarters): Various cultural and creative actors, public and private, more or less co-located in a town, including e.g. museums and galleries, media, design and fashion businesses, among others. Small cultural and creative businesses might flock together in particular areas and also share spaces (e.g. “co-working spaces”).

Cultural routes: Link cultural sites and towns in and across regions of one or more countries, and that promote regional and town development under a common theme, typically with a focus on cultural tourism. For example, the Routes of Sefarad links towns that have a Jewish quarter (see case study).

Cultural networks of interest groups: Are networks of cultural institutions, municipalities, development agencies, consultancies and other organisations promoting common interests; for example, the European Interest Group on Creativity and Innovation (EICI) with some 30 members.

EICI manager Valentina Grillea (MFG Innovation) noted that a bottom-up approach, common values and relationships built on trust allowed EICI to grow and become a community rather than a “network”. She believes that trust is one of the most important elements in clustering: “Trusting each other means that it is going to be easier to learn from each other”. (Grillea 2012)

Examples of regional creative networks in Portugal

In the CreativeCH workshop “Creative Clusters” at MFG Baden-Württemberg (Stuttgart, 18.4.2012), Professor Joaquim Carvalho (University of Coimbra) presented regional creative initiatives in Portugal.

He explained the specific political background, which includes that there are no formal “regions” in Portugal, and that the government therefore has implemented instruments to promote the cooperation of the municipalities in regional development. One of these instruments is Redes Urbanas para a Competitividade e Inovação, short RUCIs, that allows to channel European Structural Funds to inter‐municipal consortia.

The Rede de Economias Criativas is one of the funded projects, a network of small towns along the Mondego river that aim to implement creative economy strategies. Such strategies promote a creative environment through attracting talented people, supporting entrepreneurship, offering work spaces, and involving educational institutions. One of the cross-municipality initiatives is the Network of Castles and Walls of the Mondego River that focuses on cultural tourism development. The town Montemor‐o‐Velho is also planning the development of a centre and business incubator for creative technologies in a building of the old castle.

Professor Carvalho highlighted that the policy instrument and infusion of funding stimulates small cities to cooperate, and that networking and need to implement transversal, mostly content-based activities generates important immaterial values. Furthermore creative cooperation between different actors is promoted. In the case of the Network of Castles and Walls, between the municipalities, tourism operators, content producers, and academics (who provide the knowledge for the historic narrative of the tourism network).

While the achieved outcomes are promising, the current economic crisis is a threat to the stability of the networks. Some individual projects on the local level are moving along, while common, transversal activities are irritated by mixed messages of the funding agency. Austerity measures hinder execution and low execution increases funding risk. “We know that all the initiatives within RUCI can be anytime endangered by a cut of funding and maybe this is our next big challenge”, concluded Professor Carvalho.

Where are the places with the highest density of people employed in cultural and creative industries?

According to a study for the European Cluster Observatory (Power & Nielsen 2010), the cities and wider urban areas with the highest employment in cultural and creative industries relative to the total employment are, in this order: Inner London, Stockholm, Oxford (Berks, Bucks and Oxon), Budapest (Kozep-Magyarorszag), Munich (Upper Bavaria), Madrid, Amsterdam (West-Nederland), Paris (Île de France), Berlin, Rome (Lazio), Helsinki (Etelä-Suomi), Nijmegen (Oost-Nederland), Barcelona (Cataluña) and Milan (Lomardia). In terms of sheer numbers however, Paris, Milan and Amsterdam rank much higher, while Oxford and Stockholm are the last ones on the list. Notably, on the list of the top 15 urban areas are Budapest, Bratislava and Prague.

Concerning regional concentration, creative and cultural industries focused on manufacturing and production activities (e.g. musical instruments, sound and video recording, film production, etc.) are the most concentrated. Consumer oriented activities such as museums, arts facilities, cinemas, advertising and retail businesses can of course be found in all cities. The larger ones also attract a lot of culture, leisure and shopping tourists from within the country as well as other countries, if they can be reached with low cost airlines.

Particularly relevant are the linkages between clusters. Boix et al. (2011) identified that London and Paris each host eleven large clusters of creative industries, Madrid and Stockholm five, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon and Munich three, and Barcelona, Helsinki, Milan and Rome two. In addition, these large clusters tend to be surrounded by smaller clusters of the same or different creative industries. Hence larger creative cities show a pattern of synergetic and complementary clusters and networks.

The same pattern can also be found in clothing and fashion industry districts where traditional manufacturers needed a higher responsiveness to consumer demands and market trends. (Evans 2009) These manufacturers are supported by smaller clusters of design, marketing, advertisement and exhibition specialists. In addition there are smaller clusters, often situated in cultural quarters of cities, which are fed by graduates of art and designs schools, independent designers / producers and trendy boutiques.

In a study of the media industries in London, Andy Pratt (2011) highlighted the various micro-geographies of clusters of studios, post-production firms and networks of specialists with different skills. In the case of the film special effects industry there is even a micro-cluster of small firms that are mainly located in one street.

The project Creative Clusters in Low Density Urban Areas (URBACT II, 2008-2011) applied a clustering approach in several areas. For example, one element in the local action plan of the small town of Óbidos (Portugal) was to establish a creative co-working space in an old farmhouse.

Results of the CreativeCH workshop on “Creative Clusters”

The topic has been addressed by the CreativeCH workshop at MFG Baden-Württemberg (Stuttgart, Germany) on the 18th of April 2012.
Workshop highlights