Philip Dodd: Why a thriving cultural scene equals cash for London

From a speech by the director of the ICA at the Royal Geographical Society in London
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The Independent Online

London is a global city. The signs are everywhere. They are as evident in the imperial Mall where the ICA perversely sits as in the city's ethnically and culturally diverse population. The global reach of its financial networks is another sign. But it is culture that is increasingly London's global calling card, especially in a world where more and more people travel as cultural tourists.

As far back as the 1991 Census, 59 per cent of people identified museums as an important reason for visiting London; 34 per cent the performing arts. How much must that have increased with the London Eye, the new galleries and cafés renewing the old East End?

But it's a distinctive and "new" dimension of culture that marks London as global: the presence of cultural or creative industries: small fashion businesses, industrial, product and graphic design companies, record labels, architectural practices, TV and digital companies. City governments that want to be global cities, from London to Shanghai, from Berlin to Moscow, seem to have fallen in love with this sector: it's growing faster than others and providing more employment.

Even in the US, the most powerful economy in the world, industries tied to culture have overtaken aircraft manufacture as the biggest export earner.

St Petersburg may have the Hermitage and its great classical culture, but the city is working hard to develop the creative industries, which deliver what the professionals call the soft infrastructure of tourism development - the small arts-oriented businesses that create local fashion, galleries, shops and bars that tourists so often love to discover independently.

But there are other reasons to be fascinated by the creative sector: these companies make money (sometimes), so don't easily sit in the subsidised arts sector, but those bastions of British industry, the CBI doesn't get them either because they don't look like traditional businesses.

This sector may even help us to think our way through the public/private dichotomy that dogs so many arguments. After all, artists from Shakespeare to Damien Hirst have been entrepreneurial, and Dickens, the greatest English novelist, worked in the commercial sector.

It is the strength of this sector that helps to provide London with its reputation globally as a creative city.