Creative Innovation in the Regions

Sep 27, 2018 | Business Basics


In September, Irene Lemon presented her monograph, Innovation Has A Creative Mother, at the Australian Regional Development Conference, with thanks to Regional Arts NSW and a QUICKS grant. Commonwealth Bank’s Unlocking Everyday Innovation report estimates $44 Billion AUD of innovation potential is waiting to be unlocked in Australia’s regional economy, and Irene’s presentation focused on the development of a strong regional creative economy as the key to unlocking this opportunity.

One of my main motivations that gets me jumping out of bed each morning is the chance to live a 100% creative life. As a performing artist and a creative industries business advisor, I have a wonderful opportunity to harness my skills in arts and business and share that knowledge with other creatives. I have been operating my own creative small business for 20 years in regional NSW, and there are some unique perspectives I bring to each conversation with clients, policy makers and basically anyone that will listen! In the last few years I have noticed something a bit scary happening: the divide between city and country is getting wider, and as a nation we are failing to address Indigenous disadvantage. We need to look at new ways of working, and I advocate that creative businesses are the most important opportunity we have to address disadvantage.

At the Australian Regional Development Conference, the theme this year was Uncovering Possibilities. Now, speaking to a room full of economic development managers and local government officials may not be your version of fun, but they had good wine there! What was really refreshing was the support from phenomenal women in local government who are aware of creative industries and they are keen to engage with artists to help their regions grow. From what I could see, there is huge potential for creative business to make an impact. But it is going to take some serious hard work to get us there.

The NSW Government’s 20 Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW report has barely a whisper of Creative Industries in it, and the Create NSW Arts 2025 Summit summary paper has a long way to go to address chronic challenges to galvanise investment and policy directions for NSW creatives, especially in the regions. On top of the politics, there are some other uglier issues we must look at. As a regional creative, there are some nasty stereotypes and tropes that hark back to the days of cultural cringe and parochialism which undermine the confidence necessary for having a decent go at making a business success of an arts practice. What I asked for at the Conference was a seat at the Economic Development table and the right support and mentoring for regional creatives to help us realise our potential and contribute to the economy.

I make no excuses for artists who want to dismiss business as a viable opportunity for their arts practice. As an advisor, I have heard it all. From “ideologically, my work can’t be commercialised” and “it’s too hard”, to “this business stuff is not important”, and my favourite “my work speaks for itself and people should just buy it anyway”. That’s completely fine, but this attitude has the hallmarks of being a hobbyist. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not a viable business model and certainly not a way to make money from your practice. However,  for any artist who is disappointed with the hobbyist way of life – good news! Your community wants to support your work, provided they can find you and work with you easily.

There is a lovely research paper by Fleischmann (et al) about a Townsville project, which investigated the contribution creative industries makes to the innovation potential of a regional community. One of the key findings was that other businesses (in this instance, from construction, property and business services, and retail sectors) would like to keep their dollars local and engage local creatives are they are very keen to employ local creative businesses. This means an entrepreneurial lens really can help you unlock possibilities and engage in local industry.

The other exciting thing that came from the Townsville research paper was evidence to show that creative business are unlocking innovations for other industries. These are novel solutions that delight customers and improve the operations and processes for less creative businesses! We are so bloody useful, and we must get better at letting people know we exist.

Small Business Month NSW is a month-long celebration of small business. Throughout October you can access networking opportunities, workshops and support. Creative business is fun, but more than that, we have some really special skills at unlocking innovation and doing business in new ways. And there is $44 Billion worth of innovation opportunities to unlock! Surely, with some of that action we can close the gaps and have an impact that is more than profit. Perhaps we can change the world?

Click here to find out more about the Creative Plus Business October workshops.

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Katja Fleischmann, Ryan Daniel & Riccardo Welters (2017) Developing a regional economy through creative industries: innovation capacity in a regional Australian city, Creative Industries Journal, 10:2, 119-138, DOI: 10.1080/17510694.2017.1282305

The NSW Government is planning for the strategic future of the arts, screen and culture sectors in NSW, to guide the State’s investment through to 2025

The NSW Government’s 20-Year Economic Vision sets out a clear pathway for ensuring that Regional NSW will continue to be a vibrant and growing part of our economy, and that people are supported in their decision to live in the regions.


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