By Bernadine Rodrigo
The creative sector doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves in terms of its contribution to the economy, employment, and in terms of its potential to further strengthen the brand value of Sri Lanka as a tourist destination.
On Saturday, 2 May, the British Council hosted a live event via Zoom to launch their research report titled “The creative and cultural industries in Sri Lanka”. Speakers and panellists for the event joined from both the UK and Sri Lanka. The keynote speaker was former Creative England Chair and current British Council Chair of the Arts and Creative Advisory Panel, Mayor of London’s Ambassador for Creative Industries John Newbigin OBE.
“Creative industry” is of course a very vague term comprising many different fields ranging from filmmaking to songwriting to making arts and crafts to architecture and design and more.
What they aimed to do was find out how the creative industry was faring in our country and suggest ways in which it can be improved. The report provides recommendations to address some urgent subsector challenges, as well as cross-cutting recommendations for growth of the sector as a whole.
The British Council commissioned the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) to carry out research and a mapping exercise to establish what the creative economy landscape looks like for Sri Lanka.
The aim was to conduct a baseline study of the current value and state of the cultural and creative industry in Sri Lanka. It is the first attempt at creating a framework for industries with a strong “creative” element and developing an understanding of their current situation and major challenges.
The main objective of the event was to discuss the implementation of the recommendations and consider ways forward for the creative economy in these challenging times.
The online event on Saturday featured a presentation of the report, the keynote speech, and a panel discussion, which featured contributions from researcher and writer Annemari de Silva, IPS Research Economist Dilani Hirimuthugodage, Newbigin OBE, Selyn Handlooms Director Selyna Peiris, Linda Speldewinde of Design Corp Group, and economist Anushka Wijesinha, whose main areas of focus are innovation and economic competitiveness.
Some of the key recommendations discussed were:
- Positioning Sri Lanka as an ethical and sustainable creative hub
- Supporting Sri Lanka’s position in global value chains
- Improving data on cultural and creative industries
- Developing a strong professional association for cultural and creative industries
- Strengthening knowledge about and access to intellectual property (IP) rights; IP theft was a major concern spanning all creative subsectors
- Valuing creative education, strengthening the teaching of creative skills across the curriculum
In the foreword to the report British Council Sri Lanka Country Director Gill Caldicott said: “When the economic value of creativity is realised, then interest and investment will frequently follow. Now is the time for Sri Lanka to recognise the value and the potential of its rich and diverse creative heritage and build on its creative and entrepreneurial talent to contribute to its economic and social prosperity.”
In his keynote speech, Newbigin OBE said: “This is an excellent report. The creative sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, the UN (United Nations) makes this point frequently that across all regions, it’s a growing worldwide phenomenon.”
British Council Sri Lanka Manager – Arts Menika Van Der Poorten commented: “The launch of the report mapping the state of the creative and cultural economy in Sri Lanka today is the culmination of one phase of this journey. Going forward, we will support the creative sector and its activities for implementation of the recommendations of the report.”
During the study, the researchers studied a cross section of local individuals involved in the industry in the fields of photography, visual arts, performing arts, literature, arts, heritage and crafts, software design, advertising and branding, architecture, interior design, graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, publishing, television and radio, digital media, and film and video.
The study showed that the industry might actually be larger than expected here; while growth is seen in the workforce of the creative industry in Sri Lanka, almost 3% of the economically active workforce is involved in this industry. Out of this 3%, what is described as an “overwhelming majority” of workers come from the private sector, demonstrating that these individuals are generating wealth and public earnings through taxation rather than depending on state resources.
Another interesting find was that the creative industry in Sri Lanka does not employ just one specific type of individual; it employs people from both educated and uneducated backgrounds, demonstrating inclusivity.
The researchers suggested that Sri Lanka should be positioned on the word stage as an ethical and sustainable creative hub. It should also improve data on this industry, develop a strong professional association for this industry, and importantly, strengthen the knowledge on IP rights, which is greatly lacking amongst the majority of the county’s common people.
They noticed that theft of IP was extremely common amongst all creative subsectors. They also noted that it was important to inculcate the value of this sector n the people of Sri Lanka through education.
So, what is the value of this industry? The most common answer given by those involved in the study was that it is the fastest growing industry in the world. The keynote speaker at the launch, Newbigin OBE says that this is part of a much bigger, dramatic shift in world economics and that presently, ideas – that is IP – is much more valuable than physical work.
He spoke about the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the rise in robotics – and said that while it is removing most of the mainstream jobs requiring physical labour, it is less likely that jobs which require creativity would be threatened by robotics.
He also spoke about how Sri Lanka has two very large neighbours who are putting in a lot of effort into these industries – India and China. He said they have invested greatly in this industry after seeing its growth trajectory within the past years. A very good example of this is the entertainment industry in India which even we Sri Lankans are very familiar with and even love.
The researchers and Newbigin spoke about how Sri Lanka has so much potential to do well in this industry. They spoke about how the industry was not simply the “creative” industry but rather the “creative and cultural” industry; Sri Lanka, being a country full of culture as we all know, is well capable of contributing in this respect.
Newbigin said what people around the world want to see and hear is our stories and authenticity. He took the example of how South Korea rose by presenting their culture to the world through television and music, which was something which the entire world embraced; ultimately, they even went on to be awarded an Oscar – the first time a non-English language, foreign film (Parasite) won the award.
Two representatives of local success stories, Selyna Pieris, owner of Selyn Fair Trade, and Linda Speldewinde of Design Corp were also present at the launch and spoke about how although it is difficult at present, with a slight nudge in the right direction, Sri Lanka’s creative industry will boom.
The report can be downloaded from www.bit.ly/CreativeEconomiesReportSL