Honestly, this report confused me a bit.
I picked it up because I thought it would be about economic impact and the creative sector. It wasn't.
Then, the first half (the findings), had me prepared to write a review all about, essentially, the death of the chamber of commerce (and implications for communities and even museums, if you bear with me).
But then the second half (case studies) focused on two museum-type organizations that were doing great community work, really serving as creative hubs and putting the findings into practice.
I'm not sure I can totally reconcile the two, as my responses are so different. But here goes.
Note: this report focuses on Creative Hubs in the United Kingdom.
Part 1: The Findings
Fundamentally, how do communities support creativity, individual entrepreneurship, and thinking? How do they provide infrastructure, resources, nuts-and-bolts advice, and places for what the authors called "structured serendipity" and "curating happenstance" (two phrases I love, by the way; I sometimes see those ideas coming from museum-goers in my research as well).
This report focused on "creative hubs" as relatively new, loose organizations that address those needs, as places that bring together "diverse talents, disciplines, and skills to intensify innovation … places that provide a space for work, participation, and consumption" (p. 7). They are physical places and/or networks, but essentially small communities that incubate small businesses, help grow creative industries, and make places better.
In the UK, three emerging factors contributed to the development of hubs:
As I read these findings, however, I kept thinking about chambers of commerce. In a way, these creative hubs are becoming a nimble, flexible, relevant 21st-century chamber of commerce. Let me explain (and I'll bring in a museum hook).
When I worked within museums, I found the local chamber of commerce to be only somewhat useful. In the 11+ years I've been an audience researcher, I have found them completely irrelevant. Local chambers have failed me … and I suspect a lot of others. They feel creaky and stuck in the 80s, to be honest. Yet the creative hubs described in this report are very appealing to me.
So if I were to create the 21st-century chamber of commerce, it would actually look a lot like these creative hubs. Dynamic co-working spaces with innovative programs to stimulate the mind, creativity, and innovation. Maker spaces and pots of tea. Meaningful social programming that helps me, and others, tackle community issues. Practical services that help me deal with the nuts-and-bolts of running my practice, so I can focus on the things that matter. I don't want to go to a "mixer" to network, but I do want to be in a mutually supportive environment. And I suspect there is a growing need for that environment that goes right back to those labor market and industry shifts the UK, and the US, is experiencing.
I also think museums can be a vital part of new creative hubs in the US. The intellectual stimulation, the creative and technical inspiration, are all things that museums can excel at. Additionally, my data and research keeps reinforcing that community engagement and museums are deeply intertwined, so these creative hubs can be beneficial to museums. And museums can better support their community. And museums can actually be these creative hubs.
Which brings me to the case studies.
Part 2: The Case Studies
After I read the findings part of this report, I was tempted to just barely scan the case studies and set the report aside.
That didn't happen.
The first main case study was for the Site Gallery in Sheffield. And to be honest, the programming is what I would expect of any community-focused art museum, from classes to exhibits to lectures to teen programs (such as those that Mary Ellen Munley has studied in her excellent Room to Rise).
What was most interesting, however, was seeing its programming discussed by non-museum researchers, using language that clearly values the types of outcomes and impacts that I hear from museum-goers in my work. The ability of museums (in this case, art) to connect. Transform. Relax. Escape. Create. A potent reminder that these are important outcomes that we need to try to measure, even when it's hard. And that these outcomes matter.
For the Site Gallery, it meant deep integration with their community: Sheffield. Nimble, savvy thinking, and responding to needs … in ways only they could. The story was similar for Birmingham Open Media. Interestingly, however, the third case study, FuseBox in Brighton, was more of the new chamber of commerce model that the first part of the report had me envisioning.
Read or skip? This is actually hard to answer. Reading the findings, I would have said a "skip, I've got this covered for you." But I did an about-face when two of the three main case studies described organizations that look a lot like art museums (and, to be honest, there is no reason a science center or history museum couldn't do likewise).
So if your community is crying out for a creative hub, and you want to deeply integrate your museum in your community … read this. It could give you the inspiration to pursue this for your community, in ways that your community needs and that further your missions.
If all of this sounds nice, but nothing else. Then skip. It isn't for you and your museum.
Full citation: "Creative Hubs: Understanding the New Economy." Research report published by the British Council and City University of London. Released 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
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