Doncaster Creative Scene

Recovery Through Design 2.0

by Warren Draper

Back in 2014, when life was simpler and mask wearing in banks was frowned upon, I wrote an essay entitled Recovery Through Design: How caring for the Creative Industries can change Doncaster’s economic prospects (catchy, huh?). It followed on from the success of Doncopolitan, an arts and culture magazine for Doncaster, which Rachel Horne and I released in the same year. In the essay I argued that:

The Creative Industries (CI) are an essential element of the modern British economy. Britain is often selling itself as an engine of creativity, and not without good reason: the GVA (gross value added) of the Creative Industries contributed £71.4billion to the UK economy in 2012, with the GVA of the sector increasing 15.4% since 2008 despite the recession. And yet the Creative Industries sector in Doncaster still only makes up around 3% of the local economy, with many of those working in the sector being sole traders or micro-businesses. We believe that a concerted effort – which includes input from the existing CI sector, local educational institutes, special interest groups and the local authorities – could change the profile of the Creative Industries in Doncaster and, in turn, improve the economic prospects of the region and its populace. Research from BOB Consulting has shown that the Creative Industries are not just employers in their own right: the services they provide (design,marketing, brand development, consultancy, etc) also have “an important role in boosting the competitive advantage of the wider private sector economy.”

There have been significant improvements with regard to the cultural and fine arts areas of the Creative Industries since 2014, thanks, in the main, to initiatives such as Doncopolitan CrawlDoncaster Arts Fair, the New FringeArt Bomb and the incredible new D31 Art Gallery on Scot Lane. These smaller, often grassroots, projects have, in my opinion helped to galvanise and expand the arts in Doncaster in ways larger, well-funded organisation have failed to do in the past. This is not to say that the top-down model hasn’t created interesting stuff, it is just that the important, collaborative, community building work has been come mainly from passionate local talent who have worked together to take the arts to the next level. They have, of course, received invaluable support from Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (spearheaded by visionary CEOs like Jo Miller and Damian Allen) which has allowed them to develop their ideas, but their real power lies in the organic way they have developed as a community. Strength comes from collaboration, and that can only develop when people come together as equal players to achieve a shared goal. 

I feel that the more commercial side of the Creative Industries sector — the jobbing graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, film-makers, brand developers, coders, web developers, etc. — could learn a lot from the recent growth of the visual arts community. I also believe, as I did in 2014, that the growth of this side of the Creative Industries (lets call them the ‘deadliners’… those who work in our business will know why) will have a positive impact on the wider local economy.  My work at Doncopolitan was all about changing the narrative and raising the bar. The first issue was themed fake it ’til you make it. We not only treated Donny with the respect it deserves, we celebrated local talent and exciting events and used those to suggest that even better was on the way. And with a little vision, a pinch of passion, and a healthy dose of bravado, things did change for the better. I feel that Doncopolitan played an important role by acting as a focal point for the arts, which at that time was quite fractured. Lots going on, but the dots weren’t always well connected.

We deadliners are in a similar place to where the visual artists were in 2014. There’s plenty of talent and amazing ideas, but we often find ourselves isolated and alone. Sometimes this is the nature of our work, but often it is the underdeveloped nature of the Creative Industries in our region. Underexposure to good quality work (and the potential profits which come from raising the standards of creative output) mean that local businesses and institutions do not fully appreciate the need for good design and marketing. Larger businesses appreciate this need, but will often look outside the town for their design and publicity needs in the mistaken belief that that is where the talent lies. This maybe partially true. Talent does hemorrhage from a town if it cannot find work locally, but you don’t always get the best by paying a premium to an agency with a London postcode. You will often pay towards their larger overheads rather than their supposed better talent, and, like politicians, agencies in London fail miserably when it comes to targeting regional audiences.

This is not London bashing (OK, it is a little bit London bashing), I merely wish to point out that, in a global economy, things are not as cut and dried as they may have been in the last century. In fact, they were not that cut and dry back then. The world’s most valuable brand — the Nike swoosh is estimated to be worth $26billion in its own right — was created in by Carolyn Davidson, a student at Portland Place University who started working in graphic design to make ends meet, who was paid $35 for her trouble. She got the Nike gig because Phil Knight had been teaching an accountancy class at the university and overheard Carolyn say that she couldn’t afford oil paints for her course. I bet you $26billion that you cannot tell me where the next Nike swoosh, or McDonalds arches, or Apple… er… apple is going to come from. And nor can the big design agencies. When it comes to innovation, access and opportunity are key. Open your doors to opportunity and you will be rewarded.

Only connect!

E.M. Forster, Howards End

No design was ever created in a vacuum. Carolyn Davidson’s story perfectly illustrates the E.M Forster maxim: only connect.

Sometimes, especially living in an area with a relatively underdeveloped Creative Industries sector, it is easy to feel that we are competing for a small share of a tiny market. We look jealously at others in our sector and collaboration becomes the last thing on our minds. But collaboration is one of the key strategies to building a healthy, vibrant and innovative Creative Industries sector in our town. Not enough work? We’re creatives! Lets create work! Lets do what we do best and create beautiful content which sells Doncaster as the place for quality work created by an open network of talented people. Spread the word that if you employ a London agency, you get a London agency. But if you commission a Doncaster creative, you get access to a community. We need to work together to ensure that Doncaster creatives are the first port of call for Doncaster businesses. More importantly we need other towns to think Doncaster when they think about design, illustration and content creation.

There have, of course, been initiatives designed to bring Doncaster creatives together. Meet and greets, co-working spaces, etc, are all good for building bridges. But as well as bridges, an area like Doncaster is desperate for staircases. Open your doors and give up and coming creatives access to your resources and knowledge (and vice versa). As I have already mentioned, access and opportunity are key to innovation. My favourite ever community project was a 1970s Sheffield youth club called Meatwhistle (you wouldn’t even get away with the name nowadays. It had an open door, peer learning policy where kids were given access to equipment like tape machines and synthesizers. It led to the creation of bands like Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League, and the rest is electronic music history. A space, a collection of resources and an open door and you can change a town’s history. 

I’m going to be working on a strategy to build the Creative Industry sector on Doncaster. If you’re a creative and would like to get involved, or a business who would like to support, then please get in touch.

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