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Global Creative and Cultural Industries: the MA for tomorrow’s cultural workers

Postgraduate MA student, Joe Penhalligon, introduces SOAS's Global Creative and Cultural Industries MA and investigates the place of creative labour in the 21st century cultural workplace.

Postgraduate MA student, Joe Penaliggon, introduces SOAS’s Global Creative and Cultural Industries MA and investigates the place of creative labour in the 21st century cultural workplace.

SOAS University of London is working to improve the creative work environment with its MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries (GCCI).

According to the course overview, the GCCI syllabus ‘has been designed for those seeking to work in some capacity in the creative and cultural sector – either as an artist or producer or in cultural policy, development or analysis’.

Convenor, Caspar Melville, explains:

‘The course is designed to deepen students’ understanding of the Cultural Industries – and how they are organised, financed, regulated and have been understood in theory – through getting them to read widely, discuss, write, argue and make stuff.’

Jacob Wahnon, a GCCI student from Gibraltar, is a fan. After completing a BA in History and working in events management, as an English teacher in China, in an office job and as a DJ, the course ‘seemed to cater to all of my interests in one and, for me, was the perfect crossover between my degree and my musical/cultural interests’.

‘I had always been interested in the music business and often read articles about how it worked,’ he continues. ‘Then there were some practical modules – I have always been a doer and had done music production in school for three years. There were some cultural studies modules in there which catered to my interest of travelling and I even had the chance to learn a foreign language. When I found the course, it just ticked a lot of boxes.’

Scottish musician and songwriter, Merlyn Driver, teaches Russian Sámi Joik singing at SOAS
Scottish musician and songwriter, Merlyn Driver, teaches Russian Sámi Joik singing at SOAS

Jacob is especially pleased with the valuable first-hand knowledge of creative industries work offered by the Directed Study in Industry module. Hoping to eventually work in music, he says:

‘I initially wanted to work in A&R but got no response so I went on to do some work in a community radio station and started a music blog instead. What I’ve learned from the placement is that beggars can’t be choosers. It is a tough industry to break into.’

Tomorrow’s cultural workers

Indeed, amid recent revelations that musicians’ living conditions are becoming increasingly poor [Risk of cultural void as funding cuts threaten the future of British orchestras], specific knowledge of creative work is something Caspar Melville considers vital for tomorrow’s cultural workers:

‘The best thing we can do is arm prospective cultural workers with the skills of critical thinking and bullshit detection, prepare them for exploitation and precarity but also to become cultural producers in their own right with a strong understanding of the economic and ethical content of cultural production and hope they can go out into the world and change it for the better.’

The past thirty years have seen a rise in the financial and, consequently, political importance of culture and creativity with urban studies theorist, Richard Florida, arguing that the mobile, adaptable workers belonging to the ‘creative class’ are crucial to thriving economies, demonstrating that ‘adding creative skills to service and manufacturing work boosts wages at an even higher rate than it does when it’s added to knowledge work’ [https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/where-the-skills-are/308628]. As economist, Edward Glaeser, summarises, ‘creativity is to the 21st century what the ability to push a plough was to the 18th century’.

Composer and choir director, Polina Skovoroda-Shepherd, demonstrates Russian song to SOAS students
Composer and choir director, Polina Skovoroda-Shepherd, demonstrates Russian song to SOAS students

Cultural policy and creative labour

The UK government is keen to stress this too: the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) 2017 economic estimates show that 16.1% of all UK jobs are in DCMS sectors, a 1.1% increase since 2015. In that year, DCMS sectors reportedly exported £38.2bn worth of services to the rest of the world, a 42.4% increase since 2010. In 2016, 77.2% of jobs in DCMS sectors were employed rather than self-employed while half of people in DCMS sector jobs had a degree compared with 33.9% in the UK as a whole.

Academia tells a different story, however. Mark Banks and David Hesmondhalgh note that ‘UK cultural policy has had little to say about the process of creative labour […] because creative labour is assumed in policy to be an intrinsically progressive form of work’.

Indeed, as the 2016-17 DCMS Annual Report states:

‘Everything DCMS covers has a value that goes beyond the economic. They matter in and of themselves. They raise the human condition and cheer our spirits – and the aggregate effect of individual experiences is to create a healthier, smarter, more peaceable, more cohesive and happier society.’

A sense of uncertainty

Angela McRobbie, Professor of Communications, Goldsmiths University of London, wrote in her 2015 book, Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries, that this promise of self-actualisation normalises the uncertainty that comes with creative work:

‘When in a post-industrial society there are fewer jobs offering permanent and secure employment […], a risk-taking stance becomes a necessity rather than a choice.’

Senegalese master drummer, Modou Diouf, teaches traditional Sabar drumming at SOAS
Senegalese master drummer, Modou Diouf, teaches traditional Sabar drumming at SOAS’s World Music Summer School

Diane Widdison, National Organiser for Education & Training at the Musicians’ Union, says that recent pieces of government legislation are contributing to this sense of uncertainty:

‘The IR35 legislation, which was supposed to prevent individuals from setting up companies and being paid as companies, has ended up having massive implications for sole workers, like individual music teachers going into schools.

‘GDPR is another one, the data protection legislation – this is really aimed at big companies to stop them exploiting people’s data – but it actually has an effect on the individual trader who may be keeping data for their students or for people who come to their concerts, except everybody’s treated the same. I think we’ve got a government that makes these big decisions and doesn’t understand that the culmination of all these policies affects those trying to encourage youngsters in schools trying to take up these subjects.’

Investing in a generation

For Caspar Melville, the government must take urgent measures to ensure that creative workers are properly supported:

‘The government must provide decent housing and pay for all, pay a decent unemployment benefit that allows young people to explore their own creativity rather than take pointless jobs just to survive, abolish student fees so students are not saddled with debt and don’t feel they have to take the first paying job that comes along and develop some kind of flexible insurance to protect freelance and other precariously employed cultural workers when they are not earning.’

Meanwhile, Jacob Wahnon thinks educational institutions and governments should work together to create this environment:

‘There aren’t enough opportunities out there for young people to get involved and learn skills, which there should be. Ultimately, young people are the future and we should be investing in them. If you have a family who can’t afford to pay for sports/instrument lessons, there should be schemes in place to help them do it. If you invest in a generation, it is ultimately a long-term investment in the country’s future.’

Diane Widdison describes the format of courses such as SOAS’s GCCI course as ‘heartening’ since ‘we often hear about universities cutting courses that they don’t think are lucrative’. In the context of the changing cultural economy, she laments this trend:

‘I think it’s important that people coming through have got their eyes open and realise what is happening in society and realise the importance of having creative approaches to work because people work in very different ways from 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. It’s important that we do have people who not only have the right skills but the right openness of their mind to embrace new ways of working because, otherwise, we’ll stagnate as a country.’

About SOAS’s MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries (GCCI)

GCCI students typically fall into two types:

  • those interested in pursuing careers as practitioners, managers, consultants, policy advisers and entrepreneurs in the creative and cultural industries [CCIs] in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Africa
  • those more concerned with developing academic research in the creative and cultural sectors and the intersections between industry, cultural policy and international development

Students can take a diverse range of modules catering to these types. Compulsory modules include a 10,000-word dissertation and a taught course in Analytical Approaches to the Creative and Cultural Industries, which presents an exposition and analysis of the creative and cultural industries, detailing legal and regulatory systems and processes and the key issues and challenges faced by these industries.

SOAS 2017 Freshers Week
SOAS 2017 Freshers Week

Students can tailor their MA programme according to three pathway modules:

  • Music
  • Art
  • Media

Furthermore, the course offers five skills and internships modules intended to hone practical/core skills and develop the student’s knowledge base about creative and cultural industries in a global context. In these, students can produce a podcast in the Digital Traditional Broadcasting Communication module, gain knowledge of recording software and studio technique in Sound Recording and Production, hold an exhibition in Curating Cultures and undertake 100-150 hours of work experience in the CCIs context in Directed Study in Industry.

Finally, students must take up to three modules from diverse courses taught by SOAS’s School of Arts. These cater to the second target group of students, those concerned with academic research, and include:

  • Gender and Music
  • Culture and Society of Japan
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Modern and Contemporary Korean Art

Header photo: A statue of Tamil poet, Tiruvalluvar, stands on the lawn at SOAS

About the author

Joe Penaliggon is a postgraduate MA student at SOAS University of London.

A former trumpet scholar at Wells Cathedral School, he studied music at the University of Cambridge, graduating with a first class degree in 2017. He is an accomplished trumpeter and violinist and has played with the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain and National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain as well as numerous bands and ensembles.

He has contributed to student newspapers such as The Cambridge Student and Varsity as well as online magazines such as Cabal Digital.