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New life for “industrial graveyards“ - lots of jobs in culture and arts

| Text: Lisbeth Lindeborg

All around Europe a fast growing labour market in culture and arts gives new vigour to cities and towns. In de-industrialised places this is particularly evident. Instead of moving out, people have started to move in - to jobs in the “creative sector“ - counting for an average of one third of all jobs.

With the growth of the cultural infrastructure dull places turn into attractive and colourful ones where people like to live.

“We have no problems attracting people with high qualifications - we sell more houses and land than ever.

The mayor of Holstebro Arne Laegaard is proud. He has reason to be. In the early 1960's Holstebro, with its 40.000 inhabitants, was described as the “dreariest place“ in Denmark. In the wake of the de-industrialisation process the town lost jobs and people at an alarming rate with nothing to compensate for the losses. So how was the downward tide turned upward?

Holstebro The first visible change came on a rainy 10th of March 1966. In the town centre some 400 people had gathered in the market place to take part in the unveiling ceremony of a statue - the town's latest acquisition. With the local elections approaching, the mayor would have preferred to keep the statue secret for a while. Although the cost of the statue was partly paid by a sponsor, the town had to come up with 150.000 Danish crowns - quite a large sum considering the bleak conditions of the unemployed. But some journalists had found its hiding place in a shed and forced the disclosure. At the moment of its unveiling the discomfort spread from the mayor to the public. Seeing the gaunt figure they gasped:

“So much money for so little“.

That was the arrival in Holstebro of “Woman on a cart“ by Giacometti. At that moment nobody knew that the statue was to mark a new and successful era for Holstebro based on a vision and an insight of the local politicians. In order for Holstebro to survive they had adopted the maxim of culture and arts as an increasingly important development factor.

This was a consequence of the structural changes. Leaving the industrial society behind and entering the knowledge society, their notion was that attractive sites and creative, innovative workers would be of significance.

Rich cultural life important

In order to stop people leaving the town and in order to attract investors, visitors and new inhabitants, a rich cultural life would be important - culture and arts as localisation factors.

First of all the image of Holstebro had to be changed. Thus the politicians decided to bring culture close to the inhabitants by embellishing the city streets and open places with sculptural works. And right they were. For the first time the mention of Holstebro in national and international news media caused a positive stir. Forty years on the town is internationally known as a city of culture with new theatres, museums, libraries and cultural centres having sparked off a new economic development.

People started to move to Holstebro and a never-ending stream of visitors come to take part in cultural life and to shop. With the growth of the cultural sector, new jobs were generated. According to a study (2005) made by the Danish Statistical Center and Steffen Gulmann (11 Design) people keep on moving to Holstebro; no less than 30,3% of its working population work in the creative job sector.

“In this context our cultural life is of greatest importance; it even works as a locomotive with a spill-off effect outside Holstebro“, mayor Laegaard concludes.

“The motivation for highly qualified people to move to near-by Thy is that they are close to the excellent cultural life in Holstebro.“

Many "gloomy places"

Holstebro, however, is no exception. Looking around Europe we see how many “gloomy places“ turn into exciting and flourishing ones, for example Lille, Genoa, Turin, Liverpool and the Ruhr area. Today they are cultural cities of standing with a growing creative sector giving birth to an overall economic expansion. The annual turnover for the sector in the whole of Europe is some 380 billion Euros, which is more than in most traditional industries.

If we look at the Scandinavian countries, we see that the creative labour market has been growing by more than 3 % every year since the mid-90's. One of these de-industrialised cities is Norrköping (122.000 inhabitants) in Sweden. In the 1980's it embarked on a new future with the development of a cultural infrastructure, for example the remarkable Museum of Work and a university campus which has developed into one of the most popular in Sweden.

In a new study “The creative sector“ (2006) by the Östsam regional authority, the expansion of its labour market is analysed. 5.500 people work within the sector with an annual turnover of 3 billion SEK.

Two thirds of the working places are single person enterprises, which is typical for the heterogeneous working conditions within the creative sector everywhere. Many people work freelance, part time, short time etc. also in micro enterprises and small companies with 3-5 employees. This way of working - flexible, creative, mobile and project-oriented - is considered to be the model for the future for the whole labour market. One consequence is fluctuating and insecure incomes. Most people working in the sector use up what they earn - they do not work for profit. Still the creative labour market in Norrköping and elsewhere is expanding.

Notodden blues

Quite another atmosphere lingers over Notodden (12.000 inhabitants) in the Norwegian Telemark region. Comparable to Holstebro and Norrköping, Notodden lost its big industries in the 1970's and 80's. Here too the local politicians had a vision when they started to use the empty sites as centres for culture and study. They knew that globalisation enhances the significance of all things local.

Strong local and regional identities with a cosmopolitan outlook are of great help trying to survive in global competition.

How could culture and arts as identity creating factors help Notodden? One answer was embedded in its long lasting interest in blues music. In 1988 Notodden started a yearly and successful International Blues Festival which is now getting its own “House of Blues and Books“. It is the first and only blues centre in Europe with a blues school, a blues archive and museum, temporary exhibitions, recording studio etc.

Another important knot in the cultural network of Notodden is the College of Telemark which recently launched a course in musical score making. Right now the college is competing to become the first national teaching centre of culture and arts outside Oslo.

“It is evident that the amount of people working in the creative sector here has increased over the past 5-6 years“, says the Head of College Knut Patrick Hanevik, “among them some filmmakers and computer artists who have worked in Hollywood“.

 Wall of Empedokles

The wall of Empedokles at the Luleå Winter Biennial. 

Artists: Timo Jokela and Kaija Kiuru. Photo: Ricky Sandberg.

 We now leave the centre of Scandinavia for the rural and peripheral Barents Euro Arctic Region (BEAR), since 1993 a co-operation of regions around the North Pole in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Here culture and the arts emphasising the similarities in this macro-region have done more than anything else to bridge over political and other differences. During the first period of the co-operation (1993-1999), 600 cultural projects took place - an increase of 240%. This work is continuing under the names of Northern Renaissance and Voices in the Barents Region. One main aim of the cultural co-operation is to strengthen regional identity in BEAR. Among the internationally well-known events, the spectacular Arctic Snow, Ice and Fire Exhibitions stand out. Live entertainment, cultural tourism and film industry with a growing number of films being made on location in the Barents region are other expanding labour markets.

“The sector has increased enormously during the past 10 years“ – says Kurt Lind from the regional employment agency, which is responsible for a coming study on the creative labour market. Some 20% of new small enterprises are in the creative sector. Here as everywhere 40% of the core arts workforce have a higher education - either academic or in the arts. 65-70% are between the ages of 25 and 50; there are more over-50s than under 25s. More men than women work in the core arts workforce - some 52-55% men as compared to 45-48% women.

While places with a dirty industrial past and hitherto neglected rural peripheral areas have had to struggle to establish themselves as cultural centres, the traditional privileged cultural cities and towns have been fairly lax as regards renewing themselves. One capital which never let loose, however, was “The Art and Design City“ of Helsinki (the Helsinki region has 1,1 mill. inhabitants). 

Helsinki - The Arabianranta

The Arabianranta (above) has been called "the most important innovation centre in Northern Europe". Construction started in 1998, and when finished in 2013 the centre will cater for 7.000 inhabitants, create 8.000 jobs and 4.000 study places. It will merge residential, cultural, recreational, design, business and teaching/learning activities, and among its highlights will be the University of Art and Design, the Pop & Jazz Conservatory, the Polytechnic Faculty of Cultural Services and the Lume Media Centre.

No doubt about it: “The culture and the arts represent a robust and formidable economic growth sector“.

Photo of  The Arabianranta: Jefunne Gimpel

Giacomettis woman Culture jobs

Culture and arts are divided into five main categories:

  • literature,
  • visual arts
  • music
  • film, media
  • theatre and other performing arts

Its workers constitute the core arts work-force. Outside the core is the rest of the creative sector in its broader sense, for example:

publishers, libraries, archives, bookshops, design, advertising, galleries, handicraft, museums, cultural heritage, cultural tourism, cultural politics, restoration, exhibitions, landscaping of gardens and parks, music publishers, production of and trade with musical instruments, recording studios, film, TV, radio and video production/distribution, cinemas, circus, theatre opera and entertainment, intellectuals of all kinds, scientists, developers of new technologies for example within the IT-sector.

According to a new study by the EU, including the EFTA countries, Romania and Bulgaria, the core art workforce is constantly growing and today constitutes between 2,5-3 % of all jobs in any country.

When using the definition creative sector in a broader sense encompassing all types of creative works the figure is about 30% of the whole labour market in any country - with very high percentages for places like Helsinki (40 %) and Ile-de-France (45 %).


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