Social inequalities in the creative economy over time and place: connecting workforce, programming and consumption

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Edinburgh College of Art


The creative economy is often celebrated for its contribution to the economy, in the form of job creation, the night-time economy, cultural tourism, and intellectual property. It contributes to policy and practice in terms of urban regeneration, education, and soft power diplomacy, as well as quality of life and life satisfaction. It is feted as being a driver for social mobility, and for the progressiveness and belief in meritocracy of the workforce. However, research has also revealed the significant exclusions from this picture: the creative workforce demonstrates substantial inequalities in terms of social class origin, gender and ethnicity. Moreover, existing research has demonstrated the low chances people from working class origins have of entering the creative economy workforce did not change significantly between 1981 and 2011, despite huge changes in the social structure of English society. Cultural consumption too is strongly stratified according to social class and ethnic group. The lack of representativeness amongst those that that create and commission of culture is the subject of sustained debate in public, policy and industry circles. There are also important inequalities in the geographical distribution of cultural investments.

This research builds on recent AHRC-funded projects to explore each of these dimensions of exclusions from the creative economy in turn, in three linked work packages:

- Work package one will explore the relationship of audience members from Black and Minority (BAME) ethnic groups to the programming of cultural institutions, how they feel that their culture is represented by these institutions, and how this relates to their cultural lives overall. I will analyse how this interacts with their own social class and education, traditional predictors of cultural participation.

- Work package two will explore how cultural consumption is contextualised by the places that people live in, by analysing the cultural participation of those that relocate: how does moving to an area with more or fewer cultural services, or other measures of cultural intensity, affect the cultural lives that people report? How does this relate to the factors that we know affect whether people being report being culturally engaged, such as education and being taken as a child? Previous research found that those with lower probability of attending a venue are more negatively affected by a lack of local opportunities to do so.

- Work package three will develop a more nuanced understanding of how social mobility into creative employment varies geographically, comparing Scotland to England and those raised outside London to those who grew up in the capital. In addition I will look for explanations of the high rates of people leaving the creative workforce, to better understand the barriers to maintaining a career in the creative economy.

This fellowship builds on successful previous work with The Audience Agency, a creative sector support organisation that is at the centre of research into the relationships between audiences and venues. It partners with a new independent research organisation, the Centre for Towns, which offers academic research and analysis in support of the viability and prosperity of towns across the UK. Each partner organisation will contribute to the research design stage (focusing on work packages 1 and 2, respectively), will offer advice on protocols and operationalisation, access to data that they have developed, and a platform for dissemination and impact through inclusion of the research in at least one event, and will publish a public-facing report which summarises the research findings. The Audience Agency will in addition offer advice on and access to networks for recruiting participating venues for the audience research.

Planned Impact

Impact is core to this fellowship: the research questions are as much of interest to creative economy policymakers and practitioners as they are to scholars. Moreover, it builds on two AHRC-funded projects that I have worked on which have been focused on impact and engagement: "Who is missing from the picture? The problem of inequality in the creative economy and what we can do about it" has raised the profile for the problems of exclusions from the creative economy, with a public-facing report that has had widespread media and policy coverage. The Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship which I currently hold at the University of Sheffield is a collaboration with a major theatre to explore the relationship between diverse programming and diverse audiences. The project has been co-created with the theatre to inform their programming and marketing practices, as well as informing policy and practice more theoretically.
By working with two important partner organisations, The Audience Agency and The Centre for Towns, the fellowship will enable the co-creation of knowledge with organisations that are central to providing evidence and tools for change. The Audience Agency have underlined the value of this research in helping them to support organisations to become more inclusive, as well as understanding the complex interaction of access and socio-demographic factors in influencing participation. The Centre for Towns has stated that understanding how the creative economy contributes to the social and economic vitality of towns is a high priority for their work and they have many local development agencies and others approaching them for advice in this area.
Specifically, I will support the impact of this research through the development of short, easy to read reports written by me and published by the partner organisations, as well as presentations at industry and policy workshops and seminars:

- WP1 involves primary research on the relationship between diverse audiences and programming by cultural institutions: the initial research findings will be confidential to the participating venues, and discussed jointly with them under Chatham House Rules (which will have impact in itself), a broader set of findings and recommendations will be developed which can be shared and discussed with a larger circle of cultural institutions and policymakers. This will be developed into a short, accessible publication, and will be presented at industry seminars, workshops and conferences

- WP2 offers analysis of the longitudinal Taking Part Survey to understand the relationship between cultural participation and the areas that people live in, including their access to venues. This will be developed in consultation with the Centre for Towns in order to maximise its relevance to their political and policy stakeholders, and will again be developed into a short, accessible publication available online, as well as presented at seminars, workshops and conferences as appropriate.

- WP3 examines how social mobility into the creative economy varies in different parts of the country, and causes of the high levels of people leaving creative jobs. The actionable findings will relate to employment and internship practices. By presenting these findings to creative sector organisations, alongside those of WP1, the link between employment and consumption will be reinforced and I can hope to challenge some of the factors reinforcing creative workforce exclusions.

An additional impact of this fellowship will be capacity-building within the creative sector, bringing in methods and data sources which are not currently referenced by the sector.

The eventual impact will be to challenge cultural organisations and funders about how their work, which they sincerely intend to be challenging the social inequalities in British society, might in fact be reinforcing them, and helping them to reflect on how they might change this.


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Description Impact Acceleration Account 2019: Edinburgh
Amount £1,084,218 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/T50189X/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2023
Description Meeting with Alan Davey, BBC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I had originally been approached by a producer at Newsnight to appear on the programming discussing the relationship between class and cultural participation. I did not appear, but the producer suggested that I contact Alan Davey, who as well as being controller of BBC Radio 3, leads on issues of social class within the BBC. I contacted him about my research, and he invited me to meet him to discuss it. He talked to me about his efforts to reduce the class-based obstacles to recruitment and progression at the BBC. We discussed their mentoring programme, which I made suggestions as to how it might be extended. He suggested that I return to talk to staff.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Presentation to Arts Council Collection Curators Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave a talk, followed by Q & A, to 35 museum and art gallery curators organised by Arts Council England, on my broad research topic of social exclusions from the creative economy, and my own research. Very positive reactions from the organiser, fellow presenters (both curators and academics/artists) and audience - and I was invited to give a subsequent talk at the Imperial War Museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Talk to staff at Imperial War Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to speak to staff members at the Imperial War Museum in London, a mixture of curators and human resources staff, followed by a Q & A with a good debate about practical steps. After I left they continued with an internal discussion about what actions they can take to address the social exclusions uncovered in my research. (I stated that the impact was national as I was presenting at IWM in London but they also operate in Manchester and Cambridgeshire)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020