Written by Manfredi de Bernard and Roberta Comunian
Recent research (de Bernard et al. forthcoming) acknowledges that while ecological notions in the study of creative and cultural industries (CCIs) and framework have received increased attention by academics, consultants, and policymakers, there is very little clarity on its definition and understanding. Predictably, the confusion is also echoed in the varied and sometimes eclectic series of visual models that have emerged in the last seventeen years connected with an ecological understanding of CCIs, which all propose slightly different models. De Bernard et al. (forthcoming) try to clarify through a systematic literature review the range of theoretical and empirical contributions on cultural and creative ecosystems (CCEs). Similarly, in this blog, we recognise that even if the differences across model and visualisations is often significant, these can be grouped following a series of shared features. In particular, the present review will focus on the eventual presence of a hierarchy of some kind, even in the minimal hierarchy of one identifiable centre of the ecosystem, and on the possibility to distinguish explicit connections in the visual representation on the blurry notion that is CC ecosystem.
Overall, we identify four types of visual representations of CCEs in the academic and policy literature, as summarised in table 1 below.
Type A: Non-hierarchical models without visualised connections
Very few authors identify simply who and what is included in CCEs without further considerations about the kind of relations that ties them together. It is even unclear whether Neelands uses Figure 1 to represent a CCE - as suggested by Barker (V. Barker 2020) - or just as a graphical ornament (Neelands et al. 2015: 13). In the first case, it would still be a legitimate understanding of a CCE: all the main CCI sub-sectors taken together, connected - yet through unclear dynamics -, as they are just jointly listed.
Tarani (2011: 368) synthesises his understanding of a CCE simply as a far-from-equilibrium system, a series of point with a particular direction that is, in an unexplicit manner, in a mutual influence status.
It is worth mentioning that a few authors also consider the spatial distributions of CC ecosystems’ elements and their visualisation: arguing for the limits of the creative cluster notion. Foster (2020: 8) stresses the not-clustered and disperse spatial distribution of collaborators in a creative project, whilst Mengi et al. colour the two “corridors” that indicate the natural and planned clusters in Brisbane (2020: 8) that he considers CCE. There is no reference to hierarchies or specific relations/connections amongst the nodes even in these spatial representations.
Type B: Non-hierarchical but visualising connections
Holden (2015) and other authors argument for broader adoption of ecological thinking in CCIs is based mainly on their intrinsic complex networked nature. Hence, it is no surprise that visual representation of such network, connections and relations are considered essential by several authors. For example, as already suggested by Holden (2015: 28), Foster (2020: 15), and Dovey (2016: 95) visualise the CCE as a structure made of links and nodes, in both cases, a web of project-related collaborations.
Markusen et al., in a simplified model, stress the structural interdependence of the three spheres that compose their understanding of CCE (Markusen et al. 2011: 9). Graphically different - lines instead of intersections between circles – but fundamentally identical, is Mohamed and Walker’s (2019: 47) model.
Among these, it is important to include - despite the significant differences from all the models reviewed - the proposal of Jeffcutt (2004: 77). Despite being among the first to introduce ecological terms in CCIs research, the author’s ideas have seen scarce development, as the literature has taken another direction. The elements included are all intangibles – “End-user” should be intended as a passive end of the process – but the main dynamics are represented through the lines. Peculiarly, the CCE is represented from the perspective of the individual firm.
Type C: No visualised connections but with a hierarchy
In many models, the authors identify one specific centre or core. Sometimes this is the outcome or recipient of ecological processes, such as the audience or the delivery of cultural products; some other times, its raison d’etre, such as “culture” or creative workers’ activity. In other words, one element among others is considered crucial, defining one CCE's very existence. However, how it relates to the other, or how the others’ reciprocal influence shape the whole ecosystem, is not elaborated.
This is the case of the visual representations proposed by Create NYC (2017: 37), Schippers (2016: 16) and Jung and Walker (2018: 23). In these documents, the relevant elements are identified, and at least one of them is perceived to be central (cultural participants and stakeholders, music practice and artisans, respectively), but how they influence one another is unclear. Gasparin and Quinn (2020: 9) articulate Vietnam’s CCE in ‘value rings’ – social, economic and creative – that echoes four central values: social orientation, creativity, exploration and market orientation. Although with the specific understanding of creative ecology as a policy environment, Murray and Gollmitzer (2012: 433) follow a similar approach. However, what is identified as the centre of one model, whether the production or the artists’ community, or the consumption/ audience, even within similar structures, suggests two radically different understandings on who is, or should be, the primary beneficiary of ecosystem-nurturing actions.
Worth mentioning the model proposed by Holden (2015: 9) and developed by Barker (2018: 50), which is at the border of this and the next section. Indeed, the model lists the series of actors and factors that, all together, contribute to shaping the undefined element of “culture” that lies at the centre. But, even if their relations are not specified, their role partially explains them.
Type D: With visualised connections and hierarchy
The models that provide both hierarchies and visualised connections are underpinned by an extensive reflection by the authors on what a CCE is, who and what is involved, and the kind of dynamics that tie them together. This is the case of Stern and Seifert (2017: P.I-6), CURDS(2001: 11) and Bakalli (2015: 45), listed from the most simplistic to the most complete. Even if CURDS’ visual model is unclear whether a hierarchy is at work, the article clarify it so: “At the heart of the cluster are the creative individuals with sets of skills and knowledge that enable them to produce the core outputs … In addition the individuals band together to form various forms of associations or collectives for mutual support, and interact with a set of cultural and creative support agencies … This core set of activities is then surrounded by another set of activities that support the creative industries but only fit in the core knowledge pool to varying degrees … Business support agencies, local authorities and educational institutions also sit astride the boundary … Finally there is the audience, which itself can be seen as both part of the cluster and slightly detached” (Ibid: 10-11).
Indeed, if the first seems an expanded version of Markusen et al. model, CURDS’ provide many connections, probably all those considered reasonable by the authors, whilst Bakalli additionally include a direction of the main process – in his understanding, the delivery in the local and international market of creative and cultural products – an element absent in most other models.
This blog offered an overview of visual models used by a range of authors to capture the components and dynamics of CCE. As detailed in De Bernard et al. (forthcoming) in connection with the broader literature review of CCE, there are various definitions and theories but few shared points of agreement. Some models remain quite vague (type A), aiming to mainly visualise a representation of the sector without necessarily imposing boundaries or hierarchies. While others – such as type B and D – strive to make visible the actors and relations that are often hidden and therefore use the visual model as a tool to promote a broader understanding of CCE. However, what should be hoped for, is an archetypical visual model for the CCE notion: indicative, not prescriptive. Differences in the local context – city or rural, west or east, emerging or affirmed economy – produce different ecosystems, both in terms of who/what is responsible for its thriving and the kind, timing and intensity of its structural connections, that would hardly be represented in the same way. But if not everything, something can be considered essential to draw one visual representation of one CCE. Indeed, the novelty element that set CCE aside from the former theoretical objects in the field, or the primary role given to the interconnectedness of actors and elements responsible for the delivery of cultural products and the support of creative workers’ activity over the elements themselves, suggests that any valuable model should at least stress the interconnectedness of many elements that leads to a structure hard to atomise, so to highlight the raison d’etre of the very notion of CCE.