The five greatest impacts of COVID-19 on the creative industries

The creative industries account for almost one in eight UK businesses and contributed £115.9 billion gross added value to the UK economy pre-pandemic. So what will happen to this booming industry in the aftermath of COVID-19?

We spoke to three Bristol alumni working in creative industries to get their thoughts on what the future of this sector might look like beyond the reach of COVID-19. Here’s what they had to say.

1. New ways of working

Almost every industry has had to adapt to new ways of working. Many will carry some new processes forward. For Jonny Coller (BA 2002), Creative Director of his own production company, this meant changing their pitching process in the US. Rather than saving pitch ideas for biannual tours of America, they scheduled Zoom calls whenever the ideas were ready. This resulted in securing a lot more work, including some of their biggest projects yet.

2. An explosion of technology

Steve Gatfield (BSc 1981), a marketer turned digital entrepreneur, noted that emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and 5G will be significant forces driving change in the industry. He stated that 5G will allow for a more connected experience in physical spaces. 5G uses bandwidth in a way that enables more data to be processed at one time, providing the potential to deliver more creative experiences. He believes the new horizons for creativity will be endless.

3. Preservation of practical skills

While digital technologies will become increasingly important for the creative industries, Rebecca Hellen (BA 1994), Specialist Advisor for Paintings Conservation at the National Trust, suggests practical skills are equally as vital to sustaining the arts. She highlighted the charity QEST (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) who support the training in modern and traditional crafts from silversmithing to saddle making, and who supported her own training in art conservation.

4. A focus on inclusion and accessibility

Rebecca Hellen felt that widening participation came down to personal responsibility meeting with a cultural moment, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, to give those efforts momentum. Jonny Coller mentioned that bringing diverse minds together and conjoining ideas is key to fostering creativity, recommending the book Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.

Steve Gatfield added that by considering other perspectives, you can design a more inclusive experience. He talked about a recent project at the Watershed which focused on cinema for the deaf community. There was tremendous value in designing an experience that ensures full participation.

5. Bringing sustainability into the equation

Steve Gatfield commented that sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find the true benefits and drivers for a sustainable solution. For example, how sustainable is an electric car if the power grid you charge it up on generates energy from carbon fuels? As most companies pivot to focus on sustainability, the key will be to untangle the factors and opportunities that will enable sustainability to be a central purpose for creative organisations, and to tie this in with the consumer values in order to bring them on that journey.

Supporting your employability

To round off the session, our speakers shared some thoughts on employability. Rebecca Hellen encouraged listeners to always be authentic and to use their creativity to find ways to stand out in an interview. Jonny Coller suggested immersing yourself in your desired field in order to become an expert and generate good ideas. He believes that bringing ideas to the table is the best thing you can do.

Steve Gatfield recommended creating structured curiosity rather than letting downtime slip through your fingers. Become an architect of your time and begin to build habits that will serve you a lifetime. He told listeners not to be scared to have strong opinions to help them stand out, and finally, that there is no straight line to success. Success comes from passion and conviction.

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