Human activity has a tendency to cluster. In the future, a strong framework for creative clustering is going to be vital in helping us adapt to new instabilities and adventures.
Human activity has a tendency to cluster. In the medieval city, craftsmen of a particular guild would gravitate to a single street. Weavers, dyers, and fullers of the wool trade would agglomerate in one area; masons and architects of the building trade in another; while butchers, leatherworkers, soapmakers would be found in close proximity, ideally downwind of everyone else. In their clusters, enterprises could share supply chains and resources. There was also a desire to learn from one another, to attract the best apprentices and to garner the prestige of association with worthy competitors - factors which outweighed any advantage that separation from their rivals might have given them.
Today, likewise, there is a power in geographical proximity for the performative arts and creative industries. Some work will always happen in isolated locations but creativity also flourishes in a hive of like-minded individuals who validate each other and provide tribal orientation in the world. An arts cluster might be built around a venerable old theatre with the right kind of all-day bar but its tentacles will stretch out into a local university, a set of arcades re-purposed as galleries or an unheated place in which to hold a summer book fair or film festival.
Showing off completed work, passing around young freelancers, applying for joint funding, cross-fertilising ideas, exchanging expertise between disciplines, keeping up with the technological edge… these urges have a centripetal tendency. There is also the empathy and camaraderie that comes from having a broad swathe of acquaintances with whom to navigate the ups and downs of the creative economy.
Ash Sakula has a fascination with the role that particular buildings, networks of buildings and even neighbourhoods can play in creating and strengthening a creative cluster. They represent cultural infrastructures which we see as essential to our cities and rural communities. In future, work is likely to become something we need to invent, as the rapidly expanding realm of artificial intelligence displaces and disrupts current employment patterns. In this scenario, a strong framework for creative clustering is going to be vital in helping us adapt to new instabilities and adventures.
We aren’t alone in our focus on creative clustering. Government policy recognises the importance of these clusters to the wider economy and acknowledges that, in the cultural and creative industries, the specificity of place is a good thing. As a result, the Arts and Humanities Research Council is investing in a raft of research projects to define regional opportunities for creative clusters.
Turning a redundant dole office in Leicester into a multi-use theatre for a school and its community.
Creatively injecting new life into an unloved building.
Constructing a self-built arts village on derelict land in east London.
A building designed for the purpose of supporting and enabling the carnival arts.
Opening a new chapter for Cardiff’s radical arts centre.
Making creative co-working space for the arts in Hackney.