Pursuing a vision for creative industries
When 26-year-old Gareth Dunlop sings about “dead end streets and dead end jobs” it is not hard to see where he draws inspiration from.
One in every five people under the age of 24 is currently out of work in the North.
Not so long ago Dunlop was like many of them with what he describes as a “suitcase full of empty dreams”.
Today the songwriter, who grew up in east Belfast, is singing to a happier tune.
Dunlop, who has made his living from music since the age of 16, currently has two critically acclaimed albums to his name. He is enjoying a rapidly-rising profile in the US thanks in part to the fact that his music has recently featured in a number of prime-time television shows.
Dunlop may not quite be a household name but give him time and he could end up giving Northern Ireland’s most famous music export, Van Morrison, a run for his money.
More importantly, however, some hope his success might inspire other young people to pursue their dreams when it comes to creative ideas and ambitions.
Latest economic estimates show that in 2009 there were 21,000 people in “creative employment” in the North, working in industries from art to music, film and designer fashion. Figures published this month suggest there were an estimated 1,375 creative businesses in 2011.
According to the latest estimates from the Department of Culture, creative industries contributed £329 million to gross value added (GVA) for the North in 2009. Of this music and visual and performing arts were the only areas to show an increase.They increased by 26 per cent to £34 million.
Yet according to the director of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, this is a fraction of what the industry could deliver for the local economy. Colin Magee, from Panarts, who organises the annual festival, believes there is a huge amount of talent in the North but that the potential to develop and commercially grow it is being wasted.
Magee said: “What we need to do in Northern Ireland is encourage creative young people to look at the music industry and other creative industries as a career choice.
“We need to change the mindset in Northern Ireland about how people perceive the music industry – being a full-time song writer is a real job; just look at Van Morrison and his success.
“Of course, not everyone is going to be a multi-millionaire, but Northern Ireland is missing out – both economically and creatively – because we don’t have the right support in place at the moment to help the creative industries, particularly the music industry, flourish.”
Creative organisations account for just 2 per cent of all businesses in the North. There is evidence to suggest that, because of the difficulties in the local economy, it has become harder not only to get a creative business up and running but also to keep it going.
The latest statistics highlight that overall the GVA for the creative industries in Northern Ireland fell from £436 million to £329 million between 2008 and 2009.
The blossoming film and television industry – it received a substantial boost from the local production of the series Game of Thrones – may help to reverse this 25 per cent slump.
But the real issue is how quickly Northern Ireland can get to grips with the potential the creative industries may present for wealth and job creation.
Culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín is in no doubt that local talent could prove to be a catalyst for growing the local economy. Last week she launched an initiative called Creativity Month. Ní Chuilín hopes it will inspire people with creative ideas and creative organisations and businesses to emerge and flourish.
“Our creative and cultural industries across the region can lead new ways of rebuilding and rebalancing our economy and in tackling disadvantage and inequalities.”