‘….some students just have a gift, there’s no question. They just have a gift right from day one. They all have some potential, and some element of talent, absolutely. But I can’t teach it’ (Fashion academic, CSM)
In the creative economy, talent is valued as the primary source of ideas and the means to innovation and productivity. But what is talent and how is it recognised?
For some, talent is inborn and innate. People are born to dance, paint or play violin, they appear as ‘naturals’. One of the jobs of universities, colleges and creative industry employers is to recognise that natural talent and cultivate it – for everyone’s benefit. It’s true that people have their own aptitudes and capacities – people are in some way differently-abled. But is talent really natural? And is it only ‘natural’ advantages that determine chances of selection and success in the creative industries?
One of the challenges of the creative economy is to become more socially inclusive. We know from most labour market and academic research that the creative sector does poorly in terms of employment diversity. The recent Warwick Commission report found, for example, that BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) workers represent only 6% of workers in design, 9.1% in film, TV and radio and 6.7% in music and performing and visual arts. This is compared with a total BAME population of 14.1% in England and Wales and a population of 40% in London, where most creative industry jobs are also located. In 2014 the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission drew attention to the strong tendency of TV, film, broadcasting (and even pop music) to employ disproportionate amounts of privately-educated people from the ‘elite’ and ‘established middle class’, to the use the classificatory terms of the BBC’s own Great British Class Survey.
It seems that to fulfil one’s innate creative talent, it helps very much to come from the kind of prosperous and privileged background that allows people to develop and express their seemingly natural aptitudes. Research has shown that the socially privileged are much more likely to be recognised and judged as being creatively ‘talented’ than their less fortunate peers. Partly then, it is in processes of employment selection and recruitment that problems might lie – employers struggle to recognise talent in minority and disadvantaged groups, even though if talent were actually ‘natural’ (rather than social) it would be presumably more randomly-distributed across the population. Patterns of educational and employment selection consistently reveal that, far from being open and accessible to all-comers, the cultural and creative industries, and the education systems that serve them, often struggle to recognise certain social groups as having any talent at all.
If London wants to develop its creative economy and grow and attract a wider range of talents, then its creative industry employers might need to interrogate their own assumptions about what talent is, who has it, and how it might be nurtured and grown within a diverse and cosmopolitan labour market. Building effective and durable ecosystems and opportunities for knowledge exchange not only depends on introducing more diversity into the system, but recognising that talent – like knowledge itself – might be multiple and as much socially as naturally defined.