Building a Creative Nation in China

 9 March 2017

In January 2017, our Programme Director Rob West went to China to join a week of creative industry cross-cultural discussion and ideas sharing, as part of the Sino-UK Global Screen Industry Education and Skills Collaboration Programme. Now he's back home, these are his views on how we can develop our creative links with China.

"We can play a huge part in the bigger picture, and help join up the dots between industry and education."

Despite China’s burgeoning economy, NESTA’s 2012 report, Crossing the River by Feeling for Stones argued that the UK creative industries have failed to capitalise on the opportunities afforded by Chinese markets.

So we were particularly interested when we were invited to find out a bit more for ourselves and support some of the initiatives set up by the University of Nottingham, who opened The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) in 2004. This was the first China-foreign education institution, and supported by the Chinese Ministry of Education. 

Developing the museum sector

The need for museum training in China was identified in the early 2000s in response to a rapid growth in the sector. 

The delegates were particularly interested in our Building a Creative Nation campaign as a means of supporting the next generation of talent

A group of scholars from the University of Nottingham’s China and UK campuses formed a network - ‘China Cultural Visiting Hub’ (CCVH) - and began the process of designing masterclasses.

This training programme brought together some of the leading practitioners in Western and Chinese museums, including the Victoria & Albert, with university academics, to train museum managers in China.

Developing sustainable museum sector collaboration between the UK and China was our first involvement with the programme.

Working together

We all first got together back in December at the Wellcome Collection in London, supported by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office’s FCO Prosperity Fund, on a dialogue day.

The idea of it was to share information, define barriers and to understand the opportunities of collaboration between the museum sectors in the UK and China, exploring professional upskilling, exhibitions & programming, and research.

The focus of it was to understand how there might be more and better, region to region and city-to-city engagement between the museum sectors in China and the UK.

A series of presentations were given on this theme including one from myself on the general picture and trends of the Creative Industries in the UK.

There were two structured discussions, which addressed the following questions/challenges:

  • What could things look like by 2020?
  • How can we help each other?

The delegates were particularly interested in our Building a Creative Nation campaign as a means of supporting the next generation of talent and developing a skills pipeline for employers.

However, the barriers were clear:

  • We need more knowledge of the Chinese Museum Sector and what they want
  • Language and information – and project management style
  • The different political systems, cultures, stages of development make engagement a very complex process
  • Need for more understanding of how China likes to present its culture to make sure that international programming and collaboration is culturally appropriate and deliverable
  • Lack of understanding of which kinds of audiences are not engaging with museums and why

Bringing ideas to China

We found a clear role for ourselves as the Sector Skills Council in placing this work in both a UK and Creative Industries context, so we could begin to identify what might be place specific and/or sector specific barriers.

From this, I was invited to go out to China in January by the University of Nottingham as part of a training delivery team looking at UK-China collaborations around the screen industry.

We find ourselves at Creative & Cultural Skills now working to build creative nations!

The team included Royal Holloway University of London, Newcastle University and ourselves, which brought in UK representation presenting different vehicles for creative education at other UK HEIs as well as the national creative skills approach and policy.

Flying in to Shanghai, I was then driven to Ningbo and took part in various debates and presentations during the week – including leading a focus group on skills and education.

A perceived lack of creativity in schools in China was voiced strongly along with a desire to embrace the notion of T-shaped Skills. It was agreed that people’s T-shaped skillset must constantly become broader (general knowledge) and narrower (specialised knowledge) as the world becomes both more accessible and yet more complex.

The week introduced different themes to allow focus and in-depth discussions, e.g. virtual reality in film, industry-university collaboration models, and film festivals. There was also a dedicated session led by a Chinese University to present the Chinese perspectives, approaches, which led to the exchange of ideas and thoughts with the UK participants.

What part can we play?

I then flew up to Beijing to take part in further events including a Sino-UK Creative Industry Education and Skills Collaboration Forum on both Global Screen Industry and Museums, similarly supported by the FCO Prosperity Fund.

Organised by Xinhua Net, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, and supported by the China International Cultural Association and the Chinese Collegial Association for Visual Arts, we again found a great appetite for learning about the role we can play at Creative & Cultural Skills.

We can play a huge part in the bigger picture, and help join up the dots between industry and education. There was much interest in our own National Skills Academy, and the idea was even floated for an International Skills Academy which similarly might seek to bring employers and education partners together to seek solutions to some of the skills challenges which exist!

What next?

I left with several new contacts and lots of interest in developing UK-China Skills links. We have been asked to be part of a group acting as the core ‘brain’ to drive future activities, mainly:

  • To ensure that recommendations contribute to and help set the agenda for policy-level engagements at sector level.
  • To encourage sector collaboration and partnerships within the UK and China for scale and sustainability. 
  • To identify opportunities for UK-based creative economy programmes at student and CPD level.
  • To share intelligence, grow new networks, and increase international connectivity.
  • To coordinate future education activities between UK and China in the creative sector.

Finally, as part of my visit to Beijing I also got to meet with executives from the impressive Beijing Centre for Performing Arts.  

This was part of University of Nottingham’s plan for further work on skills collaborations with a focus on performing arts venues in the UK-China.

So the story doesn’t end here, as we find ourselves at Creative & Cultural Skills now working to build creative nations!

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