Creative Portsmouth: Building a Cultural Collective

Image credit: Sarah Cheverton.

The first Creative Portsmouth event took place on 31st January 2019 run by Portsmouth City Council. Local writer Maddie Wallace reports.

Judging by the huge turnout at the city’s first Creative Portsmouth collaborative event at the Guildhall in January,  we are a city bursting with creativity.

The event was organised by Cllr Steve Pitt, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, to celebrate the energy of the creative industries in Portsmouth and their importance to economic growth in the region. It was hosted by the Guildhall’s events team and compered by associate producer Ben Clabon.

Cllr Pitt said the event was ‘aimed at all those working in or considering starting a cultural or creative business in city. We want to encourage them to collaborate and share their experiences to build a stronger creative and cultural sector for the future.’

Keynote speakers included James Sharp, from Sharp Film, author Pauline Rowson, Dean of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth Professor Trevor Keeble, and Mark Graham, creative director of ilovedust. Delegates from local businesses such as Victorious Festival, the Wedgewood Rooms, Aspex Gallery, the City Museum, Strong Island and The News mingled with freelancer creatives, students and artists.

However the event, which was moved from a smaller side room to the main Guildhall space due to higher than expected interest, wasn’t just about networking and celebrating existing talent. The underlying theme throughout was a focus on how the creative people, businesses, projects and industries based in and around the city can collaborate to capitalise towards a cohesive strategy of culture for Portsmouth, and there was a strong emphasis on how young people can be involved.

Victorious Festival and the Arts Council have jointly funded the development of a cultural strategy for the city, which is being developed by consultant Stephen Browning. Although the strategy has not yet been released, it is clear from the enthusiasm, talent and variety of people at today’s event that Portsmouth is currently riding a wave of cultural endeavour that is capable of tapping into the creative zeitgeist on a global level.

Sharp Film and ilovedust are both locally based businesses with an international reach, having worked with global brands such as Nike, BMW, Tag Huer (Sharp Film), and Nike, Apple, Chevrolet and Sony (ilovedust). Author Pauline Rowson has published 19 books in total, 14 in the globally popular Inspector Andy Horton crime series (set in and around Portsmouth), and has seen her work translated into many languages.

All three highlighted the importance for creatives to work hard together to push their artistic passions forward. Pauline Rowson loves Portsmouth as a location for her novels, saying Portsmouth is ‘vibrant and diverse, it has history and the contemporary, rich and poor, and ethnic diversity’.

Professor Trevor Keeble stressed the important role the University of Portsmouth has in moving the city’s creative culture forward. He said, ‘The government hardly talks about creative industry, although it’s outpacing other sectors’, and he emphasised the opportunities available outside London, thanks to the explosion of digital media in the last decade.

Although the university’s focus is often on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), CCI sees 92.5% of its graduates entering employment, compared with 90.6% nationally. Of those, 84.8% go into professional level occupations, compared with 73.6% nationally. Many CCI graduates are self-employed and often go freelance or run start-ups, with many graduates of the school remaining in the city to live and work.

The economic impact of culture and creativity in the city has been boosted by Victorious Festival. Festival organiser James Ralls told me, ‘Our independent economic impact assessment by Bluegrass Research has come back with a figure of just over £10 million [in revenue for the city] for 2018.’

What was most notable for me at the Creative Portsmouth event was the undercurrent of simmering possibility creatives feel our city has to offer. Cllr Pitt is determined to put Portsmouth on the global creative map and show that as well as being known for our famous port and football team, we are a city of talent, imagination, innovation and originality.

During a decade of austerity, Portsmouth City Council has made £98 million in savings in the last 8 years alone. It will need to save another £4 million from its revenue budget in 2019/20, the first part of a required £12 million in savings the council will have to make over the next three years. In this context, it is clear that the current administration are seeking to energise the city’s creatives and organise them into a coherent and diverse collective to collaborate together and support the local sector. It will be interesting to see how the forthcoming Cultural Strategy can support and enable this work.

Main image by Sarah Cheverton.