The term creative economy was introduced in an article by Peter Coy in 2000 about the impending transformation of the world’s economy from an Industrial Economy to an economy where the most important force is “the growing power of ideas.”1 John Howkins elaborated in his 2001 book, The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas, calling it a new way of thinking and doing that revitalizes manufacturing, services, retailing, and entertainment industries with a focus on individual talent or skill, and art, culture, design, and innovation.2
Creative economy definitions are typically tied to efforts to measure economic activity in a specific geography. A relevant set of art, culture, design, and innovation industries is determined, and the economic contribution of those industries is assessed within a region. As a result, there is no agreed upon group of industries that define the creative economy: each study determines what it means in the relevant region, and builds a unique set of industries to define the local creative economy. This makes aggregation or comparisons between regions difficult.
A study by the Creative Economy Coalition (CEC), a working group of the National Creativity Network, examined 27 different definitions of the creative economy and found that “overall, there was a consensus that the creative industries are both under-recognized and undercounted.”3 CEC’s study examined 25 reports by regional, state, and local arts organizations that use North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)4 codes to define the creative economy. CEC found a total of 264 NAICS codes named across the 25 reports5, four codes were present in all 25 reports6, and 70 codes were common to 50% or more of the reports.7
Other widely referenced definitions of the creative economy include the “U.S. Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account” by the National Endowment for the Arts and Bureau of Economic Analysis,8 “Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts” by Americans for the Arts,9 the evolving definition of “Creative Industries” employed by the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sports,10 “A Dynamic Mapping of the UK’s Creative Industries” by Nesta, a UK-based innovation foundation,11 and the “Creative Economy” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.12
The British Council offers this primer on the Creative Economy and how its definition has evolved and expanded over the last twenty years.
Alternative approaches to defining the creative economy focus on creative occupations, and a creativity mindset which can be applied in a wide range of activities. Neither of these approaches lends itself to revealing investable opportunities with the potential for social impact.