Should Auckland have a creative director?

Yesterday, at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Committee for Auckland announced some of the key findings that have been compiled in its latest report called ‘Auckland as a Creative City’.

The principle theme delivered during the breakfast event was that “Auckland needs an over-arching strategy to unlock the potential of its creative sectors and grow the economy to make the city more globally competitive.”

The importance of developing the creative industry isn’t only about increasing the SuperCity’s cool factor but also because it makes monetary sense. The various creative industries already employ a large number of Kiwis, and there’s definitely room for growth, especially given that the creative sector as a whole shrank 2.6 percent between 2008 and 2012.    


Richard Didsbury, The Committee for Auckland chair, was the first speaker to address the crowd, and he spoke of how the report investigated the progress of seven large international creative cities in order to see how they have defined their creative missions and how they have achieved them.

But rather than looking at the usual established creative cities such as Paris, Florence or New York City, the Committee instead researched the steps being taken in Brisbane, Cape Town, Singapore, Bogota, Hamburg, Qingdao and Montreal.

The panel discussion was chaired by Metro editor Simon Wilson, and he shared the stage with Patrick McVeigh, the general manager of economic growth at ATEED; Roy Clare, the director of Auckland War Memorial Museum; James Hurman, the principal and founder of previously Unavailable, Richard Grant, the chairman of the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand; and Paul Owens (via Skype), the managing director and co-founder of BOP consulting.  

There was a notable lack of diversity on the stage. All six speakers were white males and, somewhat surprisingly considering that it was a discussion on Auckland creativity, three—McVeigh, Clare and Owens—were Londoners.

Given that the selected speakers didn’t necessarily give a visual representation of an incredibly diverse city, they did time and time again refer to the important role that both sexes and the varied range of ethnicities in the city contributed to overall creativity.

During the discussion, Wilson delineated the key recommendations that the report suggested to Auckland’s community and business leaders:

“The first one is that the city needs to map the extent of creative and cultural activity … The second is to kickstart the Council’s creative strategic plan with an industry-wide symposium next year, and I think that’s probably the key immediate task … The third one is to widen the scope of what we mean by cultural and creative … The fourth one is to establish an advisory board, in other words to beef up the quality of leadership at council level with a champion … And the fifth one is to raise the profile of the city with some quick wins. ”      

The aim here is to develop Auckland’s creative potential by using these international examples as a guide to what works effectively.

“By looking at seven large international creative cities, the research revealed some proven initiatives Auckland could share and examples of how to implement them,” said the executive director of Committee for Auckland Heather Shotter in a release.   

“They included for example: establishing one office as the point of contact for the creative sector with connections to all organisations involved; supporting the co-location of creative/cultural clusters of talent; developing a Maori cultural centre; putting more signage around the city pointing the way to museums, green space and historic sites; producing an annual ‘Creative Auckland’ publication; creating new cultural walks and cycle trails and creating a forum for creative practitioners to collaborate and connect internationally.”

This drive to make Auckland a more creative city might at first seem somewhat unnecessary to those working in advertising, because as Hurman said when speaking from the panel: “Auckland advertising agencies are renowned around the world for their creative excellence. In fact, many of our agencies are regularly ranked among the top ten agencies in the world as far as creativity goes.”

For this reason, Hurman recommended that Auckland should learn from this example by introducing a strict meritocracy, which mirrors that used in the advertising industry. 

“There’s a system in advertising that’s not very popular in most of the corporate community; it’s a system of absolute hierarchy, where you have a creative director, who is a person that has the best creative taste in the agency, and he’s put in charge, and everyone follows that person,” he said.

“And they make all the decisions on what the creative output of the agency is. And this is really, really important. It’s not fashionable to have this hierarchy, but with creativity it’s very important that we put the best creative people in charge and we follow their lead if we want to achieve the best creative output.”

The problem with this is that investors, city developers and business people haven’t necessarily furthered their careers alongside the creatives that typify the advertising industry, and this could result in a lack of trust. However, Hurman goes on to say that if Auckland wants to develop into a creative centre, decision makers will have to start placing more trust in these people.  

“I think we need to be really careful if we want to be a great creative city, that we make sure that we pick the people who are the best at creativity and we put them in charge and we don’t sort of consensus them into an outcome. We just kind of leave them to it. And that’s a scary thing for most of us to do if we haven’t grown up in the world of creativity, but it’s absolutely essential if we are to become the creative city and centre we want to be.”

This point is particularly important, when considering the fact that Auckland needs to forge a creative identity based on the vision of its creatives rather than the executives that control the purse strings. 

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