Supporting creative enterprises – exploring the impact of infrastructure and place-based initiatives

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This guest blog is the third in a series of blogs from Dr Stephen Knox, working with SPICe on an academic fellowship, to explore his research into support for the creative industries. As with all guest blogs, what follows are the views of the authors and not those of SPICe or indeed the Scottish Parliament.


This blog is a follow up from a first blog which looked at training and advice programmes to support the development of creative practitioners and a second blog which looked at supporting the creative industry through finance initiatives. The purpose of this series of blogs is to investigate the impact of various policies that aim to develop the creative industries, a key sector in Scotland. This work looks at the design and delivery of programmes to understand ‘what works’ to drive economic, cultural, and social impact.

The Scottish Government’s definition of the creative industry includes many different sectors – visual and performing arts, cultural education, crafts, textiles, fashion, photography, music, writing and publishing, advertising, libraries, archives, antiques, architecture, design, film and video, TV and radio, software, and electronic publishing, and computer games.

This third blog in the series focuses on exploring the impact of infrastructure and place-based initiatives in these sectors. To investigate this, I analysed 29 different initiatives across the UK. A list of these is presented at the end of this blog. These initiatives can be categorised into three different types:

(1) events, festivals, and attractions;

(2) regional networks; and

(3) arts centres, buildings, and renovations.

Events, festivals, and attractions

Events, festivals, and attractions are temporary programmes of cultural activities. They may be repeated, such as the Edinburgh Festivals, or occur only once, such as the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme which was centred around hosting the Commonwealth Games. These events provide many economic benefits, including job and income creation, mainly through attracting tourism. This provides opportunities for artists and small businesses in the hospitality sector. Indeed, many evaluations of events and festivals report very strong returns on investment due to the ability of cultural events to attract visitors to local places. Furthermore, when audience engagement is high, both artists and places can increase their reputation which can develop longer-term cultural impact.

Events, festivals, and attractions also promote several social benefits to places, including helping to build local networks and increasing the capacity to deliver events. They can increase feelings of belonging, sense of community, and the well-being of artists and audiences. They also have an educational role to play and can promote inclusion and attention to social issues.

Key to unlocking these benefits is audience satisfaction and engagement, which is created by quality programming and showcasing diverse talent. Helping to drive this are two main factors:

  • Wrap-around support, such as training and finance, for artists and practitioners to help develop performances, exhibitions, or shows.
  • Strong partnership working to help deliver support, promote events to wider audiences, attract more resources, and develop the capacity for local places to deliver.

Regional networks

Regional network initiatives look to help establish connections between people and organisations within regions and places. The general rationale behind these initiatives is that by having strong social networks in a place new opportunities, increased capacity, and wider inclusion in cultural activity can be achieved. The reviewed evidence highlights the ability of regional network initiatives to develop the capacity, investment, and revenue of participating organisations. This helps to develop strong regional infrastructure, open up new markets, and increase the resources directed to the arts.

There is also reported increase in skills and innovation through partnership investment in R&D and experimentation, and the generation of new business or project ideas. However, direct economic impact, such as job creation or sales income are less commonly reported. This is because they are hard to measure directly. The focus, however, is to improve regional governance to better deliver cultural activity and expand the sector capacity which creates in-direct benefits.

To establish effective regional networks there are several contributing factors:

  • Regional dealmakers who act to ‘glue’ networks together as they have strong connections with other organisations and individuals and can incentivise collaborative work.
  • Third spaces, such as co-working hubs, which act as important neutral places where different stakeholders from across the sector can meet to experiment and collaborate freely.
  • Autonomy and flexibility in network activities and funding criteria which can allow for initiatives to be locally tailored to individual places which can maximise value.
  • Having a strategic focus, which includes having a clear collective agenda, strategic links to other sectors, a consumer-centred focus, and the ability to assemble resource from wider areas.

Arts centres, buildings, and renovation

This initiative typically involved capital build programmes in which arts centres, or other cultural buildings were developed, creating permanent places for cultural activity. In the short-term the construction and operation of physical sites creates jobs and provides training opportunities. Over longer-periods this attracts visitors, which generates income and a return on capital investment.

The development of these initiatives results in places for consumption of culture which can increase access, social inclusion, reduce isolation, and increase sense of belonging. These benefits are generally afforded by:

  • Having physical spaces for performance, exhibitions, and participation in cultural activity.
  • Developing pathways for development, including training, and allowing practitioners places to work and increase their exposure to audiences.


The results from this phase of analysis (summarised in the infographic) highlight that the curation of programmes of events, festivals, exhibitions, and attractions can provide a boost to local economies through visitor spend. The development of regional networks can help to increase the capacity of local organisations to deliver these initiatives. The construction and operation of physical cultural spaces can create job opportunities in the sector. Seemingly, having a mix of these different types of initiatives can assist with place-based economic, cultural, and social development.

The next phase of this project will investigate the impact of education programmes. If you have any evidence, programme reports, impact studies, or evaluations please send them to:

Dr Stephen Knox is Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Stirling

Provide artists with opportunities to develop their artistic practice by immersion in another culture and by cross-cultural collaboration; most usually in the form of exchanges, placements, residencies, and research periods.
Northern Ireland
Distributed over £70m of capital funding to establish a wide range of dedicated cultural venues in towns and cities.
Grants of between £250,000 and £2 million to renovate, extend or build new libraries so that they can offer a broader range of activities to their communities, with a focus on reaching new audiences.
Networking and collaboration amongst creative companies in Edinburgh to raise standards and ambition.
Programme of events to create opportunities in arts participation.
Network of creative producers from across the world provided with time, space, and financial support.
Support local cultural sectors enhance contribution to development, with a special emphasis on cross-sector engagement beyond the cultural sector and the local authority.
A celebratory programme to develop diversity in the arts in England, helping to build a sustainable base for the support and encouragement of diverse arts.
Arts centre in Dundee with museum-standard galleries, cinemas and extensive production facilities for artists, including a print studio.
Annual Festival programme.
Cultural programme of national and international content for the Commonwealth Games.
Film Office to increase the volume and value of TV and Film productions that were coming into the Grampian region.
Programme of events, exhibitions, installations, and cultural activities delivered across Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Support, promote and develop the digital media sector within Tayside by encouraging collaboration between businesses and between businesses and academia to develop new commercial opportunities.
Academic collaboration with the creative economy.
15-week festival was underpinned by a weekly programme of events and included partner exhibitions.
National festival, which celebrates people’s creative lives as they age.
Create new tourist attractions and develop cultural spaces to continue to grow the Merchant City and Mackintosh tourism sector.
Enable independent production companies based in Glasgow to invest in research and development (R&D).
2003 MTV Europe Music Awards in Leith.
Five Random Acts Network Centres (RANC), to identify, develop and support diverse young artists to make films to be considered for inclusion in Channel 4 broadcasting.
Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy to support collaboration between partner universities and companies active in the creative economy.
Programme of projects and events across Scotland in response to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
The Theatre Royal, Scottish Opera, and travelling tours.
Encourage and co-ordinate technical collaboration both within the sector and with other sectors to maximise global opportunities.
Encourage the cultural and tourism sectors to work together in innovative ways to raise the profile of culture in local visitor economies.
Temporary, not-for-profit digital service through which audiences could access digital works covering a wide range of arts.
Programme of events to engage local communities in the arts.
Setup 13 regional groups and a national network.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Crowd” by thisisedinburgh is licensed under CC BY 2.0.