Not the Same: Why Definitions of Culture and Creativity Matter in Place-Based Policymaking

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Dr James Davies investigates the definitions of ‘culture’ and ‘creative’, and why it is important to be able to distinguish both industries.


With the 2023 Autumn Statement recognising creative industries as one of the five priority sectors for the UK economy, and the wider ‘Levelling Up’ agenda prioritising a renewed focus on place-based policymaking, it feels timely to draw attention to some of the nuances in the landscape of the creative and cultural landscape for regional and local policy-making in the UK. The Creative industries have been one of the success stories in the UK economy in the 21st century, high growth areas in and of themselves, and cause ‘spillover’ of creative ideas and innovation into other areas of the economy, driving economic growth more broadly. However, there has historically been some confusion with the terminology used, and the concepts of cultural and creative sectors.

There are three main aims of this piece: to offer some distinction between ‘cultural’ and ‘creative’ sectors, and justification for that delineation. To illustrate too narrow an understanding of Creative and Cultural industries (CCIs) can result in the marginalisation of many other forms of ‘value’ more associated with cultural activity, in favour of economic considerations. Finally, an over-reliance on measurements that prioritise economic growth can result in a perpetuation of geographically and economically uneven funding structures that continue to under-fund and underappreciate numerous other forms of cultural activity.

Making a Distinction Between ‘Culture’ and ‘Creative’

The terms ‘cultural’ and ‘creative’ industries are often combined, and are used interchangeably, but represent distinct concepts. In essence, the term “Creative” refers to those more ‘industrial’ sectors like TV, film, and video games, which can be measured primarily by figures relating to employment and economic growth. Conversely, “Culture” encompasses a broader societal infrastructure, involving museums, theatres, and community outreach, with considerations for intangibles like well-being and pride in place.

There are different definitions of arts and culture in UK policy and research. The Office for National Statistics ONS uses Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) to include arts and entertainment, such as plays or concerts and museums, galleries, and historical buildings under the umbrella term of arts and culture, whereas the Department for Culture, Media and Sport DCMS defines the Cultural Sector as “those industries with a cultural object at the centre of the industry”, as well as “creative industries”, divided into nine sub-sectors, including computer games and IT, are not considered part of arts and culture. ‘Local culture’ has been defined broadly to include heritage, arts, parks, creative industries and community initiatives. The choice between creative and cultural often appears to be related to the type of subsector being addressed, especially to the extent to which it is market-oriented.

For those at the local level thinking about how to best support or utilise their existing cultural assets, or their creative industries, there needs to be an awareness of the difference between the two. Such definitional ambiguity doesn’t just present challenges to communication, but also significantly impacts questions of measurement, evidence, allocation of value and accountability.

Different types of measures, and different forms of ‘Value’

Separating the concepts of the creative and cultural sectors is necessary for two primary reasons: Firstly, correctly or incorrectly identifying a sector as either cultural or creative necessitates the use of very different measurements and metrics, as well as different forms of “value.” Secondly, and in the same vein, cultural infrastructure faces a different set of challenges in interacting with funding at both national regional and local levels.

‘Cultural value’ is often reduced to economic contributions, neglecting a wider variety of other aspects of cultural and creative activity. At a local level, culture and cultural infrastructure can make important contributions to places and communities, building pride-in-place and community identity, as well as supporting wellbeing and inclusion. Understanding the cultural and creative sectors means understanding the myriad respects in which culture and creativity matter, and the many kinds of ‘value’ at stake. Conversely, prioritising only economic values over other essential factors means potentially neglecting public participation and social considerations, and the ‘symbolic’ value in addition to the ‘utility’ value.


UK national cultural policy has also historically prioritised the economic impacts of culture and creativity, influenced by discourse including New Labour’s creative economy. Tensions continue to exist between regionalised or localised initiatives and a national infrastructure built on centralised funding, reflecting a broader challenge in balancing the diverse range of cultural and creative needs. Funding constraints, including reduced core funding and fragmented regional and localised funding pots, continue to pose arguably the greatest challenges to sustaining cultural initiatives. The UK continues to be one of, if not the most regionally unbalanced large, advanced economy, with the South-East the recipient of a disproportionate allocation for cultural funding at a regional level, but also in terms of expenditure on other areas of society and the economy. In England, local authorities spent 26% less on arts and culture in 2016/17 than in 2009/10.


Working in any type of partnership at a regional or local level in the UK, it is vitally important to understand the distinction between cultural sectors and creative industries. Failure to do so can result in a misappropriation of metrics and measurements and an undervaluing of the other types of value that cultural activity can provide. It risks the reduction of considerations of cultural contribution to only those in economic terms.

Additionally, fully understanding the nuances and specificities of what cultural activity and cultural infrastructure can provide to your regions beyond basic economics is vitally important and should be included as we continue the UK’s social and economic recovery post-pandemic. Thirdly, an acknowledgement of the wider context of culture and the arts and its place in UK society has to recognise both a bias towards the South-East and London and the UK’s hugely centralised funding model and inherent tensions with hyper-localised cultural initiatives across the rest of the country. Set against a wider context of cuts to arts funding over the last decade, effective locally-facing cultural interventions and initiatives need to be based on robust and appropriate evidence, local knowledge and long-term planning that prove a clarity of intent and relevance to the communities they are designed to be benefitting.

This blog was written by Dr James Davies, Research Fellow, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the author and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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