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Alan Livingston: Creative Cornwall

Transcription of a talk given in Newlyn the day after the opening of the Exchange in Penzance, Summer 2007. Alan Livingston is Principal of University College Falmouth, and Chair of Arts Council Southwest


'I've been in Cornwall for quite a long time and I'm very proud to be part of the change in Cornwall. I think people in the cultural sector have done a fantastic job and there is enormous pride in that collective achievement and rightly so.

I thought I'd reflect on the recent changes in government because these things impact on peoples lives. One of the things Gordon Brown has said recently is that he views universities as quote 'engines of economic growth'. Very interesting coming from a former chancellor. The expectation is that universities will help Britain rise to the challenge of today's competitive global economy.

It's interesting how instrumental all of this is. We must always remember and respect that universities are there to enrich people's lives they are not just laboratories of skills. We will see how the political agenda and how people in higher education respond to that. You can do the right thing and get the right funding, or you can challenge that and have a debate about where you are going: but I think at the moment people standing back waiting to see the priorities of the new government.

Another point to acknowledge is that the Leeds report effectively said there was a desperate shortage of skills in Britain, which surprised me, but it's true. And there is no doubt that the government is keen that the skills level in this country is transformed, and the expectation is that by 2020 more than 4 in 10 adults will have a degree level qualification. It is currently about a third, so you can see that in terms of increasing investment and increased expectation of Higher Education its a big agenda.

Remember where we're sitting today. We're sitting in a fishing village in the poorest county in England. Its interesting to think about that phrase. We're getting European funding to make this place better. You can only do that in my view through people and the nice thing about Cornwall over the past ten years is in relation to the Combined Universities of Cornwall initiative. It's very tempting to see the huge amount of money that has been spent as being an investment in buildings. That is entirely the wrong perspective. You see it is about an investment in people, and the people of Cornwall deserve this.

Remember what was happening. We were a very poor county and we had an outward drift all the time. It was a classic brain drain, and it does mean that if you're a poor county that people want to leave, and that by definition you are getting poorer. And that can't be sustained. We have to make sure that people inside and outside the county see this as a place to live in, work in and to invest in. And for me that is at the heart of the transformational agenda. So you can see what the people in the cultural industries are doing that and we have to find a way to ensure that all these creative practitioners see their future with some optimism. My nightmare is that Cornwall has this brand, this myth about creativity, but if we don't give the new generation the opportunities to stay and develop they'll have a look, they'll think thank-you very much, and they'll go somewhere else.

At the moment we are producing brilliant students. All sorts of people are coming to Falmouth, Truro, Cornwall College, and they're going out there and they're doing things really well as creative practitioners. Now some of them will naturally aspire to leave and that's great, that's healthy, but those that wish to stay here should feel that they're valued and supported. And I'd like to hear from the audience about what are the things that should be done after people graduate? What are the priorities in terms of giving these people a secure base?

I could give you figures on the millions being spent in the creative industries, but we have to move away from this tyranny of statistics. What about quality? What about argument? What about passion?

In relation to the Eden project; I think that was one of the best demonstrations of collective creativity in this county or anywhere else. That was developed and sold in relation to passion and belief. I'm sure if the RDA had done the analysis of the figures carefully Tim Smit and the Eden Project wouldn't have got the money they'd asked for. It was about belief. And I'm just saying that in terms of what we represent in the creative community, we have to be good at what we do. We have to understand the importance of economic argument and I'm in the front line of doing that, but we have to have great ideas, passion, belief, argument and the ability to persuade sceptical audiences. Nick (Serota) rightly said that the RDA are sometimes difficult to talk to and difficult to persuade but I do feel that if you are patient and bloody determined they will listen, but you have to play them at their own game.

One of the things that is a danger and a threat to this community is that there is too much fragmentation. I think last night and this morning showed a coming together. That's our strength. We have to work together. Its important that there is that weight of opinion, that weight of belief. And its important that you as a creative practitioner feel that you have some support. I don't want to talk too long but there are real signs that Cornwall is becoming much more astute at working together and I think that is the way forward. It was nice last night to be there with so many people from all over Cornwall coming together to celebrate this collective opportunity. People could sense the opportunity presented by the new building in Penzance and Newlyn.

The great danger is that the creative community thinks it has the only right to talk about creativity. Creativity is everywhere and we must respect that. The clever bit is in actually recognising and exploiting that from wherever it comes. When people talk about risk: risk is risky. You cant have a set of figures that say there is no risk, the RDA should be saying: is this a legitimate risk? The key thing is not to be risk averse, but risk aware. Innovation is a very complex area.

We in this community should be aware of where simple, small ideas are starting to develop. For instance at Falmouth we are starting an Innovation Centre. This is all about getting graduates that are leaving: before they go into the world of work there is this half-way house, a hot house of ideas, and it would be fantastic over the next 5 or 10 years to get a couple of nice ideas coming through from that, that we can exploit and say: you know what that was made in Cornwall.

Creativity for me is everywhere and its all embracing and Cornwall should be big enough and bold enough to embrace all aspects of creativity and actually whenever we have the opportunity in public forums to say this is what we stand for this is what makes Cornwall different and we want to get better at it'.



This is the second of two 'Creative Cornwall' talks. Click here for the Nicolas Serota talk. Images are of Kurt Jacksons 'Building Blocks of Cornwall' at the new Tremough Campus at UCF.