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Co-operatives in the Creative Industries

December 4, 20194 December 2019

Human resources / Artists / Cultural workers

Co-operatives UK


Dave Boyle and Kate Oakley

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This “think piece” draws on research on co-operatives to explore their potential to help create and sustain decent work in the creative industries in the United Kingdom (U.K.). The authors indicate that arts and culture “co-operatives and social enterprises have not yet received similar attention” to entrepreneurial models like self-employment or start-ups.

The researchers note that co-operatives are under-represented in the U.K.: the U.K. economy represents 15% of the European Union (E.U.) economy, but the 7,000 co-operatives in the U.K. account for just 3% of all co-ops in the E.U. The researchers argue that arts and culture co-operatives have not been part of the European policy conversation, unlike other areas (such as fan-owned sports teams and other community-owned assets).

Despite the creative industries growing at a faster rate than the rest of the U.K. economy, issues such as precarious work, exploitative practices, discrimination, and “low levels of skills investment” persist in the sector. In particular, “women are significantly under-represented in the creative industries; around 37% of jobs in these industries are occupied by women, as opposed to 47% in the economy as a whole”.

Elements that are already prevalent in the creative industries make the sector well-suited to co-operative models:

  • “High-skilled, human-focused” activities – ones that are “employment intensive, as opposed to capital intensive” – are areas where co-operatives typically work best.
  • The “human skills of listening, creative problem-solving”, and collaboration that are an important element of success in the creative industries are “the kinds of skills required to practice self-management” in a co-operative setting.

A key recommendation is to work to raise the low levels of awareness of co-operative models in the creative industries, in training institutions, among policymakers, and with funders. The authors identify a particular need to raise awareness with funders “to ensure that creative co-ops can fully benefit” and be eligible for funding opportunities.

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