Kyiv Music Labs

Ragnar Siil: “Creative industries and creative economy are very old ways of doing business, only we`ve never really understood the potential of it”.


Kyiv Music Labs: What was the main driving force on the path to successful development of creative industries in Estonia? Can this experience be somehow applied to Ukrainian reality?

Ragnar: The Estonian success story of creative industries lies in many factors. In general, Estonians are very open to new ideas, new solutions, new innovative ideas. If we want to be competitive, we need to be smarter (because we will never be bigger or stronger). Secondly, we are pretty entrepreneurial and hard-working, so making business is in our DNA. Thirdly (and most importantly), we might be small country (well, compared to Ukraine very very small), but we are extremely culture oriented. Usually people talk about the rich heritage and traditions and great poets and painters and composers (and we have all of them), but what I mean is that we don’t see culture only as something that stands still, but that is really part of our everyday lives. We had 1.1 million theatre visits and 3.8 million museum visits in 2014. And this with a population of less than 1.3 million people! We have most startups per capita in the world, we are the birthplace of Skype. Also, we don’t believe in much bureaucracy – Estonian e-government is one of the most effective in the world. To establish a company, you need 10 minutes, internet and around 100 euros.

Can this be done in Ukraine? Absolutely, but you can’t copy-paste the strategies from other countries. You don’t need best practices, you need next practices. You need to learn from others, but then make it your own. Ukraine has immense creative potential – so the building blocks are there. Now you need supportive environment where creative industries could take off. And you need to fight with corruption and bureaucracy.

KML: How much time did it take to get rid of some old prejudices and implement a new strategy in cultural policy of Estonia? What are the most important spheres/directions of cultural reforms? Were there any financial difficulties during the process of reformation? 

R.: I would not mix the cultural policy and creative industries strategies. There are many connections, but they are not the same thing. If you ask about cultural policy, then it will be never ready. Culture is important for Estonia, this is stipulated in our Constitution, this was written to the Cultural Policy Guidelines by the Parliament in 1998, it was renewed now in 2014. The process to update the cultural policy guidelines took 1.5 years, because we created a truly transparent, open and inclusive process. And if you want transparency, openness and inclusiveness, you need to give time.

Money is always an issue. Estonian contribution to cultural sector compared to GDP is the highest in all the OEDC countries, but it is never enough. But what is important is to motivate cultural operators to earn money and invest it back to the activities. In Estonia, many theaters earn 30-50% of the budget from the tickets, same in museums. Everything they earn, they can keep. The level of professionalism in our cultural institutions (including audience development) has been growing rapidly.

When you ask about the creative industries strategy, we started around 2003 and it has been more than 10 years of constant work to raise awareness, build competences and create favorable conditions. It doesn’t mean, that everyone is happy with the raise of creative industries. Of course not. There are many people, that are afraid that creative industries will turn all the artists into businessman and they don’t want it. They are also afraid, that with creative industries the criterium from success will be money. We need to deal with those fears, but at least there is a very high level awareness in the society and we are able to have this open and frank public discussion about the plusses and minuses of creative economy.

 KML: Creative economy is called a new trend of the modern world. No doubt, it has numerous benefits in contrast to previous forms of doing business. But what are the risks (if any) of entrepreneurship according to this trend?

R.: I disagree that is new trend. Creative industries and creative economy are very old ways of doing business, only we never called them this nor did we really understand the potential of it. With the development of new digital technologies and changes in consumer behaviours, we can see the creative industries taking more central role in the economy. Also, as we have been moving (according to Prof Pierluigi Sacco) from culture 1.0 (patronage model) through culture 2.0 (mass production and consumption of culture) rapidly into culture 3.0 (where the borders of consumers and producers are blurred), we see increasing demand for more creative content.

The problem with all of this is, that even if the culture is already in its 3.0 phase and creative economy is in rise (being one of the fastest growing sectors of economy across the world), the legal framework and funding mechanisms are still somewhere in the culture 1.0 models. For instance – creative economy is based on intellectual property, but there are still no good ways to assess the value of intellectual property. Try to go to bank and ask for loan with only intellectual property as your collateral. Very difficult! Or what is the contribution of culture and creativity into other sectors? Car manufacturing? Furniture making? It is impossible to assess. It is no surprise then, that often the only way to get initial funding for your business plan is FFF (family, friends and fools).

KML: If you were asked to estimate a creative potential of Ukrainians, what would be your answer? Which problems on the way to realisation of this potential you can define as the most urgent? 

R.: Many years ago I was representing Estonia at the UNESCO with the convention on diversity of cultural expressions. There was a General Assembly with representatives from more than hundred countries. They all made speeches and the message was that it was their country which is the most creative in the world. Representative of Nigeria said, that look at our rich cultural heritage, we are living culture every day and we are the most creative people. Representative for Jamaica said, that look at the streets of the cities in his country – people are singing, people are dancing, we are the most creative.  And then, the representative of Canada said – every nation on earth is creative, only look at the Inuits in Greenland. If you have to survive the climate there, then you must be very creative, he said. And he was right – every country has creative potential. So does Ukraine.

What is different, of course, is the environment and particular situation of each country. I think that main problems are similar in many places in the world. Firstly, it is education. As Sir Ken Robinson has put it, the schools are teaching children out of creativity and mistakes are stigmatized. Pupils are expected to remember thousands of facts, but little effort is put on creative problem solving, argumentation and project-based methods. And this continues in universities. We need more people that understand creativity, technology and business, we need to bring students from different disciplines and different universities together and make them to collaborate.

Secondly, there is very little awareness – within the creative community, business community and, most of all, within the public sector. Without that it is difficult to expect new policies and strategies, cross-departmental cooperation and measures. Thirdly, we need to get the other sectors on board. Business owners must understand, that working with creative professionals can help them to add value to their products and services.

Space is important – creative, collaborative, open and affordable places. There are many of them in the towns and regions, old industrial and military building, unused areas and districts. But local politicians rather let them to stay empty than give a little investment and attract talented creative people to work there.

And list goes on – lack of financing and investment, lack of competence building, lack of clusters and networks within the sector, lack of self-organization, etc.

KML: How do you think, is there a possibility of existing of the “creative government” phenomenon? If yes, what are the main features of such government?

R.: Well, you know, it is often said that the most creative sectors are accounting and organized crime, so I’m not sure creative government would be such a good thing. But seriously speaking – I think that by creative government what we actually mean is government that is flexible, quick to react, innovative, ready to try (and sometimes fail), free of corruption, operating in inclusive and transparent manner. It is a government that attracts talented people, not only friends and relatives of those in power. It is a government with a vision and a clear understanding what it needs to do. It understands the the cultural and creative professionals are not a burden for the country, but a source of growth and development (both material and immaterial). And foremost, it is a government that doesn’t only say what it thinks is right, but sometimes actually listens to people. I would call this a creative government.

 KML: It seems that experience and efforts in creating of new cultural strategy in Ukraine revealed a great worldveiw-gap between progressive part of the civil society and representatives of the governing structures. How can we deal with this problem?

R.:To be honest, I don’t think there is such a gap. I don’t believe there are people that want good and then there are people that want bad. I think the cultural professionals, representatives of the institutions and government policy makers want the same thing, but the conditions where they must operate are very different.

Government feels (and probably rightly so) that people are demanding quick results from them, that people are impatient. So their answer is to offer people what they want – small changes with quick results.

Many cultural operators (museums, libraries, theaters, etc) are very underfunded, people are demotivated, salaries are not sufficient, lots of investments needed. Of course they fight for they position. And then there are new cultural professionals, non-governmental sector, often based on community movement and activism. They want to find their place under the sun. So we have many conflicting needs.

If you look at all those countries where the system really works, then you see, that these different stakeholders are actually working together. They don’t see each other as enemies or competitors, rather they collaborate for even better results. Therefore I think the first step is to put in place truly collaborative, inclusive and transparent policy making mechanism, which creates equal opportunities for all. It concerns policy making, but also funding. I believe that Ukraine needs to disconnect the cultural support from politics and establish arts council (like in UK) or cultural endowment (like in the Baltics) models for peer-review based funding schemes.

And finally, nothing works without trust. Simple. If the people don’t trust their government and if the politicians don’t trust the cultural and creative professionals, nothing will work.

 KML: Can you tell some words about the most striking creative idea for start-up? (in Ukraine or in other countries)

R.: That is simply impossible question to answer. There are millions of ideas in the world. Idea itself is not enough, you need skills, you need a great team, you need money, etc. I have worked with hundreds of startups in accelerators and incubators. There are absolutely fantastic ideas for startups I’ve seen, but often they don’t succeed. And sometimes there are ideas that you can’t really grasp and they will make millions. The greatest successes are those which not only provide the best solution within the industry, but that will challenges the very essence of the industry. And if I would know an amazing creative idea for startup myself, I wouldn’t tell you anyway – I would quit my job and dedicate the next years of my life to turning the idea into reality.