Researchers at the University of Newcastle have set high standards in their report Creativity and Cultural Production in the Hunter. It's a journey-setting document.
The report is authored by Phillip McIntyre, Susan Kerrigan and Mark Balnaves from the University of Newcastle's School of Creative Industries, along with local creative industry gurus Evelyn King and Claire Williams.
Their encyclopaedic 546-page report is a baseline study of the make-up of the creative and cultural industries in the Hunter. It is a timely call for support of a much neglected sector in a Hunter economy that is too narrowly focused, too vulnerable to external shocks and of too little value to the region's future generations.
The work was funded by a prestigious grant from the Australian Research Council. These grants are golden hen's teeth, awarded to the nation's best researchers to undertake projects seen as outstanding in quality and relevance.
The Creativity and Cultural Production report is refreshingly different from the cash-for-comment economic analyses you see for many sectors. Glossy studies of the coal sector and the port spring to mind.
The report carefully explains the rich and diverse composition of the 10,000 workers in the creativity and cultural production sector and the $1 billion contribution it makes annually to the regional economy. As the authors stress, the sector is more than a collection of "basket weavers". At its core are musicians, the media, publishers, advertisers, designers, artists, the theatre, filmmakers, electronic gamers and architects.
And for each paid professional there is a thick moleskin pad of amateurs, interns and volunteers, together delivering cultural products and services to a surprisingly vast Hunter audience eager for the sector's formal and funky, serious and fun pursuits.
The report chronicles an important economic sector whose story is under-told in a region whose economic history has been dominated by commodity production like coal, steel, aluminium and electricity; and by manufacturing activity like textiles and clothing, brewing, shipbuilding, rolling stock, heavy engineering and building products. The contrast is striking. The creativity and cultural production sector brings something dramatically different to the city of Newcastle and the region. In the old days when commodities and manufacturing ruled the roost, the downtown, suburbs and the valley townships were refuges from the sites of real economic production.
The city and the towns were places where the fumes, noise, dust and danger of production were absent. Where you lived and where you worked - at least, where the men worked - were different places, even as the rest of the nation labelled our places as steel town, the coalfields, industrial heartland and, later, rustbelt.
Refreshingly, the story of the creativity and cultural production sector celebrates the city, its mixed neighbourhoods intrinsic to the sector's success. The sector thrives when the city celebrates its richly built history and generates amenity; and provides - to women as well as men - accessible places to work, collaborate and perform.
The sector is more than a collection of "basket weavers".
The quality of the city and the health of the economic sector go hand in glove, and environmental and economic sustainability start to look the same.
For too long Newcastle and Hunter boosterists have looked to the horizon watching for the next commodity boom or manufacturing upturn, eager to ride the next wave as the last one peters out. And the city and the townships have been pushed aside.
The report shows that the city and the valley towns, freed from the burden of 20th century smokestacks, pits, smelters and turbines, can be sites of real production.
Of course, the creativity and cultural production sector will always be a small one, not capable of replacing the wealth generated by coal, electricity, smelting and manufacturing.
But it is a harbinger. It points to other sectors needing encouragement as the region grows into economic adulthood. Innovation, finance, professional services, advanced education and health services, these are the 21st century growth sectors.
Like the creativity and cultural production sector, these other sectors thrive when a city and its linked townships are delightful places to live, where the skills and creativity of local residents matter more than profits from tradeable commodities.
Who'd have thought, economic sectors in such a beautiful place as the Hunter acting to enhance the environment, not destroy it?