Two hundred yards away from where I’m sat in Central London, behind a dull red brick façade, something extraordinary is happening. A young man is connecting an iPhone SIM chip to a mounting wire and covering it in a bell jar. It’s a piece of art of stunning simplicity. It’s asking you to consider whether you’re really connected.
Of course, the received wisdom is that arts education is at best an indulgence at worst an irrelevance. There’s also a prejudice that it’s a playground for the children of the middle classes. The artist in question here though is not called, Fenella or Tarquin for that matter.
Jason File is an undergraduate student at Chelsea College of Art & Design. You might be surprised to discover this is not his ‘real’ job. He’s a lawyer. And he’s not doing property conveyancing either; he prosecutes people like Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in The Hague.
There are many that would like to see public funding for arts education cut because they see little or no value. Of course, there is politics here and I want to generate light, not heat, but my contention is that Jason File is a successful lawyer not despite his arts education, but because of it.
This is relevant for our industry because our Western ‘reductionist’ model has long caused chaos to people who are both analytical and creative. Sir Ken Robinson is a great thinker here, so is Daniel Pink. This Balkanization didn’t matter when we lived in an analogue world because we didn’t need a broader skill set.
Everyone knows that analytics and big data will be key themes for our industry as it merges with other marketing mix elements. If we are to play a pivotal role we will need both reductive and creative skills to break out of the siloes and move into territory previously occupied by ad planners.
The social and digital engagement platforms of the twenty-first century feed on content. Much of this content is news-based whether in primary or secondary forms. And it is increasing in both volume and speed. Creative refresh is driven by imperative.
The intersection of mobile and digital also means campaign planning will be become more technical and more international. The reciprocal effect on content will be to make it shorter, more engaging and more vital.
At the speed of light, words evaporate leaving only images behind.
The intersection of the imperative and the creative is one of the greatest opportunities for both artists and communications professionals to learn from each other.
Brands themselves will not be able to keep up with volumes of “user-generated” content for example 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. They will only be able to curate the assets that they want others to use.
Our industry is well positioned. Of all the marketing mix elements, we already speak with our clients every day of the week and twice on Sundays. We’re used to rapid deployment and situational fluency. If we combine creative content with our ability to respond in real-time, the opportunity is clear.
So back to Chelsea. Here’s an institution teaching young people how to communicate in art – to create a piece of content that changes perceptions and invites action, discussion and response - just like our industry.
That’s why we decided to create Kupambana – to bring these worlds together. It’s a Swahili word, which can be translated in a number of ways. Its most common meaning is “fight for what you believe in.” The Foundation’s objective is to promote creativity and to fight for its inclusion.
Operationally, it will fund research, arts education and bring artists and communicators closer together. Its short-term aim is to identify new concepts and ideas in graphics, video/photography, illustration, music and fine art. It’s open to other agencies and professionals, but they do need to help fund students.
This though will not be enough. If it’s going to be justified, it needs to produce research which is international and credible. It therefore plans to roll-out in to seven cities globally comparing creativity qualitatively and looking at the contribution to economic GDP it makes.
So this is a new type of collaboration. It’s not just about helping to fund arts education. It’s about connecting up cultures and thinking processes.
If we want to grow our industry, if we want to differentiate our client messages, if we want to win awards at Cannes, we need to ensure that arts education survives.
Cutting off arts education would be like cutting off one’s right leg in order to promote greater efficiency. So if the Government won’t fund it, then we should, because the future of our industry depends on us getting the connection.
Chris Lewis is founder and CEO of international public relation firm Lewis. With a background in US corporate finance, publishing and journalism, he has worked with a variety of international business and technical press.