Will a robot take your job?

1 August

Monica Davidson is the director of Creative Plus Business and the first Creative Industries Business Advisor to NSW Small Business Commissioner. She will present at Newman’s Pilbara Creative and Cultural Forum on 21 and 22 September 2018. For more information visit pilbaracreativeforum.com.au.  


Data from the most recent Census shows there are currently around 890, 000[1] creative businesses in Australia. That seems like a massive increase from the last Census, but I don’t believe our numbers have grown that excessively. Certainly our industry is growing, in Australia and globally, but I think what’s changed is we’re now counting sole traders and freelancers as businesses.

So is there an increase in creative business, or are we just being taken more seriously? I think it’s a two way street. There are certainly more of us, but there is more of a spotlight being shone on us too. People are paying more attention to our impact and value and we are also, consequently, taking ourselves more seriously. Creative practitioners are feeling braver about declaring themselves a business on official forms. That for me is where the revolution will happen.

I am a creative practitioner. It never really occurred to me to be anything else. I’ve been writing and making films since I was a teenager, but I was in my early 20s when I was first properly exploited as a creative practitioner. I had taken on a major film job without properly reading my contract, I didn’t really evaluate the situation, I didn’t get paid properly – the story that so many creatives tell you. The film wasn’t released, so I couldn’t even claim being paid in ‘exposure’.

Of course I could blame the evil producer for what happened, but I had a moment of realisation- that what happened to me was also my fault, because I was exploitable. I realised that being an artist was great, but if I didn’t know how to understand business and money and power, I was always going to be vulnerable to exploitation.

I have spent the last five years really sinking my teeth into educating creative people about business, because I think the answer lies in education. I don’t think business is particularly hard, it’s just that we as creatives have never been taught how to do it. It taps into a broader belief that what creatives do isn’t really that valuable or worthwhile. We have to tackle that and we have to educate creative people about business because what we do is not only creative and culturally valuable, it’s economically valuable as well.

The growth of the creative industries is an economic inevitability. The number of people working in the creative industries and the number of ways that impacts on the wider community is getting broader and broader with every passing year. Now that technology is going to take so many of our traditional jobs, the creative industries are going to be even more important. It’s going to be the industrial revolution all over again. People working in traditional industry could lose their jobs very rapidly, while the current data suggests that very few creatives will be replaced by automation. In fact, the more technology introduced to the economy, the more work there will be for creatives, our work is closely tied together. Artists make binary code palatable for humans.

(Find out if your job is at risk here – https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34066941)

Shifting the focus towards new industries that are not resource dependent is really just a matter of economic necessity.  You don’t have to dig creatives out of the ground. We’re not weather dependent, we can work just as well in times of drought as we can in times of plenty, and the only real economic subsidy that creative practitioners require is an education. Happily most of us pay for that ourselves. We are plentiful, professional, and prepared.

Investing more time, money and energy into the creative industries doesn’t mean less time, money and energy for traditional industries and resources. It’s not a zero-sum game, they can coexist very happily. Creative industries are sitting alongside tourism and the digital economy as new ways of making money that don’t require any depletion of existing resources and in fact enhance existing resources.

Investing in creative industries is the big picture, but investing in individual practitioners is the way we’ll achieve it. If you invest in an individual creative- whether they are an architect or a visual artist or a filmmaker or a dancer- there are innumerable studies that show you are not only going to directly benefit that human and make an impact on their immediate circle. You’re going to create other jobs, and more benefits for the world in which they live. The arts, generally speaking, have a tripling effect on the wider economy.

Creatives need to start taking ourselves seriously, because if we start then others will inevitably follow. That is going to be the stone in the pond, and the ripples from that are what will change everything. I believe that. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be spending my whole professional life working to make it happen.


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits, June 2012 to June 2016. Australian Bureau of Statistics: Canberra. Cited in DRAFT NSW Government Creative Industries Development Strategy, December 2017.