Simon Williams: We are now in the transitional period when you stop thinking of culture as of added bonus to something important and instead take it as a vital part for the economy

Simon Williams, Director of the British Council in Ukraine and Anna Karnaukh, Senior Arts Manager, talk about the future of Ukraine’s creative industries, and the role of the British Council in overcoming challenges and educational gaps in the cultural sector.

How would you assess the development of the cultural and creative industries sectors in Ukraine?

Simon Williams: Nowadays, there is much greater attention to culture and to the value of culture. Specifically, in Ukraine, culture has the potential power to overcome stereotypes, overcome misinformation and promote social cohesion in helping communities to cope with conflict and the consequences of conflict.

Anna Karnaukh: Culture and creative industries represent the most innovative sectors of the economy, as they are based on ideas and new concepts. Ukraine’s future is not about establishing itself as a resources production country, it’s about creating products that will speak about us, both locally and internationally. In the British Council we believe that by creating more opportunities in the creative industries sector the country can prevent the brain drain of the best representatives of the new generation. There will be more reasons and opportunities to stay.

How can you describe the current market of Ukraine’s creative industries?

Simon: I would say there is growing interest, growing excitement, growing attention from the authorities. It can be a little bit confusing to find out which state agency is responsible for which area, but this is also normal as the sector grows.

We are now in a transitional period when you stop thinking of culture as an added bonus to something important and instead take it as a vital part of the economy.

Anna: Nowadays there is a shift on different layers starting from a policy-making, operators, media and those who are involved in creating cultural products. People behind cultural products pay more and more attention to audiences, marketing, design, business models and sustainability.

We still lack systematic financial instruments of supporting the sector, though. But clearly there are opportunities also starting to appear here: the newly-created Ukrainian Culture Foundation has launched a grant support scheme for projects, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development has got some support schemes for creative business. Hopefully in the coming years this list will get much longer.

What do Ukrainian cultural projects need to enter the international arena? What are their main challenges?

Anna: The challenge for most projects, still, is that they think locally, they cannot even imagine entering the international market, even though nowadays the world is so small and connected. Business skills and entrepreneurial mindsets are also essential to develop their cultural idea into a proper enterprise with the potential to reach overseas audiences and markets. And here is the obvious gap, that culture and creative industries representatives need to work on.

However, there are more and more of our local products becoming known outside of Ukraine. We have artists who are recognised internationally, designers, several architectural bureaux, advertising agencies, gaming studios. I’m not even touching on IT, with bespoken products as, PetCube, Grammarly, etc.

Can you please tell how does the British Council help the cultural and creative industries in Ukraine grow and develop?

Simon: The British Council is a cultural and educational relations organisation that has been working in Ukraine for over 25 years. We are promoting cultural exchange looking at managers and promoters within the cultural infrastructure. We’ve been doing work for years looking at the development of business skills within creative entrepreneurs and managers. But you also need to go one step back and start working with universities and helping students to raise their awareness of the need for developing business skills.

This autumn, we will be launching a new programme, Creative Spark, which will aim to partner universities in Ukraine with universities in the UK. The programme will focus on establishing centres to support creative entrepreneurs and hubs in universities.

We also run the EU-funded Culture Bridges Programme, and our own educational programme Creative Enterprise  that has expanded across Ukraine, as well as our global British Council Art Programme. It is very flattering to see the outcomes of those programmes and to watch what people have built on top of what the British Council has done.

Currently, Ukraine is introducing the reform of school education. The British Council runs educational projects that mostly relate to university education. Will the British Council stick to this strategy or are there any joint programmes planned within the framework of the New Ukrainian School?

Simon: We already work closely with the Ministry of Education, in particular in terms of the Ukrainian New School. We have trained 140 change agents -- master teachers of English in primary schools. They learned the innovative methodology how to teach  children English in primary school. Till September they will train 17,000 teachers all across Ukraine. From September those Ukrainian teachers will have to teach English language to children in the very first year of school, and this is a very new way of teaching a foreign language.

One of the other focuses of the Ukrainian New School is figuring out what sort of transversal competences Ukrainian children have and what they need (“21st-century skills”). It’s not necessarily about teaching entrepreneurship as a subject; it’s about bringing entrepreneurship into the history class, into the math class, into the foreign language class, and the same with the other competencies.

The British Council works in many countries; we have some standard approaches and methodologies that we develop. But we tailor this system to each country’s context. The current context in Ukraine is the New Ukrainian School and the ministry’s ambitions for that. So we are taking this global British Council experience and adapting it for working with local in-service training institutes, and with some pedagogical universities.

What trends in the cultural development do you see in the Ukrainian regions?

Simon: One of the exciting things of the last few years is decentralisation. Local authorities now have more responsibilities for driving socio-economic development within their regions. And they often have more resources too. Over the last couple of years more and more local governments are coming to us wanting to join our Active Citizens programme, which will help them spend their resources smartly.

Presently we work with 10 city authorities, and we can see there are a lot more local communities engaged and involved than in the past and that’s really exciting. From the UK perspective, we can be jealous that you have those “dim kultury” in every village, this inheritance from the past that we in the UK don’t have. And of course many cities and villages in Ukraine have been neglected but they have amazing resources and in some places activists along with local authorities are using that great infrastructure and bringing it back to life.

Anna: Within our Creative Enterprise programme recently we have conducted research of its impact in Ukraine.  According to this, Kyiv and Lviv are more or less well-equipped in terms of creative hubs infrastructure, but apparently people from Kharkiv and Dnipro don’t have many opportunities to exchange ideas and know little about creative spaces in their cities. That’s critical for such big cities.

This is one of the reasons why the UK, for example, has been successful in the creative economy. It was recognised that creative hubs are not only places where you can hang out, but where you can meet contacts, establish partnerships, grow new ideas, communities and projects. According to our survey, the number of people (even in Kyiv and Lviv) who work in creative spaces is still very low.

Do you find similar situations in the other Eastern Partnership countries?

Simon: We think Ukraine is further developed in many areas than other Eastern Partnership countries, but it also faces the challenge of being a very big country.

What kind of financial schemes need to be implemented to popularise such cultural hubs?

Anna: It is about state and regional support, private investments, partnerships and sponsorships, affordable loans and rents, different types of grants, and an audience who value the offer and are ready to pay for working and spending time outside of home in the community of peers.

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