By Jainaba Beyai, OCAD University
Dec 14, 2022
In the past few years—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic—the perception of entrepreneurship has greatly changed. For example, unprecedented political economic pressures led to decreased wealth for artists, small businesses and micro-enterprises who could no longer work or operate face-to-face, while supply chain disruptions and labour immobility relied more on domestic manufacturing and consumption.(1) At the same time, Canadian artists, and the advocacy organizations that represent them, became increasingly vocal about the need for sustainable, ethical and equitable government policies and business support practices that better protect artists from economic shocks. In response, post-growth entrepreneurship has emerged, which seeks to challenge and change the current paradigm of the accelerated capitalistic “growth-at-all-costs" model to a new way of doing business: one that reorients growth to include qualitative measures that value people, relationships, the environment and other equitable and socially responsible pursuits.
On the 26th of November 2022, OCAD University hosted a Post-Growth Summit. The Summit convened and attracted artistic thought leadership and other complementary creative minds in the post-growth entrepreneurship-scape to discuss and share how they navigate and operate their enterprises using post-growth economic models and values. Such creative thought leader discussions also included praxis challenges and hopes for the future. The Summit was organized by a new team of visionaries, creatives, thinkers and entrepreneurs at OCAD University who are designing and developing a platform co-operative: an online marketplace that supports, generates and nurtures sustainable wealth for artists.
Summit speakers shared ideas about how post-growth economics informs their work, wealth creation, creative practices and, also facilitates sustainable success. Overall, this policy reflection post aims to summarize the praxis of post-growth economic theory through two goals. First, the blog post offers a bit more context on post-growth economics. Second, the post summarizes five key themes that were addressed and identified among summit speakers, which centers creative practices and helps policy visionaries to reimagine sustainable and future creative entrepreneurship supports leading to a post-growth world.
What is post-growth economics?
Post-growth economics is focused on enhancing and creating long-term value for society. Post-growth economics encompass goals that minimize external investment and re-center wealth generation, by keeping profits within a company.(2) In addition, a post-growth economy is powered by creativity and purpose—creating value beyond the standard measures of financial performance such as market share or profit margins. Instead, post-growth economics highlights environmental sustainability and social purpose with higher and longer-term growth value and potential. The post-growth model can also allow society to innovatively advance, by generating new markets and solving longstanding social and economic problems.
How do creatives across Canada already situate post-growth values in their practices?
1. Sustainable Production: By applying a circular economy framework to business development, entrepreneurs can think beyond environmental sustainability to providing products with lasting value. Summit speaker, and design and illustration student, Jewel Pavao expressed that such practices allow consumers to move away from goods manufactured by “soulless corporations.” A wide range of amazing products were displayed at the Summit, including various digital illustrations and textiles like knitted items, screen-printed t-shirts and environmentally friendly tote bags. In every product instance, the artists added value to the economy and society by not harming people or the environment in manufacturing practices. The focus on sustainable relationships between people and the environment is a key feature of post-growth economics as is nurturing long-term economic stability and value for entrepreneurs, and society. Designing and creating sustainable artifacts, by re-using or up-cycling old products like what OCAD U Faculty of Design Associate Professor Ranee Lee does in DESIGNwith, further highlight artistic methods that facilitate leadership—in post-growth economics.
2. Leverage Digital Platforms: Many artists have leveraged the efficiencies of their practices using digital platforms like Etsy and Shopify. Such platforms enable them to invoice, market, sell and receive feedback on their products. Presently, many of the existing platform business models are exploitative by their nature. Such exploitative platforms necessitate the development of more ethical platform models including co-operatives like the ones advocated for by Trevor Scholz, Founding Director of the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy Platform Cooperativism Consortium at the New School in New York City, and likewise the platform being built at OCAD University.(3) Social media and face-to-face pandemic consumer restrictions have expanded artists’ virtual network of audiences, customers and collaborators. Together, digital platforms can improve the ease of doing business while enabling personalized marketplace opportunities. While these platforms are important for artists, Summit thought leaders emphasized the need for a simultaneous face-to-face way of doing business, ensuring that relationship-building with buyers is prioritized and nurtured for long-lasting impact.
3. Recenter Collaborative Practices: To improve the market landscape, artists’ must collaborate with one another to create shared wealth and value rather than compete at one another's expense. Due to limited and competitive funding supports, many Canadian artists’ and creatives are resourceful and currently rely on collaborative initiatives. Speaking about artists and creative production, Stephanie Guico—a co-operative developer—emphasized the need for allowing “partnerships and working in coalitions. [Collaboration] is crucial [for enhancing] our resilience [which] is both essential and possible.” Guico’s conviction was echoed by all the artists speaking at the Summit. In addition, cooperatives play an important role in helping creative businesses survive, providing targeted supports like advertising as well as improved marketplace selling conditions and opportunities. Innovative collaboration and teamwork are critical to artist practices and entrepreneurship in today's economy, but partnership is also central to post-growth economics.
4. Reciprocate Social Value: For many artists, success is not just about generating profit, it's also about having a positive impact on society. The speakers emphasized how important it is for entrepreneurs and consumers to support initiatives that bring about social benefits, such as supporting local initiatives, embracing culture in art or “using art to navigate social experiences,” as noted by Mekayla Dionne, an emerging Métis abstract painter. However, there needs to be equitable value balance between compensating artists and expecting them to work for free. In this way, post-growth values center relationships and reciprocity, and help highlight the positive contributions of art and culture in society.
5. Redefine Pathways to Success: Speakers stressed the importance of enjoying the self-employed journey in addition to the destination. By diversifying their practices or even focusing on their passions, during the process of building or managing their business, Summit participants highlighted the need to prioritize their health and happiness including ongoing learning and fun, while simultaneously recognizing successes.
What does the future look like?
In a world that is increasingly uncertain, artists are constantly redefining what it means to be self-employed and entrepreneurial including how to work and live differently. Through their innovative approaches, artists prove that there is more than one way to succeed. Policymakers need to listen to artists as key thought leaders in the entrepreneurship landscape including the gig economy.
As Ana Serrano, President & Vice-Chancellor of OCAD University summarized following the Summit: “creative entrepreneurs and artists are interested in financial sustainability, profit and growing their businesses, but they are also motivated to reflect, reimagine and resituate their practices in cooperation with communities and the environment.” In this way, artists continually center multiple priorities in the ways they work and define success. Creative business practices thus already align with post-growth values and methods.
How can cultural policy nurture post-growth economics to better support the environment, as well as artists and creative entrepreneurs?
During the Summit, post-growth experts and theoreticians Donnie Maclurcan and Donna Morton argued that “artists have an important role to play in anticipating and designing the future, including enhancing systems to improve the world.” Artists are then not just creators, but also thought leaders and innovators informing a new future.
In this post-pandemic economic environment, following the “she-cession” and many other workers leaving full-time wage employment, there is an opportunity to affirm improved policy supports for the self-employed.
The envisioning of a post-growth paradigm necessitates the conversations outlined in this blog post, where sharing, sustaining and collaboration are prioritized above competition. In the cultural policymaking arena, such reimaginations and reorientations of wealth generation have the potential of influencing program design that encompasses not only improved entrepreneurship supports but environmental sustainability. It also recenters policymaking methods that ensure artists and creative thought leaders are engaged in consultation within and beyond the culture sector. Such actions can sustain creative labour and values, which are central to evolving policy, society and the market economy.
Artists are thought leaders who can shape and re-envision scenarios for more sustainable futures. Policymakers and society-at-large needs to turn to, listen to, value and learn from artists, towards applying creative praxis to support policy beyond the arts and culture sector.
This article was peer reviewed and edited by a handful of people including the Cultural Policy Hub administrative team at OCAD University.
Photo: OCAD University hosted the Post Growth Summit on campus in late November. Photo by OCAD U alum Carmina Miana.