Abu Dhabi: Rehana Mughal on Public Policy That Supports Creative Industries

In News by Hannah Johnson

As the director of creative economy at the British Council, Rehana Mughal offers her experience and expertise on how governments can best support the creative sector.

Rehana Mughal. Image: British Council

By Hannah Johnson | @HannahSJohnson

‘A Successful and Sustainable Creative Economy’
A discussion on the value of creative industries and methods to support this vital part of any society was particularly apt at the International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries (Congress PCI).

Set in Abu Dhabi, where the government invests significantly in creativity and culture, the 2024 congress included a panel on “Creative Economy and Public & Private Collaboration,” which explored effective ways government funding can complement creative industries and the private sector.

Moderated by Lynn Madi, business reporter at CNN Business Arabic, the panel featured:

  • Rehana Mughal, director of creative economy at the British Council; member of Creative Industries Council, UK
  • Muna Al Suwaidi, programs and projects advisor, culture and creative industries sector at the United Arab Emirates’ ministry of youth and culture
  • Park Young Il, director of Korea Creative Content Agency

Publishing Perspectives interviewed Mughal to get a deeper look at the mechanisms of creative industries funding in the UK and around the world, and some best practices for public and private organizations working in this field.

Creativity as a Driver of Economic Growth

Publishing Perspectives: What are the key factors that contribute to a successful and sustainable creative economy?

Rehana Mughal: A successful and sustainable creative economy starts with understanding the needs of artists and the conditions required to foster innovation and encourage entrepreneurship to thrive. Alongside this, there needs to be a healthy environment for people-led policy development rather than top-down directives from government or cultural institutions.

Another essential factor in respecting the creative sector is having the right policies to protect it. Intellectual property is the bedrock of the cultural and creative industries. It protects innovative ideas, products, and services. It underpins the creative economy, drives income, and increases recognition for creators.

Other factors include diversity, which might be a diversity of cultures and different types of makers at different stages of business development having the opportunity to work in close proximity.

Successful creative economies have experimentation and collaboration at their heart. Financial models that help the sector to develop, such as creative tax relief mechanisms—which can be claimed as part of the company tax return—this system exists in the United Kingdom and supports film, high-end television, children’s television, animation, video games, theater, orchestra, museums, galleries, and exhibitions.

Publishing Perspectives: What are the potential drawbacks of relying heavily on public funding for creative economies? How can these be mitigated?

Rehana Mughal: Drawbacks of relying heavily on public funding can impact certain freedoms depending on the art form and the country. For example, in some countries, people might feel unable to develop cutting-edge content that involves political or religious themes.

Dependency on public funds can limit the autonomy and diversity of creative activities … which may lead to more conservative or “safe” approaches to creativity. It’s common to see this in grant applications, in which organizations reshape their idea to align with government criteria rather than being bold about unconventional ideas and artistic experimentation.

Another challenge of relying heavily on public funding is the impact it can have on an organization’s ability to be ambitious about developing a more sustainable business model.

To mitigate this, public funds need to focus on supporting people at the earliest stages, and the funding criteria for more mature creative organizations could focus on a percentage of funding from other sources, for example through ticket sales, sponsors, donors, etc.

This can provide stability while also fostering a more dynamic and resilient funding ecosystem.

Publishing Perspectives: What policy areas beyond arts funding (education, tax incentives, trade, etc.) should governments prioritize to cultivate creative professionals?

Rehana Mughal: The primary area governments should prioritize to cultivate creative professionals is research that pushes at the edge of what the future could bring to the creative sector.

For example, in the UK, the Arts and Humanities Research Council [AHRC] developed the CoStar project (convergent screen technologies and performance in real time) to provide researchers, companies, and institutions across the UK with the infrastructure they need to conduct research and development (R&D) in screen and performance technology.

It’s important to consider the global challenges that might impact the future success of the creative sectors, too, such as climate change. The Welsh government developed the “Future Generations Act” to address the long-term social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of the nation. Although not specifically focused on the creative sector, the act does help all sectors move away from thinking short-term and to consider the needs and interests of future generations.

Other policy areas viewed through such long-term lens would include infrastructure development, investing in cultural facilities, creative spaces, and digital infrastructure. … Policies focused on breaking down barriers to participation for marginalized or underrepresented groups would also contribute toward nurturing a more authentic and inclusive creative sector.

Publishing Perspectives: How can policymakers measure and articulate the social and cultural contributions of creative professionals and economies, particularly as cultural funding sometimes takes a back seat to other types of government spending?

Rehana Mughal: Speaking with people working in the [creative] sector first-hand will help policymakers understand the actual needs, and they’ll then be better equipped to make more compelling proposals that recognize the broader benefits and spillover effects of supporting the creative sector.

The other opportunity to help ensure that cultural funding doesn’t take a back seat is to measure how the creative sectors contribute to other sectors that governments are trying to tackle, such as health. There’s growing evidence to suggest that engagement with the creative sector can have positive impact on health and well-being.

Creative interventions have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve mood and self-esteem, enhance cognitive functioning, and promote overall well-being. The creative sector plays a vital role in community well-being by providing spaces for social interaction, cultural exchange, and collective expression.

The wider impact of the creative industries is acknowledged in the UK government’s Creative Industries Sector Vision, which notes:

“Creative venues and spaces enhance well-being by bringing people together and making high streets more vibrant. This social value is also now recognized in HMT’s Green Book [guidance appraising policies, programs, and projects] in business cases.” The Green Book is issued by HM treasury [His Majesty’s treasury].

Publishing Perspectives: What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities for creative economies in the Arab world compared to other regions?

Rehana Mughal: The Arabic-speaking countries are incredibly diverse, dynamic, and creative. The challenges and opportunities in Morocco will be very different to those in Kuwait. Each country has its own unique identity, strength, and creative potential.

Weak enforcement of intellectual property rights laws and regulations in some Arab countries can hinder innovation and creativity, leading to piracy or plagiarism, and causing a lack of incentives for creators and innovators. Cultural norms and values in some Arab countries may pose barriers to the development of the creative sectors, particularly in the freedom of expression and the representation of diverse perspectives and identities.

At the same time, I believe that there’s significant untapped potential in the Arabic-speaking countries, and one way to tackle that might be through the development of more creative education. Creativity and innovation are increasingly recognized as drivers of economic growth and competitiveness. Without a strong foundation in creative education, individuals may lack the skills and mindset needed to thrive in the rapidly evolving creative economies, leading to reduced opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship, and economic advancement.

The rise of social media platforms has helped to connect artists and creative people from the Arabic-speaking world with international audiences, and that has helped individuals to share their stories, opinions, and experiences with a global audience. Arab influencers, bloggers, activists, and artists are using social media to raise awareness about issues affecting Arab communities, challenge stereotypes, and promote cultural understanding and dialogue.

The increased visibility has helped to grow an appetite for increased engagement among the creative and cultural sectors, here in the UK, there’s been a growing number of exhibitions, festivals, and cultural events featuring Arab art and artists.

Publishing Perspectives: Are there examples of innovative public funding models or policies from around the world that could be adapted in the Middle East and North African region?

Rehana Mughal: From the UK, there’s the Creative Industries Clusters Programme, an initiative launched by the UK government to support the growth and development of creative industries across the country. The program aims to foster collaboration between creative businesses, research institutions, and other stakeholders to drive innovation, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth in the creative sector.

South Korea’s “Art in Public Places” program mandates that 1 percent of construction costs for public buildings be dedicated to commissioning artworks, leading to the creation of numerous public-art installations across the country.

Some countries have established cultural endowment funds to support the arts and creative industries. For example, in Mexico, the National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA) provides grants and scholarships to artists, cultural organizations, and creative entrepreneurs. …

Public-private partnerships have been instrumental in the development and management of cultural districts in North America too. For example, in Toronto, the Distillery District is a former industrial site that has been transformed into a vibrant cultural precinct through a partnership between the government and private developers.

There are many examples and approaches from across the world which could be modified.

Publishing Perspectives: What advice would you give to aspiring creative professionals who are seeking support from public or government institutions?

Rehana Mughal: The best advice I can give would be to ensure that you have a long-term vision, a very clear plan, and you are willing to have a few sleepless nights.

More About Congress PCI

The stage prepared for Abu Dhabi’s ‘Congress PCI’ before the show opens, in 2023. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Now in its third year, the International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries is organized by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre and takes place the day before the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair opens. Organizers say they intend to continue expanding this conference event into “a knowledge-sharing hub for regional and global publishing and creative content developers in the Arab market.”

In addition to a full day of professional discussions, the program includes workshops and masterclasses for creative professionals and students, as well as an exhibition of technology and creative companies working in the Arab world and internationally.

Follow Publishing Perspectives for more coverage of this year’s Congress PCI.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries is here, more on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here, more from us on book fairs and trade shows in world publishing is here, more on the creative industries is here, and more on Arabic in the publishing world is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, another program produced by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.

See also:
At Abu Dhabi International Book Fair: Diwan’s New Naguib Mahfouz Book Covers
Abu Dhabi’s Congress: Arabic’s ‘Rightful Place’
Jailed Palestinian Basim Khandaqji Wins the 2024 Arabic Fiction Prize
The Power of Books: Isobel Abulhoul on Engaging Young Readers
Marwan Hamed: Bringing Arabic Literature to the Big Screen
UAE: Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Expects 1,350 Exhibitors
Ubisoft’s Fawzi Mesmar on Bringing Arabic Voices to Video Games
Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Outlines Early Details

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.