Overview of the creative arts sector in the UK

Author
Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
Posted
February, 2021

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, creative organisations involved in advertising, fashion, film and graphic design were thriving - discover what areas you could enter as the sector looks to get back on its feet

The UK's creative industries contributed £115.9billion to the economy in 2019, according to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. This is a 43.6% increase since 2010 and means the sector makes up just under 6% of the economy as a whole.

Even more importantly, more than two million people were found to work in the creative industries and that number was growing - already up more than a third since 2011 - prior to COVID-19. All these figures demonstrate that this had become a vibrant sector with lots of opportunities for graduate careers.

Its growth over recent years has been driven by a boom in computer services, highlighting the importance of digital creative industries such as video games.

What creative industries can I work in?

Employment opportunities can be grouped into:

  • advertising and marketing
  • architecture
  • crafts
  • design
  • fashion
  • film, TV, video, radio and photography
  • IT, software and computer services
  • publishing
  • museums, galleries and libraries
  • music, performing and visual arts.

Areas of design include:

  • exhibition
  • games
  • graphic
  • industrial
  • interior
  • landscape
  • product
  • textiles
  • theatre.

Working in the sector, you'll have the opportunity to pursue practical roles such as an artist, actor or interior designer, or administrative or managerial jobs such as an arts administrator or museum curator.

There's an increasing overlap with the media and information technology sectors in relation to the use of digital technology to produce and deliver creative content. This is noticeable in roles such as web designer, animator and game designer.

You'll also find a crossover between this sector and marketing, advertising and PR, with advertising in particular considered a key component of the creative industries.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see creative jobs.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The creative industries are mainly made up of small companies and micro-businesses, the majority of which employ fewer than ten people.

While the highest proportion of creative industry jobs are based in London, many opportunities are located elsewhere in the UK. The South East, East of England, North West, South West and Scotland are key regions.

The majority of companies may be small, but the sector also has large well-established organisations that recruit graduates. Examples include:

  • Advertising - AMV BBDO, Grey UK, Leo Burnett London, McCann.
  • Cultural heritage - English Heritage, National Trust, National Museum Wales, Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, National Galleries of Scotland.
  • Design - Jaguar Land Rover, Harrods, AKQA, Big Active.
  • Fashion - ASOS, Burberry, John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer, Next.
  • Film/TV - Ealing Studios, Elstree Studios, Endemol Shine UK, Pinewood Studios, Sony Pictures, ITV, BBC, Channel 4.
  • Music - Opera North, Sony Music UK, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group.
  • Publishing - Bloomsbury, HarperCollins UK, Oxford University Press, Penguin Random House.
  • Video games - Codemasters, Creative Assembly, Rockstar North, Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE), Sports Interactive.

For jobs in the creative industries, speculative applications can be particularly useful as many graduate positions are never formally advertised - although one valuable networking resource you can use is Creativepool.

Many design opportunities are found in design consultancies or advertising agencies.

In a sector where competition for jobs and graduate scheme places is high, self-employment is a viable option, as is freelancing.

You'll therefore need to develop skills and experience through work experience and paid internships to build your body of work - see 5 tips for getting media work experience and putting together a creative portfolio.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the creative arts and design sector can expect:

  • the need to demonstrate a practical creative talent or to show a passion for art, design, music or other creative pursuits
  • to spend time practicing and honing their craft - particularly for actors, dancers and musicians
  • the need to be independent, proactive and resilient
  • a higher than average likelihood of being self-employed or freelance, or working on short-term contracts
  • the majority of work to be project-based and deadline-driven
  • lower salaries, an unsteady income and a lack of job security when you first start out in the industry - potentially leading to great success
  • working environments to range from offices and art/design/film/photography studios to theatres, museums and music venues
  • working hours to vary enormously, from regular office hours to working evenings and weekends, and the flexibility of choosing your hours as a freelancer
  • to have to keep up to date with industry developments
  • to travel and work away from home depending on your role, for example touring as an actor or musician, or shooting a TV or movie scene on location as part of the crew.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.

What are the key issues in the creative industries?

Despite the sector's rapid growth, it certainly has its fair share of challenges.

Since March 2020, most indoor and outdoor events held at music venues, theatres, museums and art galleries have had to close due to the threat posed by coronavirus.

While this has brought untold disruption to the creative industries, back in July 2020, the arts, culture and heritage industries did receive an £157billion support package from the government in the form of emergency grants and loans to help them stay afloat.

Industry body UK Music has published a report entitled Let the Music Play: Save Our Summer 2021 that 'outlines a clear strategy to protect and support the multi-billion pound live music industry so it is ready to restart when safe to do so later in 2021'.

In a manifesto published ahead of the general election in December 2019, the Creative Industries Federation had warned that the UK's creative industries 'are often under-capitalised, suffer from skills shortages that impede growth, and are hampered by a lack of diversity and unequal access to the opportunities that organisations and individuals need to reach their full potential'.

For example, long-term unpaid internships have been an established practice in the industry, but they promote unfair access by shutting out those who cannot afford to subsidise their placements. This significantly narrows the pool of talent available to a sector that needs creativity and diversity to thrive. Improving the diversity of their workforces is now a particular focus of many employers in this field.

The number of students taking creative subjects such as music and performing arts at GCSE level has fallen significantly over recent years, partly because of government policy emphasising traditional subjects including maths and science. This could lead to a shortage of creative talent entering this sector in the coming years, potentially stifling its continued growth.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page