Can arts influence Pakistan’s social and economic future?

22 October 2014 – 16:14

'This report clearly shows that the creative and cultural industries possess many assets, including creativity and respect for tradition.'  Photo: Sharmeen Peshimam
‘This report clearly shows that the creative and cultural industries possess many assets, including creativity and respect for tradition.’ © Photo: Sharmeen Peshimam

The British Council’s Dee Lowry and Abdullah Qureshi summarise the main findings of our report on Pakistan’s creative industries , published today.


What are Pakistan’s main cultural and creative industries?


Pakistan boasts a rich and diverse cultural heritage, and multiple creative and artistic traditions. The contemporary creative economy draws on many of these cultural and historical roots, and is represented across national and provincial levels. In order of size, the following art forms are prevalent in modern day Pakistan: visual arts and crafts, books and press, performance, audio-visual and interactive media, and design and creative services.


The research shows that Pakistan’s urban centres and emergent middle-class populations are a fertile ground for creative opportunity, especially for the younger population. However, the study also notes the contribution made by rural Pakistan. Here, we find a vibrant and highly diverse set of literary, musical and performance activities and crafts that attract interest nationwide.


Over the years, women from rural areas have increasingly worked in the craft and design sectors, which have now spread into other creative arenas. The digital industries have evolved rapidly as artists take advantage of the new technological opportunities.


Why are these industries important to Pakistan’s social and economic future?


Governments worldwide now regard cultural and creative industries as important to economic growth and social development. Pakistan is no different. Evidence gathered in this report highlights the important contribution creative industries make to the employment base of the Pakistani economy. Figures show that the crafts and related services sector alone account for as much as 15 per cent of all employees nationally.


Cultural identity in Pakistan is very important at an individual level. Most people take pride in their rich and diverse backgrounds. The creative industries might therefore be characterised by their vitality and originality, industries steeped in traditions while nevertheless maintaining an awareness of global cultural and business trends. The energy for developing Pakistan’s creative and cultural industries comes from its people through their roles as workers, artists, professionals and entrepreneurs.


What are some of the challenges facing Pakistan’s creative industries?


The creative industries in Pakistan are underfunded and undervalued. Exceptional talent is visible in all disciplines, but a shortage of other necessary skills and business knowledge is hindering their success. Typically, the different sectors operate independently of higher education and of each other. Collaborative work is rare, which slows the progression of the industry as a whole.


Each creative industry sector comes with its own specific challenges: authors struggle with intellectual property and piracy issues; artists face unprofessional production and marketing processes, firms are under pressure by influential distributors; and performances face security restrictions. Even if these internal challenges are overcome, the audience often falls to a small urban clientèle. This causes several artists and practitioners to hold more than one job as many have no expectation that their creative work will become a full-time activity. Furthermore, many practitioners do not feel validated until they receive international recognition.


The negative perception of Pakistan externally is also damaging to the progress of the country’s contemporary creative industries. International business partners fail to acknowledge the Pakistani element of projects, often for fear of undermining clients’ confidence. This weakens substantial opportunities in global markets and possibly places a ceiling on the prices that Pakistan can charge for its creative economy. Furthermore, some feel that not conforming to stereotypical perceptions of Pakistan is a way of becoming more successful internationally.


How might these challenges be overcome?


Trends show an increase in the demand for contemporary art forms, and recent, successful festivals have provided an international platform for positive exposure to Pakistan’s creative industries. Continued growth can be sustained in a number of ways, including:


  • Promoting an awareness of the cultural importance of the creative industries.
  • Developing contemporary approaches to sector management.
  • Encouraging national and regional networks and forums.
  • Examining the future relevance of school and higher education curricula.
  • Showcasing Pakistani art forms globally, developing a brand based on ethical trading.
  • Creating the conditions for investment to flourish.
  • Targeting trading opportunities with Indian and Pakistani diasporas.
  • Implementing legal obligations and raising regulatory issues at the policy level.


What does the future hold?


The enthusiasm to develop and contribute skills within these industries shows that the future is a positive one, although Pakistan’s international image continues to be a potential challenge for international trade and collaboration, and has been highlighted as an area for development. But there is evidence to suggest growing employment in audio-visual and interactive media, and the design and creative services. In terms of literature and music, and the visual and performing arts, employment is more fragmented and typically combined with activities in other sectors which often incorporate an inter-disciplinary approach.


This study also suggests that the creative sectors in Pakistan understand the wider social and economic impact their cultural activities can have on the industries’ growth. The development of Pakistan’s creative industries, in particular film, television, new media and design, is fuelled by important underlying strengths in creative skills. Ironically, some sectors, such as music and dance, which are on the brink of international recognition, do not hold this skills base, or a higher education link.


This report clearly shows that the creative and cultural industries possess many assets, including creativity and respect for tradition. One of the next steps is to engage policy makers to understand the importance of the creative industries.


Why was the report commissioned?


This report came at a crucial time for Pakistan’s creative economy. There has been a prevalent demand for cross-industry analysis for some time but previous attempts have faced setbacks from the political environment with the result that the analysis has been confined to rural areas. The report also aimed to highlight the challenges that can be taken on collectively so that those in the creative industries can begin to achieve common goals and start having a positive exchange of ideas.


It is impossible to escape the challenging environment in Pakistan but it would be wrong to define the country in these terms. The openness and innovation seen in Pakistan’s contemporary arts can be used for the benefit of its society and economy.


Editor’s note

This report  is part of a Pakistan research series placing individual empowerment at the centre of a diverse range of topics that could play a major role in Pakistan’s economic and social future.



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