In the early hours of 1 January, three different friends messaged me to thank God or something more profane that the worst year in living memory was over. After a bruising 10 months in which too many died and nearly everyone suffered, we all desperately need a better 2021.
Sure, we need some of our old life reinstated – to see our friends, hug our relatives, be secure in our employment, send our young to school, care safely for our elderly, lose ourselves in crowds and enjoy what all of that feels like again – but we also need a lot of our old life reimagined. That’s where the creative industry can play an important role.
True, we’re not philosophers or economists who can model new versions of society. But we are designers, storytellers, speechwriters and imagemakers with the powers of persuasion in our hands. We can call out villains, elevate heroes and make new behaviours understandable and desirable – and with all that, we can invent new social models.
And our work makes a difference. A previous generation of creative talent persuaded society it could consume its way to happiness. Now a new generation of creative talent needs to help us imagine and live a good life that’s less harmful for the environment and take us towards a truly inclusive society.
Let’s remember that before the pandemic, things were a long way from rosy. We were accelerating towards an irreversible climate crisis and the fifth mass extinction of our planet’s natural life. And living through a time of ever-widening social inequality, when white people still needed to be told that Black Lives Matter. Going forwards, we’ll need a wide scale change in values and behaviours to balance global inequalities and reset our world for a carbon-positive future.
That’s why 2021 must be a year of new creative talent – and new imagination. Trouble is, that new talent is finding it hard to get employed right now. Thanks to the pandemic, creative industry job prospects are at their lowest since the 2008 recession - and Brexit’s unlikely to help. The doors that must open to new voices and perspectives are currently slamming shut.
So how do we fix this – and fast? For starters, although our income has been hit by shrinking markets and budgets, we must invest in the next generation - with jobs. And if jobs are hard to come by, then we can offer meaningful apprenticeships and internships; but we must make sure we openly recruit candidates so they don’t favour those with similar perspectives. We must also compensate people fairly so they don’t advantage those who can afford to be underpaid. Crucially, we must invest by creating pathways into the industry for young creative people of all identities.
And as well as money, we must invest time. Even when we’re in survival mode and struggling with intense to-do lists, we must find a moment to engage with schools and universities, partner with next-gen creative programmes and show courtesy and curiosity towards those who are new and hungry and come knocking on our doors. If we’ve given an internship or apprenticeship, we must provide good briefs and mentorship. It’s no longer enough to throw a young person into a work environment and expect them to “pick things up” – especially when they’re sitting in a Zoom, not a room.
We must ask the next generation important questions and be ready to listen to their answers. For example, what does the space between consumption and activism look and feel like – the space where the B-Corps (businesses that balances purpose and profit) naturally play? How do you create as much desire for sharing and fixing, as there’s always been for buying? How do you create brands that aren’t homogeneously white, male and straight?
While art schools encourage much of this exploration, not all creatives come through the art school system and questioning mustn’t stop when work starts. And we must give a platform to the work of the next generation. As D&AD does with its New Blood programme, we should be celebrating the work of emerging talent as loudly as we celebrate the industry’s greatest achievements. And as we do so often at environmental non-profit Do The Green Thing, collaborating with younger talents whenever we can. Where possible, we must give our channels and conversations to those making the future.
Of course we shouldn’t discount older generations. Ideas that further a progressive agenda can and will come from more established creatives. But judging by the lack of black people in our industry or surging global CO2 emissions, those ideas aren’t coming in thick or fast enough.
That’s why we need nothing less than a creative revolution – and a revolution will always be spearheaded by the next generation. In this tough year for job prospects, let’s invest the time, money and space to give this generation its chance.
Naresh Ramchandani is co-founder of Do The Green Thing and the current president of the creative educational charity, D&AD. He is also a partner at Pentagram Design