Migration is important for creativity

Migration is important for creativity

When difference fuels creativity and art is a universal language migration is vital to creativity, writes Jo Wallace, creative director at Publicis London.

‘If we were all the same the world would be a boring place'

I remember my mum saying this as I was growing up, probably in response to my dad harrumphing about someone doing something different to the way he would.

Mum was right. If we all thought the same and did things the same way we’d basically just be robots.

‘Difference’ fuels great things in life. It’s actually our dissimilarities that can spark the most interesting conversations, the unknown that makes us curious, and different points of view that force more creative solutions.

The last thing you’re looking for is ‘the same’ when it comes to good ideas.

Obvious ideas are boring because we’ve seen them before.

When we get excited by an idea it’s mostly because it’s different. It’s new. Something foreign which translates into logical magic. It’s the juxtaposition of unexpected things that creates a tension which hooks us.

Creativity thrives on difference

It’s one reason why good creative departments are no longer just full of teams called Matt & Steve. More and more there’s a welcome mix of creatives with different life experiences and perspectives, from different corners of the world. Planning and account teams are also multi-national, not just for the simple reason that global campaigns require an understanding of different markets but because different views and reference points make for more interesting ideas and a richer culture.

Just recently, for several weeks, in the foyer of Publicis London there was a celebration of the creativity and diverse perspectives that migrants bring to the UK and creative industries. It took the form of an exhibition I curated called ‘There’s a Good Immigrant’ and includes work from an array of contributors, including Bob & Roberta Smith, Sara Shamsavari, Inua Ellams and Keith Piper.

It joined, and further promoted, the debate around the importance of diversity in advertising and beyond but in a way that was genuinely exciting to interact with. Art and creativity are by their very nature a universal language and good art, just like good ideas, can come from anywhere. Often this becomes a literal need when UK candidates for specialist creative jobs simply aren’t available (government investment in the arts and related education has been continuously cut) giving even more reason to extend the search overseas. 

When it came to Brexit it’s no surprise that the UK’s creative industries voted 96% to "remain"

Migration is important for creativity. Regardless of background or where we find ourselves, we can all resonate with impactful creativity. Dave Buonaguidi, one of the exhibiting artists in the ‘There’s a Good Immigrant’ exhibition, perhaps summed up the complex issue perfectly, with a piece consisting of a vintage map of London and the words ‘YOU ARE HERE’ joyfully screen printed across it. All nine editions sold quickly, perhaps demonstrating that what’s really relevant and important for many of us is where we are. Now. Not where we’re from.

When it came to Brexit it’s no surprise that the UK’s creative industries, including TV and film companies, video games, digital creative, designers, fashion, publishers, museums and galleries, architects, and advertisers voted 96% to "remain". 

It’s important to note that the creative industries belief in the positive impact of migration isn’t just some liberal, artsy ideal, it’s genuinely important for everyone’s financial future. The creative industries generate £87 billion a year for UK coffers, account for 1 in 11 jobs and is the least likely to become automated. Ironically, people who voted to Brexit based on migrants flooding the job market may actually find that it’s a robot who takes their job, not someone from overseas.

The UK has a wonderfully rich cultural heritage, resulting from generations of different communities coming together, enriching society and inspiring new entrepreneurial visions. To quote Bob and Roberta Smith’s piece which was on display in ‘There’s a Good Immigrant’: "Immigration is a good thing for British Culture’.

Creativity is definitely best served from a melting pot of talent, containing an interesting blend of diverse voices, experiences and perspectives. Because the world certainly would be a boring place if we were all the same. Bloody boring in fact. 

Jo Wallace is creative director at Publicis London.

The exhibition ‘There’s a Good Immigrant’ ran from August 16th - 1st September at 82 Baker Street. Generous artist contributions from sales of work raised almost £3k for the arts charity Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), an evolving, radical visual arts organisation dedicated to developing an artistic programme through collaboration with artists, curators, researchers and cultural producers to challenge conventional notions of diversity and difference.  


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