Applying project management to the cultural and creative industries: a tool for developing countries


Breaking the cycle of underdevelopment has been the major preoccupation for governments and populations in the developing world over the last one hundred years. With developmental models currently under revision, developing countries have been advised to look for other possible alternatives of sustainable development.

The one area that is gaining significant attention is that of the Cultural and Creative Industries. In recent years, the UN and its specialized agencies have been spelling the good fortune of these industries. However, there is very scant literature to show how best to manage these industries. This paper therefore proposes to show how Project Management, as a tool, can be used to take these industries to a desirable level to produce tangible results for developing countries.

In addition to standard research based on the existing literature and debates, the Case Study methodology will be used to show at least how one country is making steps and strides with the application of Project Management. It must be noted however, that the paper will be heavily focused on project management methodologies and recommendations for action.

There are three approaches that come to mind for immediate application: the use of the Logical Framework Approach for Project and Program Planning; standardizing project management methodologies across the infrastructure of the cultural and creative industries; and a model for creating a centralized Cultural Project Management Office (CPMO).


The genesis of this paper/presentation is rooted in a special encounter I had last May as the Project Manager of the Third Caribbean and Latin American Conference in Project Management, which took place in Trinidad.

While waiting to be interviewed on the local TV6 I had the pleasure of meeting a top Trinidadian cultural artist and activist. We both exchanged notes as to why we were there, but very soon I noticed that the eyes of our cultural activist started to glow as I spoke about project management and what it entails.

At this point, the epiphany occurred and I recognized in an instant that many of our artists require support of this type and that project management is the bridge of the great divide. I do not wish to suggest here that project management is the wherewithal to answer all the major challenges facing the development of our cultural industries here in the developing world, but I more than intimate that from a very practical and action-oriented standpoint, there is no better way to start. This presentation, therefore, will not be heavily theoretical, but seeks to mend that proverbial fence between the theory and the policy and offer some sound recommendations for action using the case study of my home country, Barbados.

It has been more than ten years since the UNESCO and other UN agencies have begun preaching to us, especially in the developing world, on the importance of the cultural and creative industries as a viable option in our quest for socio-economic and cultural development. Without becoming too technical, I will define the cultural and creative industries simply as artists or businesses that generate their primary source of income and or economic value from their cultural and/or creative knowledge. According to UNESCO “this term applies to those industries that combine the creation, production and commercialisation of contents which are intangible and cultural in nature.” Still for definitional purposes, these industries normally refer to the following areas of human endeavour:

  • –    TV & Media
  • –    Fine Arts
  • –    Visual Arts
  • –    Performing Arts
  • –    Film
  • –    Music
  • –    The Festival Industry
  • –    And some definitions also include fashion and design.

Before moving forward, it is interesting to note that the above definition fits us squarely into the realm of sheer human endeavour, ideas and ultimately the industries are therefore driven by knowledge, intellect and creativity. Hence, it seems logical to me that any solutions to take this subset of industry forward should not deviate too far from the creativity that is so much a part of its very core and raison d'etre. In other words, like in no other field, the cultural and creative industries in the developing world must not shy away from creativity and must not be afraid to take a leading role and demonstrate that behaviour fitting of the true pioneer.

The Management Challenges

From my front row seat as a practitioner in the theatre arts it is easy to gauge what are some of our major challenges facing us in our part of the developing world. After itemizing these obstacles, I will want to concentrate more on how I think we should go about further developing the infrastructure and finally, what I believe will be the main vehicle to make the framework produce tangible results – a concerted and deliberate use of project management.

Our main challenges, from my vantage point as an artist and project manager, are as follows:

  1. To go forward using the cultural and creative industries as a strategy for development it is necessary to first develop a proper framework and put a workable and scalable infrastructure in place.
  2. Any attempt to manage the entire subset of industries as a complete whole is doomed to failure. The challenge is in determining the best-segmented approach and creating a model that maximizes and/or interfaces, centralization and decentralization. In other words, whereas one can have a centralized body responsible for policy, the management of the subsets should be decentralized.
  3. Getting the private sector and the public sector to trust each other and better coordinate their efforts, to my mind, is one of our greatest challenges; and the operative word here remains TRUST.
  4. Much too often, the artist is his or her own manager, and though the artist may not be totally unskilled in management, a lot of the time that can be better spent on the creative process, now has to be diverted to daily routine general management and administrative tasks.
  5. More developing countries need to put policies in place for the cultural and creative industries.
  6. In countries like Barbados there is no project management approach to the cultural industries.

Financing the Industries

Unfortunately, the key question in the developing world is always who will foot the bill and the first option is often to look towards donor countries. To compound this, one must note that the donor countries themselves are busily exploring and exploiting their own cultural and creative industries.

As such, and quite unfortunately, these industries do not escape the cycle of dependency as with our other industries and this has to do with the fact that many developing countries are not producing technology. Therefore, the high costs we are paying for our technological inputs in the industries will continue to grip us in that vice of dependency. Let us seriously ask ourselves where all the technology comes from to stage a simple show or to produce a CD, or make a painting or print a book of poetry. In other words, we need to make enough money from our cultural products to pay the high prices of the technological inputs, and as we are forced to sell our cultural products cheaper and cheaper, the price of the latest technology gets higher and higher, contributing to our cycle of dependency.


So the next question wrestling through the silence will be: What are the solutions?

I believe the solutions lie before us and they must be guided by one simple principle: DO NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL. There are five points that must be given some serious thought to if we are to develop these industries.

  1. Our countries need to put enablers in place that will allow the creative process a space to organically develop.
  2. We must look at more schemes of cooperation between all the sectors. And the ultimate goal here should be to reduce cost and duplication of effort.
  3. It is clear that we cannot afford to build a new cultural infrastructure considering the economic hardships we are facing. Therefore it becomes imperative that we work with what we already have.
  4. There is mounting evidence to suggest that those societies that better manage their time and their information better manage their projects and ultimately are better poised to take the spoils of the dominant capitalist model. We, too, need to become a lot more serious about time and treat it as a resource and start to build a society that respects information and converts that into knowledge. If we are seriously talking about developing the cultural and creative industries then these are two of the most demanding qualities that must be built into our psyche: the management of time and the management of information.
  5. The other dimension to the solution seems pretty straightforward, from my vantage point, and that is we must work on the variables we are capable of controlling first. We cannot control foreign markets, nor can we control the future events of the world so we should not become too bogged down in those elements. Though I am not advocating a total detachment from these realities or that we even adopt an insensitivity to the external forces, it is important that we channel or collective energies on what we can control internally; and this is where I present a simple model to help build on the existing infrastructure.

Building the Infrastructure

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1

When we examine the model above, we see that the two main drivers are community development and participation as well as the role our education system as a whole must play in sensitizing our young people to the viable option of careers in the cultural and creative industries. Once this is in place, we can then use the existing small business development infrastructure to support business in these industries in order to generate employment and exports.

However, the model must be guided by political will, leadership and vision out of which the collective pool of technocrats and artists will create strategies and plans to take us forward. This must then be supported at the base by sound policy and/or legislation, partnerships in the private and public sectors and properly managed projects from the national to the communitarian right down to the level of the sole proprietor and artist.

Drawing a model in Visio or PowerPoint is always the easy part, when we attempt to lift if from the paper and get human involvement marks the beginning of our most challenging endeavour. However, it is against the backdrop of my underlying thesis of not reinventing the wheel that I make the following suggestions to further enhance our existing infrastructure.

  • If we are to start to break the dependency cycle mentioned above, it is important that our policies do not overlook the role that technology has to play. Let us create a model (without reinventing the wheel) that incorporates e-commerce, the Internet and technology at every step of the process.
  • Let us create multidisciplinary programs at the college level to empower artists and give aspiring ones the hope for the future and a chance at receiving a quality education. There is a definite need for more degree programs in the cultural and creative industries and if we are talking about a self-sufficient and revenue-generating university, where else should we start but in the Arts. It is also time to amend the curricula across the island to extend the existing Arts programs, destigmatize involvement in the Arts in schools and reward students with grades and certification if this is the path they have chosen in life.
  • In many instances, developing countries like Barbados do not need to build new facilities. With just over twenty secondary schools, government can lobby the private sector to transform existing school halls into multi-purpose facilities to promote art and culture within the system. Imagine what a state-of-the-art school hall would do for a secondary school. Imagine the technical aspects being run by students who are that way inclined, the management left to students studying those subjects and then the artistic expressions coming from the performers, the graphics designers, the web developers and the list goes on.
  • Open spaces can also be easily modified to allow cultural expression.
  • Existing cultural festivals can also be marketed internationally or converted into international competitions. International competition would lead to the following:
    • Increased exposure for local artists
    • Improved standards and quality
    • Increased tourism
    • More international visibility for local artists
    • An enhanced reputation as a cultural centre
    • Improved project management skills

However, there are some gaps in the model that must be filled since oft times the bridge between the artist's demands and responses to such demands, is one built on sandy turf. At this stage in our development, there is a need for a bridge between the grant seeker and the donor; the business artist and the market; support needed and service rendered; and ultimately there is a need for more dialogue and coordination between the private and public sectors. I therefore wish to suggest here that the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), in the case of Barbados, is best poised to act as enabler and intermediary between the demand and the supply. (Other similar policy bodies or cultural departments in other developing countries can play a similar role.)

The role of the NCF therefore should be that of coordination, central planning for the industries, lending and selling project management services to the artists, policy development and locating project financing by acting as a conduit between the funding agencies and the business.

In addition to the NCF's role as enabler, it's not difficult to imagine an NCF that is profitable and becoming a leading intellectual think tank in the cultural and creative industries. One can easily envisage a Cultural Department that provides consultancy services, advisories and ultimately have its officers posted abroad at foreign missions with the aim of attracting foreign direct investment for the development of these industries.

However, as the model in Exhibit 2 one suggests, for such an undertaking to occur, government's role must be critical. Here are some recommendations I believe can be built into existing infrastructures:

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2

  1. Tax write offs should be given to businesses who make a five year commitment to support the cultural and creative industries
  2. Duty free imports for inputs into the cultural industries to help reduce the high cost of technological in puts
  3. Value Added Tax (Sales Tax) exemptions for all cultural events
  4. A special bond issue to support the specific cultural industries
  5. Invite international cultural enterprises (recording studios, film makers, etc) to set up in your country by giving them special tax incentives
  6. Create incentives for international companies who provide scholarship funds towards the development of the arts
  7. Programmes should be goal-oriented with five year targets
  8. Urban planning must integrate the cultural economy

The Project Management Solution

In closing I wish to leave with you the tool that has worked and continues to work around the world: Project Management.

  • Any national strategy and/or program should follow the guidelines of project management using the Logical Framework Approach.
  • Developing countries need to standardize their methodologies
  • Project Management should be applied to all the sectors in these industries especially in the management of major national events.
  • National Cultural Department need to create Cultural Project Management Offices that will eventually provide these services to the entire gamut of the cultural and creative industries. (This proposal has been accepted by my country, Barbados)

All in all, the answers lie within each and every single one of us and in our ability to be creative. We should not spend too much time trying to reinvent tested and reworked solutions, but we should build on the existing infrastructure in place and make it better, make sure that it is culturally in tune with our needs, desires and expressions. And though project management may not be the panacea for all our current challenges, it is a tool that has been proven to work and we should try it.


UNESCO, Culture, trade and globalisation

UNESCO. (2000) Study on International Flows of Cultural Goods between 1980-1998.

UNESCO. (1998) Culture Creativity and Markets World Culture Report, UNESCO Publishing.

UNESCO. (1995)Our Creative Diversity. UNESCO Publishing.

© 2004, Ian W. Walcott
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Prague



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