Four exciting concepts and a shattered illusion, by Mads Møller Andersen

After participating in the Sustaining Talent in Small Nations workshop in Aarhus I can still feel the high after all the wonderfully productive discussions. I find that some of the concepts that were discussed linger in my mind.

The first is talent as a conceptualisation of labour and value. That talent has value was underlined by Gunhild Agger’s (Aalborg University) reminder regarding the etymological origins of the word talent which originally meant money. Talent is (and can be thought of as) a monetary unit. What a wonderfully concrete way of thinking of what talent actually means and requires in the context of working conditions! If you want to cultivate talent, you need funding. And yet so many of the young “talents” in the film and TV industry are often given very low wages or even no wages at all. An explanation was offered at the workshop: the market is saturated. The supply of labourers is usually greater than the industry demand. Even in markets dominated by public service broadcasters, competitive market conditions seem to be in effect when we talk about recruiting talent. And while I was listening to both researchers and industry representatives talk about conditions for talent, I couldn’t help but wonder: is it the competitive market or government support that makes the best work conditions for talent and creativity? Or is it a combination? Maybe the same can be said for secure long-term employment in regard to cultivating creativity and talent? I don’t have an answer.

The second concept that lingered was protectionism. Juliana Engberg (European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017) brought it up. In my mind protectionism describes a situation where a nation has become closed off. To escape protectionism you need to do something new and be bold. The impressive cross-media project “New Nordic Noir” for Aarhus 2017 was presented by the project manager and established film director Jakob Høgel. The project features a TV series, a video game, and a museum exhibition. Betting on the hyped Nordic noir wave could be a clever move especially in these times. But the thing about trends, Juliana Engberg reminded us, is that they can end quite quickly. So instead we might benefit from asking: What should the next Danish “TV speciality” be? We need to be able to make more than one thing and more than one genre. And hopefully the cross-media approach will mean a greater diversification of styles and genres. Nevertheless, I think the concept of protectionism is useful. Professor Mette Hjort (University of Copenhagen) mentioned her study of the “twinning scheme” between Danish and foreign film makers which sounded like a good example of an effort to escape protectionism. If you’re a small nation looking to expand (your horizons), then go abroad.

The third concept derived from the exciting group exercise where we had to cooperate about “mapping talent”. Exercises are a great way of creating variation. Representatives from both academia and industry worked together in such a productive way to achieve a common goal: How can we improve our notion of talent? This was the case throughout the whole workshop. Here is the result from the group that I participated in:

Small Nations Workshop (1)

First of all it’s safe to say that talent is a complex theme, as the map clearly demonstrates. The players and factors that influence the handling of talent are numerous. But one concept stood out to me: Risks. Padrahic O’Ciardah from the Irish public service broadcaster TG4 mentioned the importance of risk-taking accompanied by funding. You have to fund risk-taking. This really resonated with my understanding of what influences the discovery of talent and the cultivation of talent – and ultimately improves conditions for creativity. Commissioners need to have the courage to take risks. And in order to do that the funding (and the politicians or councils that decide where funding goes) needs to be courageous as well.

The fourth and final concept that keeps resonating in my head is diversity. By the end of the first day I felt fairly confident that diversity was important when recruiting talent. Mette Hjort’s talk about the benefits of teaming up with foreign film makers had affirmed this. The connection between diversity and creativity looks obvious. But then my theoretical illusions about diversity shattered when hearing the refreshingly honest reply from Ronni Madsen, vice president of M2Film when he was asked about diversity in recruitment: “No. This is not something we prioritise.” But the numbers were still very clear and showed their successful expansion for a period of years. So here I was thinking about the definite importance of diversity only to be confronted with what looked like a clear-cut example of the opposite. The connection between diversity and creativity was maybe not as obvious as I had thought. This really surprised me. What a healthy wake-up call for me. Though I’m not sure he had the same experience.

Mads Møller Andersen is a PhD student at Aarhus University. 

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