The Creative Economy in Latin America

Q1: What is the creative economy?

A1: The creative economy is defined as “the group of linked activities through which ideas are transformed into cultural goods and services whose value is determined by intellectual property.” The creative economy is comprised of both formal and informal workers and spans various sectors, including audiovisual and performing arts, publishing, design, video games, fashion, architecture, advertising, software, and television and radio, among others.

The creative economy is one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world, with the global market for creative goods expanding to $509 billion in 2015, more than doubling in size from 10 years prior. This rapid growth has only continued, and the expansion of the internet and availability of internet-friendly devices has extended the reach of creative goods and services exponentially.

Q2: How have countries in Latin America developed their creative economies?

A2: Several countries in Latin America have identified creativity as a strategic industry for economic development, with prominent cities earning a spot in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network (UCCN). Forty-five cities in the region are currently included on UNESCO’s list, representing over 20 countries. Historically, the creative industries have been dominated by Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, though other countries such as Chile have recently begun expanding their creative products.

In Buenos Aires, the creative sector represents more than 8.6 percent of the city’s GDP and 9.1 percent of the city’s workforce, with more than 150,000 employees. In Colombia, the creative economy accounts for 3.4 percent of the country’s GDP. President Ivan Duque’s administration has passed several laws aimed at strengthening the creative economy, such as the Orange Law and the 2018 Finance Bill, supplementing preexisting laws with the same goal. Mexico is the top exporter of creative assets in Latin America and the Caribbean, with its audiovisual industry in Mexico City generating almost 300 billion Mexican pesos. The Brazilian creative economy—which employs over 11 million people and is estimated to account for over 10 percent of GDP—officially became a priority of the Brazilian government in 2012 when then-president Dilma Rousseff announced the creation of the Secretariat of the Creative Economy (SEC). The secretariat published a plan including policies, guidelines, and actions for Brazil to follow to strengthen its creative industries.

According to a report published by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2014, approximately $87 billion of world creative exports come from the Americas, or about 14 percent of the world total.

Q3: How can the creative economy fuel sustainable economic growth in Latin America?

A3: Aside from being the fastest-growing economic sector in the world, the creative economy also has various capabilities that allow it to serve as a significant aspect of economic development. Its potential in Latin America is so great that the South American trading bloc MERCOSUR formed MERCOSUR Cultural, an initiative aimed at creating programs, projects, and activities designed to promote and strengthen creative economies across the region. As the global economy shifts toward further digital knowledge and transformation, the region could achieve greater economic development by prioritizing the creative economy.

Jobs in the creative economy tend to favor youth and women, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). If governments were able to meaningfully invest in the inclusion of women and youth in the job market, the creative economy would be likely to grow even more and spur increased economic development.

Though certain aspects of creative goods and services such as print publications may decrease as the internet’s capabilities expand, the creative economy is well suited to adapt to market changes. The use of social media and online platforms, which had already been on the rise prior to the pandemic, also provides a unique platform for the creative industries to inhabit and expand. These industries have also already begun to reflect adaptability, as demonstrated by the increase in content of video games, movies, and other audiovisual goods and services. This versatility gives the creative economy an advantage in economic development, as it is able to react to the ever-changing global supply and demand for creative goods and services.

Q4: What is the outlook of the creative economy in the context of Covid-19?

A4: The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all sectors of the economy, including creative industries. Retail stores and movie theaters have been forced to close—or significantly decrease hours and personnel—festivals have been canceled, and performances have been put on hold as a result of the pandemic, among various other disruptions. As a result, creative industries have begun to adopt new behaviors, particularly within the virtual realm, to adapt to the new reality.

For example, due to the opportunity for increased virtual engagement, mobile games reached a record-high number of downloads in March 2020, up by 51 percent from the previous year. Popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others have seen spikes in daily traffic and an increased demand for original content. As industries begin to implement or grow a virtual component to their work, such as hosting virtual concerts or hosting drive-in movie theaters to replace in-person activities. It is likely that some behaviors of creative industries will shift permanently as the economy responds to the shifting supply and demands caused by Covid-19, though the creative economy’s innovative nature will allow it to find new routes for economic development and growth after the pandemic.

The creative economy is also less volatile than resource-based sectors such as oil and manufacturing, as it is not subject to the same natural scarcity restrictions. For example, whereas oil exports in 2009 contracted 40 percent as a result of the global recession, creative goods and services contracted only 12 percent and quickly recovered, growing 4.3 percent per year since the recession. The oil market in 2020 has contracted significantly as a result of a global decrease in travel and the enforcement of lockdowns in various countries, with oil and energy regulating industries such as the International Energy Agency reducing forecasts for oil demand significantly in the coming months and years. As the oil sector continues to fight the effects of Covid-19, creative industries will be able to adapt to a new virtual reality much more quickly, as evidenced by the increase in online content creation and other adaptive measures that these industries have taken.

Margarita R. Seminario is deputy director and a senior fellow with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Arianna Kohan is a program coordinator with the Americas Program at CSIS.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Margarita R. Seminario

Margarita R. Seminario

Former Senior Associate (Non-Resident), Americas Program

Arianna Kohan

Former Program Coordinator, Americas Program