Creative Industries as a Catalyst for Regeneration & Economic Development

Creative Industries as a Catalyst for Regeneration & Economic Development

Liz Demaison is a highly experienced inward investment professional and in a series of blogs, in which this is the third, we look at the experiences of leading European regions in those sectors which are driving growth in European economies.

Nantes Creative District

Nantes Sainte-Nazaire is a city and metropolitan area in the Loire-Atlantique region in Western France. Nantes has a population of 323,000 people and a metropolitan area with over 700,000 residents.

Culture and the creative industries have played a key role in the regeneration of the ‘Island of Nantes’, a former industrial area on an island of 337 hectares located next to the city centre. Up until the middle of the 20th century, Nantes was an important shipbuilding centre but following the closure of the shipyards in 1987, the city suffered an unprecedented economic crisis and the ‘Island of Nantes’ started to become derelict.

Presently, the creative industries now represent more than 9,000 businesses and nearly 35,000 jobs in Nantes. The industry includes: visual arts, design, performing arts, digital & multimedia arts, media, visual arts and video games.

How was this delivered?

Following the closure of the shipyards, in the 1990s the mayor and local policymakers had a vision to use culture and creative industries to regenerate the island and as a catalyst for economic growth.  Cultural & creative industries were established as one of the 3 core pillars for the redevelopment of the island:

  • Culture and creative industries leading to a “Quartier de la Création” (Creative District) cluster
  • Sustainability – focussing on housing and green public transportation.
  • Social diversity by developing job opportunities in the services sector, establishing educational establishments (from schools to HE) on the island and promoting social housing.

Supported by both the Metropolitan administrative area and Nantes City Council, SAMOA is the urban development agency responsible for the redevelopment of the Island of Nantes. SAMOA also leads on the development of the cultural and creative industries through Creative Factory, its integrated economic development agency. The latter provides business support to the industry.

As SAMOA has responsibility for both urban and economic development, this enables a joined-up approach on engaging with creative and cultural industry stakeholders as well as the island’s residents.

The Creative District

The Creative District on the Island totals 30 hectares. At the heart of the Creative District, 4,000 m² of the former Alstom shipyard warehouses are dedicated to start-ups and businesses working in the creative arts. To date, 1.5hectares of old industrial sites have been refurbished with €60m of public investment.  This includes:

  • Warehouses 1 & 2:  400 m2  hub to support cultural and creative industries, with a business accelerator space,  FabLab etc. There is also a 1,000m2 food hall where creatives can meet as well as being used by the general public.
  • Warehouses 4 & 5: Including Nantes Saint-Nazaire Higher School Fine Arts
  • Warehouse 6:  8,600m2 warehouse housing the Nantes University Interdisciplinary Centre for Digital Culture; a business accelerator, and a complex to support creatives starts up. There is also a 550m2 Art, Architecture & Design FabLab.

Other facilities include workspaces and training centres for digital businesses as well as a space devoted to contemporary music with rehearsal studios and other facilities.

Attributed success factors

  • Strong civic leadership and vision
  • Strong relationships have been key to a collaborative approach between the city, metropolitan and regional public administrations.
  • Ownership and delegation of project implementation to local cultural organisations, residents, and local creatives.
  • Building linkages between culture and universities and other educational & research centres.
  • Keeping a strong cultural identity linked to the city’s industrial past but also shaped by a creatively driven future.
  • Establishment of ‘culture ambassadors’ in various City Council services to ensure that culture & creatives are always at the heart of the strategic conversation.


The success of ‘Nantes Creative District’ highlights the importance of long-term civic vision and strategy in identifying, investing, and delivering in a particular sector as an enabler for urban regeneration and economic development.

The fact that the local urban regeneration company incorporates economic development as part of its activities has helped to unite many different organisations and stakeholders – from regional/sub-regional and local administrations to creative and cultural industries stakeholders as well as residents.

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