“Preserving the heritage and value of craftsmanship for Chiang Mai’s creative economy”
Many people are showing their kind support for the Chiang Mai World Heritage Initiative Project, which is currently in the process of revising and finalizing documents before being submitted to UNESCO for consideration this year.
However, a lesser known but equally inspiring story is that of Chiang Mai’s selection for membership in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network – Crafts and Folk Art, making it the second city in Thailand to be selected after Phuket, which was accepted as a member of the UNESCO Creatives Cities Network – Gastronomy. There are over 185 member towns and cities from around the world that collectively recognize and value their cultural heritage as a whole, as well as individually according to 7 distinct categories, including Music, Media Arts, Crafts and Folk Art, Film, Gastronomy, Design, and Literature. Selection for membership is not easy, with each candidate required to meet certain standards, make agreements, and commit to focusing on developing their city through “creative economies” – a principle which is at the heart of the Network – by embracing local environments and cultural landscapes that stimulate creative work, and focusing on various fundamental factors that facilitate establishment and operation of creative businesses, such as through encouragement of cultural diversity in order to promote development as a Creative City, as well as promotion of creative tourism. One example of both an interesting and outstanding model city is Popayán, Colombia, which features a library and research facility dedicated to gastronomy and which helped to establish the Gastronomy Corporation of Popayán; now responsible for organizing the National Gastronomy Congress, and who collaborate with academic institutions across Colombia, such as the Universidad del Cauca, to study the culture and heritage of the city. The city’s image and reputation as a centre for food culture became even more prominent on joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/node/92
Similarly, Kobe, the largest producer of sake in Japan and business hub for many large multinational companies, also transformed into the country’s leading centre for fashion after joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network – Design.
Collaboration between many different sectors to promote festivals and events, such as Fashion Week and the Kobe Biennale, help to stimulate the local economy and generate revenue for the local area, while academic institutions, such as Kobe Design University, help to maintain strong foundations for the creative heart of the city. https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/kobe
Returning to Chiang Mai – this is a city with a history dating back over 720 years and which is rich in cultural value, especially in the area of crafts and folk art, which can be divided into 9 main categories: molding and casting, weaving and embroidery, carving, wickerwork, architecture, calligraphy and fine art, paper crafts, metalwork, and lacquerware. What is noteworthy about the crafts of Chiang Mai in particular, is the harmonious combination of 3 dimensions of creativity through which crafts are developed, namely: cultural roots, creative industry, and contemporary design. The unique charm and distinctive identity of Chiang Mai has inspired various groups of people to seek opportunities to further develop and utilize the most exceptionally valuable aspects of the city’s cultural capital, in order to generate income and revitalize the economies of local communities through creativity, whilst also promoting sustainable conservation. Since 2013, and the initiation of the ”Chiang Mai Creative City Initiative Project for the UNESCO Creative Cities Network – Crafts and Folk Art” by the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organization, craftspeople from across different facets of life, generations and ethnic groups, with unique artistic and creative identities, have helped the city to reach significant milestones in supporting and promoting crafts and folk art as a driving force behind bolstering and maintaining strong growth of the creative economy of Chiang Mai, according to the guidelines of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, through various activities, including: the workshop “Creating Patterns (ceramics) – scraping, scratching, printing, and engraving”, which imparted knowledge of pottery (ceramic) work unique to the Lanna district; the international seminar “Chiang Mai Crafts and Folk Art Forum 2015, which sparked an exchange of knowledge and sharing of experience related to conservation, development, and management of crafts and folk art at an international level; the exhibition “100 Years Evolution of Chiang Mai Costume”, which portrayed the recent history and story of the city through the dress styles and designs of different eras; and the latest event, the “Chiang Mai Crafts Fair 2018”, an exhibition festival dedicated to the charms of local fabrics, which invited young designers to brainstorm ideas and design products together with mentors, teachers, and weavers from various communities, and provided activites for training and exchanging knowledge in order to help identify methods to increase the worth and economic value of textile crafts. The creative power and co-operative efforts to preserve cultural heritage, and a deep appreciation for the value of Chiang Mai, has helped to achieve a successful first step for the city as a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network – Crafts and Folk Art. But above the flowering pride is the growing fruit – when the wisdom of traditional crafts merge with the contemporary to improve quality of life, strengthen economies of local communities, and promote a tourism industry based on sustainable growth as a major economic contributor for the city.