Chiang Mai Design Week: Part 1


You know that feeling you get when you happen upon something that is just seems meant to be? I’m experiencing that feeling this week. I’m in Chiang Mai at the moment (escaping the snow in Canada), and was out the other day when a brochure caught my eye. It was advertising Chiang Mai Design Week. I did a little looking at their website, and got excited by the conference, installations and showcases that would be taking place. As someone interested in the design world, and having had worked with creatives, I felt this was something perfect for me to attend. And it was completely serendipitous that I came across it.


While working in Fine Arts at Saskatoon Public Library, I really started to feel that craft was where I was most interested in. There is something really beautiful about making something by hand for use, whether it be for the home, to wear, or to share with others. I like that tradition is carried through but can be done with a modern interpretation. Good design can make objects more functional as well as pleasing to the eye.


I’ve been going to Chiang Mai Design Week 4 days so far and it has been an inspiring and motivating experience. The first few days were a conference put on by the British Council, titled Craft Reveals: New Paths Towards Sustainability.

Through this conference, several themes have emerged. Craft and design can change lives, bring hope, and make better communities. Craft and design when working with natural materials and sustainability is one way forward for social innovation. By working with traditional methods and materials,and combining it with modern approaches, this is the future of craft (check out the British Council’s programme New for Old).

That craft and design can change lives is is a strong claim, but I believe it. I’ve listened to presenters talking about TARANGO (A Women’s Development Organization) in Bangladesh who is training women in craft, showing them how to do business, and empowering them to make a living for them and their families. They aren’t only putting food on the table, but are building a culture where women can contribute, are seen as valued, and grow into being leaders. They are an inspiration to their children.

Similarly, a speaker from Oxfam in Thailand spoke about a similar initiative, Wanita Social Enterprise in Southern Thailand, which is a women-led and community-based initiative. They have been bringing in designers to villages to work with the weavers to work together to bring new designs that appeal to the modern market using the traditional methods. This creates a dialogue between city and village, young and old, and designer and maker. And this connection will help to bring understanding, trust, and the continuation of the ability of the craftsmen to support themselves.


I am most impressed by the people at this conference who care deeply about craft, design, and their communities. The whole week is a showcase of innovation not only in Thailand but around the world. And I think it highlights that we are a global community, sharing resources, learning from each other, and working to making our communities the best they can be.

While listening to the sessions, I kept thinking of how many similarities between the goals of each organization or individual was to that of libraries. Libraries, especially public libraries, work at making our communities better places. We focus on community led librarianship, we partner with community organizations, and our success comes through interaction with our communities. We work with traditional methods of librarianship, while integrating modern technologies and ideas. And through our resources and programs, we hope to empower those who use our services. I know in my time working in a public library I have seen numerous people who have left the library feeling empowered to make a change in their lives. And that is why we do what we do. Our work changes lives. Just as the craftsman continues his craft because he loves it and finds pride in his work, librarians also continue as we see the effect of our work on those around us.

How has design improved your life?


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