The Chiang Mai Design Week and conference has been one of the highlights of my time in Chiang Mai. I had no idea I would be attending this, but it has proven to be a really rewarding experience. One day I attended a full-day session called Urban Development towards UNESCO Creative City & Crafts and Community. I came away from this day inspired by the commitment and innovation in cities in Southeast Asia to create truly liveable cities that preserve their heritage as well as look to the future.
The first speaker of the day was Ms. Alice Ru Hwa Chiu, the Secretary General, Institute for Historical Resources Management, Taipei, Republic of China, Taiwan. She has had a long career, and was able to speak to a lot of changes that have occurred over the years. There were some key points and initiatives that she mentioned that I really resonated with:
- For the last couple of years, there has been a summer camp that provides training for kids to heritage guides. I love this idea, partially because as a child I would have been all over this. I think it is an interesting idea, and an innovative way to pass on stories and history through a new generation.
- Nuit Blanche continues to be an interesting community engaging event around the world. In Taipei, Nuit Blanche is looking to the future but also looking back to see how historical buildings can be assets for the future.
- Art Setouchi Triennale is an innovative way to bring people to a series of connected islands in Japan. Many of the islands have had other purposes, and abandoned as industry has changed. Inujima is one such island that has been converted from an abandoned island into an art island. Through using old photos, maps, and research on the history, this Triennale has brought people back to the island.
For all of those points I can see how libraries, especially local history rooms, can play an important part in locating this information, with assimilating it, and disseminating it to the community and the world. One of my favourite things about working as a librarian is working with other organizations and working on projects such as these to create an experience for individuals in a place.
The next speaker was Dr. Shiksa Jain, Director of DRONAH (Development and Research Organization for Nature, Arts and Heritage – UNESCO Creative City of Jaipur, Republic of India). I was intrigued by the fact that the city has been designated an UNESCO Creative City. To get this distinction, the city went through a long process to be awarded this title. It was interesting to learn that Jaipur was founded in the 18th century, and that crafts was a focus from its establishment. Under British rule, promotion of arts & crafts continued, as well as incorporating modern innovation and global influence.
As part of their process to put their application forward to be a creative city, one thing they had to do was a classification of craft forms. The Librarian in me got really excited by this process and the charts she showed as to how they broke each craft down. They categorized each craft into broader categories, but also looked deeply at each craft to identify the key and unique ones to Jaipur that they wanted to highlight.
Some ways that they are working to conserve and share their history:
- A heritage walk was initiated in 2014
- A cohesive conservation of buildings of the bazaars
- A crafts walk was created, as a way to introduce people to the crafts of the area, introduce them to the craftsmen, and to bring trade to the bazaars. They even developed one that provided universal access for those with disabilities.
The third speaker was Assit. Professor Min-Chin Kay Chiang. She is the Director, Center of Teaching and Learning, and Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Architecture and Cultural Heritage Taipei National University of the Arts, Republic of China, Taiwan.
Of all the speakers, this was the one resonated with and got the most excited by. Her talk was titled Craft, Place and Community. These are all keywords that I have been feeling I am most interested in working with. Place has an emotional feeling and a sense of identity. Craft identifies local identity and contributes to the economy. Craft is deeply interwoven with Place and together they work at creating Community.
An example that she provided to demonstrate this is Daxi – a wood town in northern Taiwan, which was famous for its woodcarving craft. In the 1990’s there was a preservation movement called Treasures of Daxi, which brought community awareness and pride of their history. Within 2 decades, a lot of historic buildings were designated.
She introduced a new museum model which I had never heard of before: the corner museum. Corner museums were developed as a way to engage local communities. Essentially the idea is that every corner in Daxi can be a museum.
Imagine you’re father was a printmaker. You have pieces of his work, and you still have his shop where he worked. You can be the curator of a museum to tell your father’s story. The local government provides funding to improve the shop into a museum. It is still a shop, but parts of it may be an exhibit now. And through this many stories can be shared and told through these corner museums. I think this is such as interesting idea. It is a community sharing project similar to the little free libraries that appear for book sharing.
The thought behind her presentation was that you need to conserve and preserve the environment, materials, tools, techniques and markets so that the craft can continue. It is isn’t solely knowledge of the craft. There are so many factors that go into the creation of an item.
The last speaker was Mr. Cho, Tzu-Lo, from Zhou Ye Cottage and Indigo Dyeing House Miaoli Country, Republic of China, Taiwan. He was speaking about the innovation and upgrade of a Taiwanese Indigo Industry.
Zhou Ye Cottage and Indigo Dyeing House is a family owned business. They have various business ventures but they all derive from indigo production. They do the the traditional method of indigo production but they have also have been innovating with the producation and machinery used to improve the processes. They have a design studio, partnerships to sell in various locations, and have developed a B&B. There they have used their indigo dyed items to decorate the rooms, as well they provide their guests the opportunity to try their hand at indigo dyeing.
Attending these talks solidified my belief that crafts, art and design all play an important part in city design, community building, and the lives of individuals. Some people may say the arts are not important, or not as important as other fields. But I would argue they are. The arts are a way to tell a story, a story of where we have been, our journeys, our connections. It is a way to strengthen communities and bring people together. Integrating and making arts a priority in a city can provide revitalization and growth. In a world of rapid change and conflict, isn’t it connection with our neighbours that we need to build? Break down misunderstanding, create common stories and shared experiences, and to create a sustainable future. I’m passionate about the arts, are you?