Designing a Creative Ecosystem for Georgia
To initiate the process of turning Tbilisi into a Creative Hub and developing an ecosystem for design in the city, Dr Anna Whicher was asked to facilitate a Design Policy Workshop, in this post she shares her reflections and key insights from the two-day event.
In September 2016, Creative Georgia together with the Ministry of Culture, City of Tbilisi and the EU-EaP Culture and Creativity Programme, kick-started the process 'Turning Tbilisi into a Creative Hub: Developing an Ecosystem for Creativity and Design'. Georgia lies in the heart of the Caucus Mountains and is an associate member of the EU with a population of 4.5 million and its main economic activities are agriculture (specifically wine) and tourism. Indeed the oldest vine in the world is reputed to be in Georgia. Perhaps the most famous Georgian known to us in the West was Joseph Stalin.
To provide context for the event, the Minister for Culture presented his vision for developing the cultural and creative industries: “For any country, but particularly for a country like Georgia, culture, creativity and design must be seen as great assets for development. The new Cultural Strategy until 2025 highlights cultural and creative industries as one of the priorities, which has a potential to encourage both social and economic development. Designing a cultural and creative ecosystem in our country means that we are establishing a prosperous society in Georgia”
Mikheil Giorgadze, Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia.
Using a prepared map of the elements of a Design Ecosystem I guided policy-makers, civil servants, creatives, small business owners and enterprise associations through the process of identifying key stakeholders in the city
Ragnar Siil, the Cultural and Creative Sectors Expert at the Programme (and former Estonian Undersecretary of State for the Arts) made the striking point that: "The biggest taxi company in the world has no taxis (Uber), the biggest hotel company has no rooms (Airbnb), the biggest cinema has no screens (Netflix). No wonder that Estonia, one of the most tech-savvy European countries adopted a vision to acquire 10 million e-Estonians by 2025. With little more than a year, Estonia has issued around 13 000 e-residency certificates, to allow people from across the world to get an access to Estonia’s state-of-art digital services. These initiatives have one thing in common - design has transformed their business model." Ragnar Siil, Cultural and Creative Sectors Expert, EU-EaP Culture and Creativity Programme.
Building on this, the Executive Director of Creative Georgia emphasized the transformative role of design within the creative industries: "In Georgia we have a broad range of expertise across the creative industries and we have unions for most creative professions. Design is both a strength within the creative industries but also a catalyst to develop a flourishing ecosystem to support creativity and culture."
Zviad Mchedlishvili, Executive Director, Creative Georgia.
To initiate the process of turning Tbilisi into a Creative Hub and developing an ecosystem for design the city, I was asked to facilitate a Design Policy Workshop. Using a prepared map of the elements of a Design Ecosystem I guided policy-makers, civil servants, creatives, small business owners and enterprise associations through the process of identifying key stakeholders in the city and exploring the current strengths and weaknesses of the ecosystem. Consequently, the participants co-created a nine-point action plan with one recommendation for each component of the Ecosystem:
Host matchmaking events between the Union of Designers and the Entrepreneurs Association to foster collaboration.
Integrate design coaching into the business support training offered by the Ministry of Economy's Tech Park and FabLab.
Develop a scheme for urban designers to apply for permits to showcase their work in unused spaces in Tbilisi.
Engage with foreign investors (like Goethe Institute, British Council and Alliance Française) to sponsor design initiatives.
Identify a small number of smart specialisation sectors within the creative industries based on data to consolidate government support.
Launch 'Design Vouchers' co-funded by the Ministries of Culture and Economy to support small business owners to invest in design for the first time.
Collect data on the creative industries and design to demonstrate the economic impact and identify smart specialisation sectors.
Extent the concept of 'Scientific Picnic' where universities have open days to showcase science projects to 'Creative Picnic' to showcase creativity and design.
Facilitate trade missions for Georgian designers to export their services abroad.
At the end of every speech, the Roman Senator, Cato the Elder, finished with "Carthage must be destroyed". This became a mantra and Carthage was eventually destroyed. Ragnar Siil has adopted a similar approach stating at the end of his speeches that "Culture matters!". I thought I would now adopt my own call to arms signing off that "Design is a driver of user-centred innovation" until this is recognised across Europe and around the world.