ASEAN Forum: Creativity is the driving force in economic growth

May 16, 2017 - 3:00 AM
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The creative industry in the Philippines will gain from ASEAN integration. believes officials from the Department of Trade and Industry. Photo by Bernard Testa/InterAksyon file.

The creative industry plays an important role in a country’s economic growth, says experts who participated in a forum organized by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in partnership with the Design Center of the Philippines. The engaging two-day series of talks entitled “ASEAN Creative Cities Forum and Exhibition” was held last April 26 to 27 at the BGC Arts Center in Taguig City.

The forum featured panel discussions from industry experts that included Prof. John Howkins, acclaimed author of the best-selling book “The Creative Economy”; celebrated Kenneth Cobonpue (Philippines), Anon Pairot (Thailand), Colin Sean (Singapore); and many more.

Panelists of the ASEAN Creative Cities Forum & Exhibition. From left: Colin Seah, Singapore-based architect and Ministry of Design’s Founder and Director; Prof. John Howkins, the acclaimed author of the best-selling book “The Creative Economy;” DTI Trade and Investments Promotion Group Undersecretary and ASEAN 2017 Committee on Business and Investment Promotion (CBIP) Chairperson Nora K. Terrado; Paolo Mercado, SVP for Marketing, Communication and Innovation of Nestle Philippines, and founding member of the Creative Economy Development Council of the Philippines; Andrew Erskine, Senior Associate at Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy; and Katelijn Verstraete, Regional Director for Arts and Creative Industries, British Council East Asia. Photo by Romsanne Ortiguero, InterAksyon.

According to DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, the goal of the event “is to channel these (creative) assets into innovation , employment, trade opportunities, and mobilizing it to drive each of the economies in the whole Southeast Asian region.”

He added, “This also means cultivating opportunities for free-flowing collaboration , exchange, and trade among the ASEAN countries, intended for the development of a unique and creative ASEAN.”

On the other hand, for Rhea Matute, executive director of the Design Center of the Philippines said, “We really are committed to develop the creative quotient of the Philippines, and also using this ASEAN opportunity to start partnerships between Philippines and ASEAN neighbors to come up with a more collaborative inter-regional kind of discussion.. This is really an important opportunity by which our designers, our creatives, can branch out beyond our borders to have a more open system of having dialogue with our ASEAN partners in view also of the ASEAN integration.”

“From the perspective of Design Center, we think the creative industry has a lot to gain with the ASEAN integration because it’s a movement of people, it’s a movement of ideas. ASEAN integration will open up borders and really open it up for the creative economy. We feel that the Creative Cities Forum and Exhibition could start the ball rolling for a more concrete ASEAN integration for the creative industries.”

Another goal of the event is to initiate the movement to have at least one Philippine city to be a member of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be part of its Creative Cities Network (UCCN).

The network, currently formed by 116 members from 54 countries covering seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts; is said to be created “to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.”

In a previous statement from the department, DTI Trade and Investments Promotion Group Undersecretary and ASEAN 2017 Committee on Business and Investment Promotion (CBIP) Chairperson Nora K. Terrado was noted to say, “This is also a key initiative to usher the membership of at least one Philippine city in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network by 2018 and further support the development of the 2017 Creative Industries Roadmap.”

Currently, four cities in the ASEAN region are members of the UCCN namely: Bandung and Pekalongan in Indonesia; Phuket, Thailand, and Singapore.

For the Philippines, Matute shared that a lot of local government units have already expressed interest including Cebu, Makati, Baguio, Angeles, San Fernando, and Dumaguete. Moreover, being part of the network would yield favorable results in tourism, business investments, and even migration.

Meanwhile, here are some of the takeaways from the ASEAN Creative Cities Forum and Exhibition:

Top designers Kenneth Cobonpue (Philippines), Anon Pairot (Thailand), Colin Sean (Singapore) shared their success stories during the ASEAN Creative Cities Forum and Exhibition. Photo by Romsanne Ortiguero, InterAksyon.

1. Working in the creative industry is a lucrative career.
In the Philippines, the issue on the lack of importance to art and culture also persists. Paolo Mercado, SVP for Marketing, Communication and Innovation of Nestle Philippines, and founding member of the Creative Economy Development Council of the Philippines, shared during the event’s press conference that some art schools lack in enrollees because parents would say, “You’re not gonna make money in the arts.”

Contrary to this notion, Mercado said that it is actually a career with a good direction. “Career in the creative industry is not only a sustainable career, but you can make a very good living out of it if you are good at it.”

2. The road to success is challenging yet fulfilling.
One of the panel discussions included success stories of designers including Cobonpue, Pairot, and Seah. Although world-renowned, their journey to success were full of hurdles.

Seah, a Singapore-based architect and Ministry of Design’s Founder and Director, shared about the “Die Die Must Try” attitude in their culture.

“Behind those (successes) are hardships..It’s that sense of determination..It’s primarily about how we have gotten here. It is the tremendous “Die Die” attitude that made us get here.”

3. Always look around you, and be original.
“Inspiration comes from everywhere,” Cobonpue noted, as he shared the inspiration behind his award winning designs. He was inspired basically from everything–an empty Coke can, baskets, fishing nets, and the list goes on.

Also, Cobonpue learned the importance of being different from the usual. He shared, “My mother is making this very, very unique kind of furniture made out of rattan, which is very original at that time, and still is. So she invented this technique of working with rattan so at a young age, I’ve learned the value of being original, of being unique.”

“After schooling, I came back to Cebu, and said that I have to create something very unique, something different in the world of design not only in the Philippines but in the world,” Cobonpue added.

4. Standing up with your decisions.
Cobonpue had been recognized quickly with his talent but after a few years, he encountered a challenge. “I began to do something different, which was to put everything under my name, under my brand. This is the model that I still follow today.”

“For about two or three years, I insisted companies who bought from me that they had to label it under my name not theirs. I lost a lot of clients. For about three years, the factory floors were empty. Soon, I got a different set of clientele who normally don’t buy from the Philippines who normally buys from Italy. They started to come and carry my furniture,” he continued, and added that he has shops in different countries now, including Switzerland, Portugal, Greece, and Costa Rica among others.

5. Government plays a big role in developing the creative industry.
Cobonpue thinks that the government should put more effort in making the industry grow.

“I think it’s interesting because we come from the opposite ends of where we, in Thailand and Philippines, we always feel that the government is not doing enough but in Singapore the government is doing maybe too much to push design,” he said.

We’ve learned to get by with minimal help from the government although I wouldn’t be here if not with the help of DTI and Design Center so there is some kind of government intervention. What’s needed though is a policy, a national, I don’t know, concern. It should become a priority. Design is a competitive advantage which should be a priority; that we should direct every effort towards maintaining that advantage,” he added.

6. School plays an important role, too.
“If I recall my own experiences, I think almost did not end up here (creative industry) because there was no exposure to creative pursuits when I was a child,” lamented Seah.

In light of this, he suggested that design education can be introduced in the education program of schools.

“At the school level, I’m not saying you need to train everyone to be a creative but if you introduce design education at an early stage, then what you do is two fold: you unlock any potential for people who may be seeking these professions. Secondly, you train and educate people who will eventually become patrons and consumers..then it becomes a cycle. You have good creatives, and you get people who can pay for creatives.”