Why cooperate? – Examples of Activities within the Creative Sector – a panel discussion summary

by Magdalena Krasowska – Igras

 

The creative sector has been present in the awareness of the Western-European countries for twenty years now. Frequently, the creative sector is described as one of the branches of economy which preserves or even increases the speed of its development, and resists global inhibitions and market perturbations despite the crisis. What characterizes the process of the emergence of products of the creative sector and why has it gained on attractiveness and effectiveness? Cooperation.

Nearly all or even all products and services provided by the creative sector are the result of cooperation, though not the one traditionally conceived as teamwork, but intersectoral-interdisciplinary collaboration. That kind of cooperation involves the transfer of knowledge, skills and experience between different branches. The intersectoral collaboration allows for creating structures and mechanisms of cooperation which optimize the use of the most required characteristics, minimalize the weak sides and dangers, as well as mutualize and multiply the goods. In this way, creative energy and the multiplicity of perspectives are created. Products which are made in those conditions are able to fulfill the needs of the user/recipient and satisfy his or her expectations in the most accurate way.

The products of the creative sector based on the cooperation of parties fully reflect the idea of user-centered design, that is the design which focuses on the needs, wishes and limits of an individual/user. “The intelligent product design,” which meets the expectations of the everyday, and provides more satisfaction than complications, allows us to feel comfortable. It also makes us feel more happy and fulfilled, “taken care of”, or even … overindulged. The increase of our positive emotions for the producer will likely cause the desire to test his or her other products. Most likely, we will not be alone in our rave, and other people, who consciously try to improve the quality of their lives, will follow our footsteps.
It must be noted, however, that intersectoral cooperation is neither easy nor supremely profitable in our complicated reality. As Poles, we are accustomed to the frameworks of living that have been imposed on us many years ago by foreign systems of power and work organization. The restricted view of “the scope of duties”, the zero-one understanding of the rules of cooperation and competition, i.e., the win-lose mechanism instead of win-win mechanism), the lack of elementary communication skills and knowledge (especially related to the differences in value system) in private companies and public institutions – all that together results in our apprehension of cooperation as something difficult, even though we start to see some of its benefits.

“We are a society founded on conflict” – this means we are able to stand up and unite, but only under conditions of grave external danger which does not relate to the hereby delineated cooperation. We cannot talk with each other or look at the world from other perspectives than our own, we have problems with “putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes”, we often care only for ourselves or the good of our company/institution, and we do not notice the whole system of mutual dependencies and relations that exist around us.
How then to plan and execute cooperation when potential partners tend only to their individual interests and do not notice the added value of partnership, sharing of knowledge and contacts? The benefits stemming from teamwork are not instantly visible to everyone, while the hardships and conflicts can tip the scales in favour of skepticism. However, the financial profits – that is the finding of recipients and new outlets for commodities and services – are the tangible proof that the products of cooperation are more attractive, well-considered, accustomed to recipient’s taste, and, finally, simply more functional.

Here, another obstacle arises, namely that a part of the products of the creative sector (mainly related to design and industrial design) are considered as exclusive articles meant for a limited group of recipients. This opinion is not wholly supported by facts. It stems principally from the short period of the presence of creative sector in the global economy, the limited availability, the selected channels of distribution and the promulgation of solutions (of course depending on the geographical territory the discrepancies can be immense, for example between Poland and Scandinavia or other Western European countries).

The creative sector specializes in creating innovative solutions which are aimed at simplifying lives. In order to notice their value, one has to be conditioned to do so: the person should know his or her preferences, interest, needs and priorities, and be able to choose the most useful offers – in short one has to be an aware consumer.

The creative sector is based on the mutual work of many branches, and often, different sectors. In this context, the relations between artists, entrepreneurs, and academic environments with a contribution from the public sector and local authorities are especially important. The products of such cooperation are undoubtedly more valuable, however, because of the high costs of their manufacturing, they are available for a more limited group of recipients. In order to inspire and stimulate the appearance of new intersectoral structures, promulgate innovative solutions and minimize the costs of production, models of assistance for intersectoral cooperation arise.

In order to better depict the difficulties and benefits related to the cooperation, I will describe four cases from the local and Slovakian neighborhood. They are associated by:
– The subject and attitude: all projects draw from original sources of traditional design and use them in a totally different way to produce new, unexpected offers.
– The availability and promulgation: the domain of assumed solutions is their appropriable character and relatively low costs of adaptation.
– Intersectorality: all analyzed examples are diverse combinations of the creativity of artists, the commitment of non-governmental organizations, self-governmental financing and new business models.
– Entering the market and future plans: despite the diverse forms of promotion, big commitment, enthusiasm and passion, the described models of cooperation have not yet achieved commercial success.
– Environment and customers: building the positive atmosphere of the presence and demand for the products of the sector, as well as the possibilities of conscious choice of proposed solutions.

CASE 1: “An Artist Comes to… – the New Tourist Product: Nectary of Roztocze”

Nectary (miodnik) from Roztocze is a small ceramic vessel used for storing honey, designed by Bogdan Kosak workshop and produced thanks to the financing from Local Tourist Organization Roztocze – the association of members of local government, entrepreneurs and local activists who deal with tourism.

The account of cooperation: The association aids all forms of tourist activities in Roztocze, particularly those promoting the region and its attractions. The development of tourism also constitutes one of the forms of economic stimulation and is the pretext to boost the interest in the region and increase the number of visitors. Thus, it is a method of improving the financial situation and creating new workplaces. The association works on establishing Roztocze as a brand founded on unique cultural-environmental values “so that tourists (…) feel that everything which surrounds them comes from the heart, ideas of the region and is related to its culture.” This is the origin of the idea to radically change the offer of tourist souvenirs. In most tourist information points, these souvenirs are limited to cheap and tacky, but sold on a massive scale, key rings, magnets, mugs etc. In order to look for authentic elements of the culture of Roztocze, namely everyday items, the association has begun to cooperate with the distinguished maker of ceramics items, Bogdan Kosak. Ceramics is a regional “specialty” and its most notable center was Tomaszów Lubelski where, in the 2nd half of the nineteenth century, a faience factory was situated. Kosak has previously collaborated with the local government on replicating the so-called “teacup of Tomaszów.” He decided, however, to get involved with a tourist organization because, as he said, he “wanted something more”. He was offered to make a nectary, that is a vessel which harks back to the tradition of the bee-keeping basin in Roztocze. The project also used a design of the cut-out from the southern Lublin region.

Who paid for it? The association paid for the manufacturing of the nectary. It is in 70% financed from the funds of the local government and the contributions of members-entrepreneurs, and derives additional revenues from business activity: tourist information point and publishing.
The nectary has become a tourist curiosity and was met with interest from the environment of ethno-designers. Unfortunately, the venture hasn’t become a commercial success for the association: the series of 100 nectaries hasn’t been sold out yet due to the fairly high cost of purchasing (45 PLN). The project, however, turned out to be a very positive experience for the artist. His work was appreciated by Roman Rak, an entrepreneur from Tomaszów Lubelski, who decided to manufacture a new gadget for his company. It was to be something modern, outstanding and surprising for the contractors around the world. In result, a new, improved version of the “teacup of Tomaszów” was created and reserved by the company, and along with it another model of cooperation between an artist and a businessman.

Is it worth it and why? Commercial aspects of business: The manufacture of a local tourist product increases the chances of promotion for the whole region, both in the designer environment and among the common public who constitutes potential tourists; it is also important in a mental/psychological sense for the residents of the borders of Poland – “finally someone has heard about us”.

What next? The association expects it would be possible to take advantage of one of the UE programs as part of a new financial perspective, especially to use funds allocated to the “soft” projects or non-investment projects of social character. One of the ideas for developing business involves creating a traditional craft-hiking trail. In this way, the activities of the local folk artists could be promoted and subsidized. The association is currently working with different artists on various concepts of cooperation and wider distribution and propagation of fashion on local products. It would also be desirable to engage in the propagation of the local government which, due to its national and international connections, could become the natural ambassador of such venture. One of the ideas for developing business is also taking advantage of the crowdfunding model.

CASE 2: “Free the Project” („Uwolnić projekt”)/ The “Based in Warsaw” Association (Stowarzyszenie „Z siedzibą w Warszawie”)

The account of cooperation: For the small, but vigorously developing non-governmental organization, the cooperation was from the beginning a basis for the achievement of plans and objectives. With time, it has become a pleasant rule. Currently, the cooperation between public non-governmental institutions, artists and small entrepreneurs is perceived as a key to success. The described project was organized in conjunction with State Ethnographic Museum and the representatives of the creative sector, that is designers and craftsmen. At the first stage, the designers entered the warehouses of the Museum where day-to-day products made by Piotr Szacki had been collected. A set of stools, tables, shoes, etc. were characterized by: everyday use, natural forms, handmade origin and the fact that they allowed for direct relation between the user and the artist. Basing on these products, the creative teams (designers and craftsmen) cooperated to plan the prototypes of the idea of the product’s development and the technological process. In the final result, the teams prepared the projects of seven objects which were released on Creative Commons licence for commercial use by designers and craftsmen.

Who paid for it? Commercial aspects of business: The association does not conduct business activity and it does not possess other personal funds, hence the partnership with State Ethnographic Museum and a donation from The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for designing the project and concept of production.
The individual artisanal work is much more expensive in comparison to the mass production. Due to that, the authors of the project were aware from the beginning of planning and execution, that the price of the projects can be a barrier for their propagation and further production. Thus, one of the main concepts during the product brief’s preparation was to assure the relative low costs of its production. In result, the prices oscillate between 150 to 650 PLN. So far, the prepared documentation aroused moderate interest of craftsmen and customers. In order to widen the group of potential purchasers of the described objects, some of the projects have been prepared in such a way so as to facilitate the making of a whole series of objects and taking advantage of the so-called “economies of scale” by craftsmen.

Is it worth it and why? The project in conjunction with actors (public institution, III sector, artists, craftsmen) is highly satisfactory, carried out in a participatory manner and consulted by a big team. Noteworthy, the partners are immensely enthusiastic about the cooperation and the power of the mutual inspiration.

What next? After a year of implementing the project, the association is in the process of planning promotion and continues to work hard. One can see the films from the whole process of making the project on the website uwolnicprojekt.org. The association is also planning to prepare a map of craftsmen so that the users interested in a particular object can order it at a craftsman from their near neighbourhood. The offer is especially aimed at persons who favour the rules of slow life. This is an attempt at convincing people to make conscious choices: ordering products “at a nearby workshop” and releasing a good neighbourly energy in the public space. The time is a key aspect of the venture: in order to stimulate a demand for such products, it is required to lead a multi-layered information campaign and build the whole process of creating needs for the presence of beautiful objects and items of traditional, cultural value.

CASE 3: Agnieszka Fornalewska

The account of cooperation: After a dozen years of education and employment in the Great Britain, Agnieszka Fornalewska came back to Poland in 2005 in order to work as an interior designer. The first experiences in the home country revealed a niche in the design industry which, back then, was in its infancy. A short time ago, the home market offered no or very few possibilities of choice to the potential costumer. In spite of a large number of young designers who struggled to survive and break through, big companies like Ikea monopolized the market. The companies/factories which dealt with the manufacturing of furniture and other multi-functional objects were not interested in cooperation with young designers who offered unconventional solutions. Possibly, they were afraid of the risks, including the financial one. Fornalewska decided to act on her own and so she opened a ceramics workshop and tried to find a manufacturer who could invest his or her time in producing her works. She knew that there is a growing preference in the society for new, functional and esthetic offers and so finding recipients would only be a matter of time. Trying to find a basis for her ideas, Fornalewska came a long way and has done a colossal work. On her way, she encountered many stereotypes relating to, among others, the profitability of production.

CASE 4: Ústredie ľudovej umeleckej výroby (Slovakia – http://www.uluv.sk)

The account of cooperation: The centre deals with the promotion, protection, documenting and assisting the development of the Slovakian folk art. It operates since 1945 in the following fields:
Professional guardianship over the most talented/promising craftsmen: consultations and supervisor’s aid in reaching a wider audience. The supervisors also deal with “hunting” – finding the most long-range persons who present their projects, especially during folk art festivals. Before the cooperation between the Centre and the new craftsman begins, a commission gathers in order to evaluate the previous output of the candidate with regard to the established standards. The approved craftsman/his or her products obtain a special signature –brand ÚĽUV.
The online encyclopedia of traditional craftsmanship: materials, the techniques of production and a database of manufacturers which provides information about potential coworkers for the interested parties.
Publishing activity: Crafts, Art, Design, a magazine aimed at the wide group of people who are interested in the theme of folk art and the contemporary design. Each issue deals with a separate theme: this year the subjects included wood, leather and a specific Slovakian design used on fabrics. Apart from the magazine, the Centre also publishes books which present the history of masters of a given craft and the instructions for making a given product.
Very popular, special offers for children – games, songs, workshops (ex. loom weaving, pottery) – activities which popularize the theme among the youngest recipients.
Arranging exhibitions: ÚĽUV hosts two galleries: one dedicated to old, traditional craftsmanship, the other related to the contemporary designs of professionals, amateurs and students (ÚĽUV also collaborates with universities and high schools).
Traditional Handicrafts Festival organized since 1990. Every year a large crowd of audience (including tourists) admires the products of Slovakian folk art. The international competition “Rings in Water” is organized and one person receives the title of the Master of Folk Art.

COMMENTARIES AND RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Global tendencies point to a certain revival of folk culture and its attractiveness, as well as its growing use in various contexts, also the production of ethno-design. Meanwhile, in Poland people are still ashamed of their peasant origins (it evokes negative connotations). The revival of tradition has started with the regional cuisine, and in this respect a lot of work has been done by Local Action Groups.
2. The lack of extensive view on raising a public awareness about the role and meaning of design in the public and private spheres is a typically Polish problem. New events promoting modern achievements in the trade have emerged: these are mostly small events financed to a large extent by local self-governments in grant competitions for non-governmental organizations. What is missing is a system approach and a cohesive concept which would include all acting persons potentially interested in their share of the design market.
3. Designers have, however, certain possibilities for acting and self-promotion. The technological boom has improved the access to information and multiplied the means of interacting (i.e. social networking sites like behance.net). A new specialization has emerged, namely design manager that, in the future, could become an intermediary between a designer and a manufacturer.
4. It is not only manufacturers (who are overindulged by easy and profitable orders) that resist cooperation. Designers also often remain ignorant of the utilitarian (functional) role of their concepts. Instead, they perceive themselves as artistic elite whose works should be indiscriminately accepted. The mutual respect, finding a common ground between designers and manufacturers are the key to comprehending that implementation of an innovative product will not squander the achievements of a company, but, on the contrary, it will strengthen its position on the market. This element is absolutely crucial in order to start cooperation. It requires a knowledge extending beyond a given trade and a wider perspective which would include the interests of all parties implicated in the process of cooperation.
5. Economic issues (wealth of clients and their place of residence) are one of the factors which influence the small interest in design products. The raising and building of consumers’ awareness, who are manipulated by the ubiquitous commercials and aggressive marketing, are decisive when it comes to demand for creative products.
6. Competitive advantage of local designers and manufacturers (in comparison to distinctly cheaper, ex. Asian) is grounded in simplified logistics, the possibility to create a diverse offer, and the quality of the made products.
7. The possible means of assistance to the budding designers could be coordinated by one institution which would deal with various forms of webbing, mediating in “matchmaking” (with the manufacturer), expanding the educational offer, e.g. apprenticeship in private companies. The activities of Institute of Industrial Design have been strongly contested.
8. The fashion for design should be generated by education on all levels (especially in comprehensive schools). Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education is not interested in developing the system approach and adding the elements of folk art and design to school syllabi.
9. The fashion for design could also be aided by financial funding/investments. “New distribution” of EU funds equals financing promotional materials which, due to the fairly low price and easy availability, are ordered in Asia. In consequence, large amounts of money, in Polish terms, are obtained by cheap suppliers of products of poor quality. If 1% of the planned 300 billion zloty was allotted for promotional materials made in Poland by means of folk design (even at the stage of enrolment in particular competitions), the whole market of ethno-design would be given a chance to use 3 billion zloty.
10. The presence of design products in the public sphere (shops, showrooms) would become an additional aid, both for designers and their potential customers. The high expectations of customers would force the manufacturers to verify their offers and diversify their range of products.

 

Translated by Aleksandra Bubiło