British Council Creative Economy

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3 April 2016

This is not a workspace, it's a home

Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson reflect on their experiences of planning and facilitating Creative Hub Making - a landmark gathering of Creative Hubs across Vietnam

British Council

As we walked into ADC Academy, the venue for Creative Hub Making, the first thing the Founder, Ta Minh Trai, said was, “This is not a workspace, it’s a home, we want you to feel that way. You can sleep here, you can sit on the floor, you can play.’ In Vietnam it is the custom to take off your shoes when you enter a home, so that is exactly what we did. This wonderful welcome set the tone in the informal atmosphere for the whole event. 

ADC Academy runs a successful semi-international studio where the profits are placed back into the hub. They are now wanting to capture investment to become an incubator for independent creative enterprises. It has only been going for two years but it has already outgrown the demand and is looking for new premises.

This is just one example of the incredible group of hubs that were part of Vietnam Creative Hub Making, who were so full of energy, belief and optimism.

The context that hubs in Vietnam are operating in is challenging. There isn’t the public funding support that you might access in the UK and in Europe. And yet, the Vietnamese people at the event were on fire. They are incredibly inventive in trying to forge futures that are about community, and not themselves individually, through whatever means they can do this.

There is also an incredible appetite for collaboration. The understanding is that by doing things together in Vietnam, they are much more powerful as they share and collaborate, therefore creating real value. In some of the work we’ve done in other regions some people tend to be a little bit more competitive and find it difficult to see the advantages of collective action.

Rebecca Shoesmith

Student artwork at ADC Academy

One participant that sticks in our minds is Hoang-Anh Phan who set up the first and only FabLab in Vietnam. Anh set up the FabLab in her grandmother’s house which she inherited and lives in. As with many hubs, financial sustainability is a problem so she is planning to open a café as another means to raise money. This also means she has to move out of the house. According to Anh her grandmother’s neighbours still have no idea what’s going on.

As with examples like Anh it was very refreshing that that majority of the room were women, and that these women were really powerful in forging their own and their society’s futures. This is incredible in the context of the sometimes male dominated nature of co-working hubs around the world. Also, with funding constraints a reality almost everywhere, hub-making is not easy, but lack of funding in Vietnam hasn’t stopped hubs from forging new futures. We all have a lot to learn from the Vietnamese.

As well as curating the overall event we were tasked with inviting UK hub-makers to share their experiences with the group. In doing this it was really important to us that “Team UK” wasn’t “Team London”, and consequently our creative players included Delphine Dallisonfrom MAKLab in Glasgow, Donna Holford-Lovell from Fleet Collective in Dundee and Adam Molyneux-Berry based in Cairo with iceHubs. This underlined the message that not everything of value originates in capital cities.

British Council

It seems in this century, many of the solutions to our most pressing concerns have got to come from the bottom up rather than the top down. Globally we are witnessing a new wave of energy and a passionate belief in building from the ground up. Though this a tough challenge, getting 40-plus positive young people together was powerful as they could see in each other to the potential to make significant collaborations to support their own development and growth.

 It does seem though that the ‘top down’ may be changing in Vietnam. We had representatives from the Vietnamese Culture Ministry attend and they are in the process of putting together their Creative Economy strategy. Discussions at the start of the event prompted them to add the supporting of creative hubs into the government strategy that will be put forward to the Prime Minister in the next few months. We were very heartened by that, and look forward to the next chapter in the story of Vietnam creative hub-making.