MANILA, Philippines - June 2011: I was sent on an official international spy mission to infiltrate another country’s design headquarters. Well, at least that’s what I’m going to say in my future autobiography.
But if you promise to keep this off the record, here’s the real deal: I was asked by Senator TG Guingona to interrupt my supposedly work-free Bangkok trip to visit Thailand’s world-class creative hub as an official representative of the Philippines. My marching orders were to see what we could learn from their country about how they support their local creative industry. That’s how I found myself on a special tour of the Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC).
Now, I could go all starry-eyed and preachy on you about all the wonderful things I saw and learned, but I won’t. Let me just give you an ADHD-proof list of three things I am now hell-bent on achieving for the Philippine creative industry.
1. Build a creative space that’s accessible to the public.
Currently, there are two top contenders for the most popular creativity hub in the Philippines: 1) any area near a socket in a coffee shop, and 2) your room of choice in the house (usually your bedroom… in your parents’ house).
Okay, turn on your psychic vision with me on this one: Imagine us having a design center that’s just 10 cartwheels away from an MRT station, perhaps even nestled right inside a mall. It’s just this huge, creative space where you can get inspired, learn, work, or simply hang out. (Did I hear a sigh of longing?)
The TCDC was nowhere near boring or culturally highfalutin, as one might expect from a museum-meets-library-meets-lounge-area. On the contrary, the flow of people never waned throughout the entire day. When I was in the library section, there were at least 60 people inside. (No spottings of self-proclaimed elite hipster groups either.)
This says a lot about how Bangkok’s creative scene has already found a natural, comfortable place in its people’s daily lives.
2. Establish a body that continuously challenges Filipino creatives to create for the society.
We tend to think of design and creativity as purely aesthetics, borloloy, or “pa-Photoshop-Photoshop.” But at its core, great design is about solving problems — and if there’s a nation with a surplus of problems to solve, that would be us.
However, designing for the country and social change has been relegated to thesis topics (brownie points for social relevance!), or for the brazen few who are dedicated enough to create actual businesses out of it, such as Team Manila and Ideals Creatives.
But what if we have a regular government-initiated competition that constantly challenges designers to come up with design solutions for the country’s problems? Let’s say the theme for 2012 would be “Design Thinking for the Department of Tourism.” We could open the floor for creatives from different fields — architects, filmmakers, app developers, even game developers, if you will — to pitch their ideas for how the DOT can improve its public touchpoints.
Or if you want something less complicated: right off the bat, just hold a web design competition to revamp our government agencies’ websites. I mean… WordArt? In 2011? Seriously?
The point is, let’s encourage not just creativity, but inspire creativity for the country.
3. Create a solid program that recognizes the nation’s creative industry as a social and economic driver.
The United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has long been saying that the creative industry does not only drive innovation and trade, but will continue to create more and more jobs in the coming years.
You have the UK Design Council, which is the grandfather of it all, having been around since 1944. There’s the Korea Institute for Design Promotion, created in 1970. The Thailand Creative & Design Center was officially established in 2004. DesignSingapore is one of the most aggressive these days (the current strategy being luring foreign talent into settling in their country).
It’s like everybody else in the world got the creative economy memo — while ours was sent through snail mail and somehow, unsurprisingly, got bottlenecked at customs.
Come on, Philippines, isn’t it about time we caught up?
I know I said I wasn’t going to get preachy; obviously, I lied
In case you’re thinking I’m this idealistic kid with delusions of spy missions and true reforms in the country, well, you’re partly right. It’s all a matter of perspective. You may see a three-item, far-out dream list; while this, to me, is a to-do list. A collaboration between policy makers and designers has already been set in motion, and I’m intent to turn these long-term goals into a short-term ones.
One of the strongest points of Filipinos is our innate ingenuity and resourcefulness. We are a people who don’t just make do with what we have; we make a whole production out of it.
So let’s claim this creativity, own it, and commit to it. If we do this right, we’ll have the other countries’ design councils clambering to step up their game. Because you can have all the resources in the world, but at the end of the day, what’s that compared to the natural creativity running through Filipino veins?