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Engaging creative communities

Vassilis Charalampidis is a founding member of BIOS Exploring Urban Culture, BIOS Romantso, the first creative hub of Athens, Greece, and a founding member and president of the board of the European Creative Hubs Network Association, along with partners from all over Europe and over 300 members in 36 different countries.

– So what is a creative hub?

Usually, what I say to people, I mean to friends, is “I have no idea”. We have been trying for a while to define with something like a short paragraph what we are. So a creative hub is a place either physical or virtual, which brings great people together. It’s a convener, providing space and support for networking, business development, and community engagement with the creative culture and tech sectors. Hubs may differ in size, shape, and focus on activities. But all of them produce cultural and creative value for their local ecosystems and the wider creative ecosystem. This is the very first definition that we created. And we have been adopting this definition from time to time.

But the significant bit, and what always stays the same, is the reason for existence,  why do we exist. We need to remember that we are there for our communities, we are there to provide support for our members, and for our beneficiaries or our close families. To facilitate research in all relative matters. And of course, to open up the topics to wider audiences, but also always promote new talents, new skills, and all the amazing people that make us.

So that’s the most important.

Briefly the creative hub models, we are totally different. And that’s what makes us strong. So, a creative hub can range from a rather really small structure to a really big one. We come in all different shapes and sizes, and can be described in many different ways, collectives, cooperatives, labs, incubators, and we can be starting more by or online.

Let’s see some of the forms of it. We are like an open collective of a small group of creative people and informal structure, sharing an office, sometimes it’s, that’s pretty much it. Or we can be like a large scale, similar to a cultural centre, but also hosting a community which is different, we can be a specific cluster, we can be an online platform, of course, we can be dispersed over a neighbourhood or are wider.

We have so many different forms. That’s really exciting and really good because we can achieve different things. But we have to be a community, a network, we have to be able to facilitate our differences. And that’s something that we are also facing as a challenge at all times.

We can be for profit or not for profit, we can be private, we can be a social venture, we can be something like charitable venture, so anything at all, and then about sectors, what to say about sectors, where identify all the CCS sectors, and I think that most of the jobs today and facilitate every single sector, so interdisciplinarity is really varied within hubs. But of course, you have all kinds of sectors covered, which is really good, and there are sub-hubs that also kind of focus and specialize, which is also something great. All the hubs have special offerings and services for their members. And sometimes the service is confusing us in what we are.  Sometimes we fail to define ourselves. And we say we’re incubators or we’re not, or we are co-working spaces, and we’re not where we are. But that’s not important. The important thing is that we’re building communities, live communities, dynamic communities, and we live with them, and we grow with them. That’s really important, I think, and it’s within the DNA of every single one of us. And that’s amazing.

Talking about creative hubs we have been struggling to understand also where the hub culture comes from, and the history of cultural structures. And by reading through a bit I understood that there had been a lot of changes over time. So where does the idea of such a space like a creative hub come from?

I think around the ‘50s, during this period of time, local governments established big institutions, which are now called museums. So they say that the museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public with which it acquires conserve, research, researches, communicates and exhibits for purposes of study education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment. This is their kind of mission statement. It’s really interesting, but you can see, instantaneously the differences from us, because they are really big and rigid organizations. That’s why they are the oldest and the most established. Then around the ‘70s, the private sector started gaming into the cultural structures, and there was a radical change. They wanted to compete with the state and the museums. So they established a new type of cultural structure, which was called a cultural centre. What is a cultural centre again, from their definition? The Cultural Center is an organization building or complex that promotes culture and arts. Cultural centres can be neighbourhood community arts organizations, private facilities, that governments support, or activists run. So again, you can instantaneously see the difference. The presenting and representing art. And that’s pretty much it. But that’s not what defines a creative hub.

So it’s really important to think about our DNA, and what differentiates us because what I like to say is that we are the new type of cultural structure.

We’re coming today, and we are bringing a difference to relevant sectors and industries. So

this is not our definition. I tried to replicate their way of talking and defining themselves in order to see how we are different. So, a creative hub is an organization building or area, (I see similarities here) that host culture and creative professionals. So they’re not just showcasing, they’re part of our internal structure. that’s really important. A creative hub can be neighbourhood community arts organizations, private facilities, government-sponsored, or archivists-run. Of course, it doesn’t mean that by being a hub, you can be a museum or a cultural centre.

There is a difference. And we should kind of advocate for the difference, we should promote that difference. And also, we should work for the difference. We should keep that in our mind, I think it is really important.

One other aspect that for me is really important, and makes us again, different, It’s something that is again taken for granted.

Usually, when you’re talking about cultural structures, you see in the wording itself, there is an issue.

They just mention higher culture. Like fine arts, performing arts, and that’s the main context and content. Usually, that’s not the case for us. We cover the full spectrum of activity from the cultural industries, to the creative industries, from the cultural sectors to the creative sectors. So we have the full spectrum, and that’s something good but completely different.t’s something that usually is taboo, especially for the cultural sector. It is really often unusual, but they don’t like the incorporation of the design or even programming. I think that we have to have in our minds really clear what brings us together. Because we are not competing with other cultural structures, we are part of a united ecosystem. But we have important differences. And we have to have it clear whenever we interact.

To begin with, we have all the structures that facilitate all kinds of core cultural expressions, we have liquid museums, the theatres, we have all those kinds of relevant structures. And then you have the people that make things happen. You have designers, architects, fashion designers, all kinds of designers, actually, all kinds of creative people, you have journalists. Journalists and writers of all kinds are part of our ecosystem, and also one of the sub-sectors that we often forget.

And all those people are scattered around a certain landscape. It’s like a living organism.

And even though they seem scattered around, they relate somehow to each other. But it’s not so apparent, but also to continue existing, and to grow, they need to interconnect in who will have this role in our modern society.

I think that we are the ones that should have that role. There should be organizations that interconnect all those kinds of levels of expression, and activity, and all the heritage that comes with and make one fabric, one united idea. And then, of course, to make them grow. You know, people are redundant. They don’t like change. But change is really important. It’s something that we hate but it also defines us.

And the reason that we came into existence, we were simply invented some years ago, recently. Because there is a real need for a structure that fits all. And creative hubs are the structures that fit all that us. Lastly, the most important thing I wanted to tell you about is the house. The essence of belonging is really important. But hubs want to belong also. We are a community, a unified community.

So again, what is the Network and why do we need to be all together?

Because we are facing common challenges. And we want our talent to have the opportunity to thrive globally. And that’s the only way to thrive anywhere today. We also want to innovate, and in order to innovate we have to have the insights. We need to know the best practices. We need to have the information we need to steal ideas. And the better way to steal it from the people doing something similar in all the rest of the world is the best place for getting new ideas. And of course, we need to generate new jobs for our peers because we are facilitating our ecosystem and the people around it.

The hubs are the lighthouse in each area of the local ecosystem. And we have to make that light brighter and stronger.

The European Creative Hubs Network is a nonprofit association with more than 300 hubs around Europe. Our peer-led network aims to enhance the creative, economic and social footprint of hubs and foster collaboration among them to promote innovation and creativity. Artists and creatives within the hubs have a safe space to grow, become empowered and connect with the wider ecosystem. This way our members share a platform for networking in order to create synergies and increase their impact on the cultural and creative sectors.

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