Eurasian Creaspace Networking–Interview with Chuan LI, Chinese cultural entrepreneur and researcher

Chuan LI is a Chinese researcher and cultural entrepreneur. For this World Exploration, he presents the project he coordinates: Eurasian Creaspace Networking.
Chuan LI is a researcher at Econcult of the University of Valencia and in the Culture Development Institute of Yunnan University. He participated in the last March 7th Creative Tracks Event organized in Paris by the Roberto Cimetta Fund on "Independent cultural entrepreneurs driving artistic creation". As a cultural entrepreneur he has worked on projects focused on stimulating cultural exchange between Asia and Europe, mainly between China and Spain. In 2016, Chuan organized and managed the international project Eurasian Creaspace Networking (ECN).
The project, supported by Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), focuses on small and mid-size creative spaces in the creative industries with a special attention on cultural planning approach. Eurasian Creaspace Networking (ECN) brought 5 European and 5 Asian cultural managers respectively to Kunming (China) and Valencia (Spain).
chuan li
Can you tell us about your background and work experience in the field of art and culture?
I’m researcher of cultural economics in the Econcult of University of Valencia and in the Culture Development Institute of Yunnan University;
I’m also a cultural entrepreneur, based between Valencia and Shanghai, dedicating to cultural exchange between Asia and Europe. Since graduating from Shanghai University, I worked as curator and educator in the China Art Museum.Shanghai for nine years. During this period, I finished master of economics at Shanghai Academy of Social Science. Now I am doing my doctoral thesis about innovation in museum organizations in the University of Valencia.
A recent project you have been working on is the Eurasian Creaspace Networking. Could you tell us more about it?
Eurasian Creaspace Networking is an international project supported by the 3rd edition of ASEF Creative Networks, co-organized by University of Valencia and Yunnan University.
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ECN aims to promote cultural and creative industries, theoretically and practically, in Europe and Asia through dialogues and networking among scholars, professionals, and policy makers, especially from Mediterranean and Mekong regions.
Small creative spaces as new phenomenon emerge throughout European and Asian cities recently. Although these scattering spaces seek for networks for survival and cooperation, most of the connections are within the same region instead of inter-continent between Europe and Asia. Therefore, it is significant to establish new intercontinental connections between Asian and European partners.
The representative from introduces cultural managers their business model in Zhu Ba Jie co-working spaces.
Small creative spaces have different organizational forms and niches. For example, they may serve as co-working, ecological transition and sustainability, public/private partnerships, social entrepreneurship and participatory and shared governance, but all of them are established for common missions to initiate cultural creativity and social innovation.
But theirs paths to creativity and innovation vary from cities, countries, and continents. In the context of creative spaces, there exist divergence between Asian and European societies. On the one hand, Asian spaces emphasize more on economic "efficiency", i.e. dedicating to an entrepreneur-friendly environment, start-up business incubator and forming a creative economy ecosystem. European one emphasizes more on social "fair", i.e. stressing on local heritage conservation, wide access to local artists and residents, public good and service supply and social inclusion etc.
it is meaningful to compare and learn from each other for achieving some sustainable space programs by identify common tools and methodology of autonomy of creative space; identify key questions such as financing, access credit, access to the market, mobility, entrepreneur incubation, innovation, in order to share governance capability and experience, especially from European and Asian perspectives, and enhance the effects of smart local cultural planning.
What kind of specific activities did you organize?
There are three major activities organized under the project.
First of all, six creative spaces in Kunming and nine spaces in Valencia were selected for study visits, wherein all participants can communicate directly with local cultural managers and entrepreneurs for experience sharing.
Secondly, a whole day round-table workshop is organized to gather project participants and local scholars, policy makers, and cultural managers to discuss the relevant topics about creative spaces in the cities of Kunming and Valencia respectively.
An Asian cultural manager is sharing experience with local cultural manager in the Arts and Science City of Valencia
Thirdly, virtual Reality (VR)-based documentary on the selected creative spaces and a publication is designed as the outputs of the project to illustrate best practices of local small and medium scaled space for culture, creativity and innovation. These VR documentaries will be published online soon. The achievements are embodied in three aspects: First, it established an effective channel and platform of Intercontinental dialogue and networks for local European and Asian cultural managers. Second, it documented and shared information about the organizational management, funding seeking, and managerial perspective of creative spaces and tackled the emerging problems involved in daily operation of these spaces. Third, it deepened mutual understanding of local cultural managers between Europe and Asia to some extent, and helped them to find out some potential collaboration in future.
How can a network support the work of small spaces, artists and cultural entrepreneurs?
Network supports the work of small spaces, artists and cultural entrepreneurs by complementing and sharing knowledge, information, contacts and market opportunity, which all can be regarded as the determinants of success for them. Many cultural entrepreneurs per se are artists, and many small spaces are artist-run studios. They cannot survive if they work alone. Network is a necessary condition and many spaces and cultural actors rely on network for developing their business and careers. However, such network usually is in the proximity of each other, and thus becomes homogeneous and limited. In consequence, the point is not how a network supports their work and instead, how to develop an expanded network for supporting the work of small spaces, artists and cultural entrepreneurs. Mobility, residency, study visit and seminars are good examples. For this reason, Eurasian Creaspace Networking might support creative spaces and cultural actors by expanding their networks between Asia and Europe.
Could you give us an idea about the local cultural sector in the Kunming region?
Kunming is the city where Yunnan University locates. It is the capital of Yunnan Province and the gateway city and “bridgehead” city of China to the Southeast Asia and South Asia. At the same time, Kunming is also a national historical and cultural city in the country, and one of the centers in the western China for tourism and commerce. There are 25 ethnic groups living in Kunming, and the diversity and richness of different ethnic cultures accumulate a profound foundation for the development of the cultural and creative industries. Now Kunming is positioned as the creativity-oriented city in both Yunnan Province and the west region of China, concentrating on cultural tourism, ethnic folk crafts, traditional culture and modern creativity, cultural consumption and artistic creation etc. In 2015, the municipal government awarded ten cultural and creative spaces for the very first time in order to encourage the scaling and professionalism of the creative spaces and the cultural industries in the city.
What are the main sources of financing for creative entrepreneurs in your area? How do they organize their activities?
Asian cultural managers visit local artist studio in Valencia
In China, the recent cultural policy advocates the integration of cultural industries and science & technology industries, as well as supporting creative industries by financial sectors, which directly encourages private fund from Internet firms and financial sectors to invest the cultural and creative industries. As a result, there is a large amount of risk funds that are seeking for potential creative entrepreneurial projects, which is particularly embodied in new media, sports, TV & movie, cultural tourists, private museums and creative hub so on. Although the central government launched a new initiate – China Art Funds – to support the creation and development of domestic art and cultural practices, a majority of funds are distributed among government-owned cultural institutions whilst independent creative entrepreneurs seek for financial supports through market mechanism, such as first and secondary art markets, art festivals, international mobility programs and so on.
Are there any factors that hinder the development of creative activities in your region?
There are, I think, several factors that may hinder the development of the creative activities in China overall. First, there is a lack of mature career development system for artists and creative entrepreneurs. Second, the influx of hot money and excessive speculation in the cultural and creative industries make cultural actors to focus on short-term profitability and neglect the quality of cultural and creative outputs, which isn’t beneficial to the creativity and innovation. Third, the international exchange and collaboration between Chinese cultural actors and their foreigner counterparts are still limited mostly because of language and cultural factors, which greatly hinder the internationalization of China’s cultural and creative activities and industries.
Talking about sustainability in art and cultural management: What is the role of creative industries in economic development and social integration?
Nowadays, innovation plays more and more determinant roles in the economic development and social integration. The creative industries can achieve economic development and social integration as innovation agents. On the one hand, the creative industries are consistent with a new model of economic development that relies on the creativity and innovation rather than resource-consuming or big financial investment, and hence, it has becoming more and more important under the knowledge and creative economy nowadays. The increasing investment and growing employment in this sector today are good example. On the other hand, the creative industries may also become important participants of social innovation in terms of its culture-oriented attributes, thus benefiting social integration.
Do you have any new projects coming up you would like to share? What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I am working with my doctorial thesis. The process of academic exploration is quite tough but enjoyable. Besides promoting and maintaining the platform of Eurasian Creaspace Networking, we are going to organize the 2nd two points of the Silk Road International conference in Valencia of Spain at the beginning of next year, which also aims to strengthen the exchange and collaboration between Asia and Europe in both academic and practical communities.
By Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio
Advertising and marketing communications, Audiovisual and interactive media, Creative industries areas, Design, Digital facilities, Fashion and textiles, Music, Performing arts, Photography and photo imaging, Visual arts


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