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Supporting young creatives in Thessaloniki: A bottom up approach
*Nicholas Karachalis is Lecturer and Researcher in
Cultural/Tourism Development and the City
In the creative sector, opportunities exist but young professionals face a difficult reality and multiple barriers. As a result, a group of people from within the creative community decided to take action. In partnership with the municipality and other actors they started the Creativity Platform1 (CP). The CP soon started operating as a broker for the creative community. Working as a non-profit organisation, it created conditions of trust and developed capacity-building activities and direct support (seminars, workshops, matchmaking events, etc.) for the city’ s young creatives. This has meant that workers, entrepreneurs, start-ups and existing businesses in the cultural and creative industries sector have been able to access support. The municipality has been supportive. It has used the ideas, it has acted as a co-organiser in events and has created a feeling of trust among the members of the CP within local strategies. But it has also understood when to step back and let things happen.
Since its inception five years ago the Creativity Platform has delivered an interesting range of initiatives which, taken together, have started to grow jobs from the ground up. Some of these are highlighted here. The practice is of particular interest to other EU cities seeking to gain economic, social and cultural value from freelancers and micro enterprises operating in the creative industries. It demonstrates that, even in the midst of catastrophic economic situation, good things can grow.
Governance factors: It’s all about capacity building, stakeholder involvement and trust
The way Creativity Platform works has had a very positive effect on the younger generation of creative professionals in Thessaloniki. The ‘bottomup’ mentality creates conditions of trust that a public sector initiative or a private office would not necessarily be able to create. At the same time the city supports the initiatives in various ways: as a co-organiser of its events, by providing space for meetings or seminars, by ensuring publicity (e.g. broadcast of their activities through the municipal TV channel) and by committing itself to implement the ideas that have been included in the Local Action Plan (LAP) of the URBACT My Generation at Work network5. One of the most recent steps at the beginning of 2015 taken by the municipality was the agreement signed with the Anna Lindh Foundation for the support of Creative Entrepreneurship and Social innovation6. The LAP will include some of the been acting as members of the Local Support Group. For some of the final beneficiaries the effects are significant: Christianna Vei (27 years old) is a typical example: she and her sister started their own studio as crafters and make shoes – her parents were in the same business and they decided to revive their parents’ business. “Our shoes are made in a very traditional way by hand, therefore our production is limited. Most of our sales are made through the Internet to other countries such as the UK and although demand is high, it is still difficult to make a living … The main difficulty is linked with the fact that there is no information/ mentoring or networking opportunities with other young entrepreneurs. Until my involvement in the Creativity Platform and my presentation during the My Generation at Work network’s workshop I hadn’ t realised that this kind of support was available. The unemployment office programmes are of no use to me … ”
Why is this working and what are the threats?
Unlike some of the support structures for job generation for young people, this particular effort is making a difference for young creative professionals in Thessaloniki. In Greece most decisions are made based on a top-down approach but the development of the Creative Economy sector of Thessaloniki is following a different path. The CP became an intermediary for new partnerships, while the end-users are mostly young professionals who access support to meet employers or to work with each other. In addition, as young creative professionals are usually extravert and willing to co-operate, the city has much to gain. However, change management within the CP is not easy. Poor decisions could lead to ‘institutionalisation’ and thereby threaten existing group dynamics. It is an open group, there is no hierarchy or operational chart. This loose structure and informal approach are success factors. It may be difficult to develop and grow the platform and maintain this.
Το Creativity Platform στις αρχές Μαΐου θα βρίσκετε στη Ρίγα της Λετονίας στα πλαίσια του Urbact City Festival για να παρουσιάσει το έργο του, αλλά κυρίως για να προβάλει τη δημιουργική κοινότητα της Θεσσαλονίκης.