Creative hubs play an important role in the creative ecosystem of a country or a region.
Whether they are set up for social or commercial pursuits, creative hubs often incorporate creativity and innovation to solve 21st-century world challenges.
Often, they frame a problem or provide a solution through out-of-the-box and unique perspectives.
Some of the most striking initiatives for the arts industry currently involve the wholesome works of creative hubs in harnessing technology and artistic creativity towards education, awareness and collaboration.
The British Council defines creative hubs as “a place, either physical or virtual, which brings creative people together. It is a convenor, providing space and support for networking, business development, and community engagement within the creative, cultural, and tech sectors.”
Some creative hubs are run by individuals and others, by small groups of people. There are also creative hubs that are as large as 3,000 people.
According to Lai Del Rosario, the British Council Head of Arts and Creative Industries, creative hubs “are often spaces for experimentation, artistic expression, peer-to-peer learning and incubation of ideas.”
Examples of creative hubs include performing arts spaces, arts and craft businesses (yes, even startups), online arts and culture media platforms (like Eksentrika!), and any for-profit and non-profit organisations that dabble in creativity and innovation.
“One of the most significant aspects of the creative hub is its ability to pool together like-minded creatives and businesses that then collaborate – resulting in a symbiotic relationship that brings revenue to both the creative and the business while enriching the community by providing it with a new creative experience.”
He adds that it’s important to look at creative hubs not just for social development but also as a legitimate avenue for economic impact. More so as borders reopen, and people are seeking authentic experiences and interactions.
“All these happen at creative hubs.”
Unfortunately, many remain unaware of creative hubs and the positive impact hubs create for communities, as well as the integral role it can play in the growth of the nation’s creative economy, catalyst for social good and key drivers to well-being of cities.. Due to this, many are in lonely battles to keep their doors open, and struggling to remain financially sustainable.
The British Council as the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, has for over a decade been working with its global network, local and international partners to deliver Creative Economy programmes to better understand the ecology of creative hubs in different regions, their challenges and opportunities, and provide support for diverse creative hubs to thrive.
In Malaysia, British Council worked on supporting Malaysian creative hubs via the Hubs for Good programme between 2018 – 2021 by enhancing the capacity of hub leaders through experiences and exchanges, raising the public’s awareness of creative hubs, and advocate to stakeholders the positive impacts that creative hubs make.
British Council Malaysia partnered with Yayasan Sime Darby, Universiti Malaya, 3 Malaysian Master of Arts research scholarship recipients – Clarissa Lim, Ali Alasri and Husna Khaidil, as well as local and UK creative hubs experts to deliver the following:
As the common challenges of the creative industry such as, lack of funding, lack of policy support and investment, lack of awareness and appreciation of their role and working in silos are further exacerbated by the pandemic, it has accelerated the need for a shift towards digital solutions, creative innovations, and new connections.
Fast-forward to 2022, creative hub networks across the world are looking ahead to recover, build back and explore new opportunities. To facilitate that, the British Council is connecting its Southeast Asia (SEA) and UK creative hubs’ networks through its new UK-SEA Creative Hubs Connect programme.
In partnership with Me.reka and Baltic Creative CIC as co-collaborator hubs from Malaysia and the UK respectively, the programme will also see to the development of a more sophisticated digital networking platform that is and will continue to be driven, curated and managed by the hubs community themselves to serve as an interactive bridge between the UK and SEA’s creative communities.
Through British Council’s support, the new digital networking platform called Mereka Connect expands its reach to the wider SEA region and the UK.
For the British Council, networking among creatives, especially across borders is crucial to further develop and sustain a creative ecosystem.
“In creating the Creative Hubs Malaysia website in 2018, our initial aims were to; gather knowledge and provide a better understanding of the hub’s ecosystem in Malaysia, build a directory of hubs in Malaysia, and provide resources and share knowledge. Our longer-term goal for Mereka Connect is for it to continue to be a resource and learning tool for creatives and hubs to seek knowledge, but also a networking tool for creative communities and hubs in Malaysia, Southeast Asia, and the UK to connect, exchange, seek opportunities and foster collaborations,” says Florence Lambert, the British Council’s Head of Arts & Education.
Rashvin, who is leading the charge for Mereka Connect with his team at Me.reka, pointed out that the majority of innovations that happened during the pandemic-induced global lockdowns, had occurred through collaborative efforts within established networks.
“As we come out of a devastating period, the UK-SEA Creative Hubs Connect programme provides chances for the creative ecosystem of SEA and the UK to reconnect, pool their resources, and hopefully find new ways to collaborate. Through this network, we hope hubs will discover new streams of income, opportunities to grow their business, and attract new audiences to community build or new followers from outside of their local communities.”
The core feature of the improvised website remains the same, which is to list creative hubs and their offerings. The innovation, however, lies in the platform’s ability to enable greater engagement between the regular public in finding creative hubs and promote interaction and collaboration between creative hubs in SEA and the UK.
Apart from serving as a tool to book spaces and register for events offered by creative hubs, there are also resources for creatives to upskill themselves. As community members, registered hubs will also have access to a series of networking events hosted by Me.reka and Baltic Creative CIC.
Since its beta launch in July 2021, Mereka Connect has onboarded more than 80 partner hubs in Malaysia. More creative hubs from SEA and the UK will soon be incorporated into the list with assistance from the British Council and partner hubs such as Hin Bus Depot (Malaysia), 141 Social Enterprise (Thailand), Phố Bên Đồi creative studio (Viet Nam), Common Room PH (Philippines) and Indonesia Creative Cities Network (Indonesia) from the SEA, and Make CIC from the UK.
“Me.reka will continue to play a vital role in co-organising this programme and will be working to onboard as many SEA and UK creative hubs onto the programme while ensuring they have a seamless experience on the Mereka Connect platform.”
Meanwhile, the Liverpool-based Baltic Creative CIC is the lead UK partner to co-curate content on the platform and providing input from the UK sector. Baltic Creative CIC was setup specifically to support the growth of Creative & Digital Industries in the Liverpool City Region and has been working alongside the British Council on international projects for nearly a decade. It is part of its European Creative Hubs Network project, which brings 80 UK and 200 EU hubs together to stimulate connections, collaboration and learning.
Current and relevant content for creative hubs and communities
The platform will feature free-to-access, current and relevant UK and SEA creative hubs news, blogs, reports, toolkits, research findings and opportunities.
Curated activities that facilitate networking and collaboration across the two regions
Me.reka and Baltic Creative will be hosting joint networking events to encourage UK-SEA hubs interactions and exchanges. The platform will also support an online forum via the Mereka Connect Community function.
Leverage the platform’s integrated digital solutions
Mereka Connect has been actively educating creatives on how hubs can leverage the platform’s integrated digital solutions and tools to benefit their hub operations.
Building a network of ecosystem players across SEA and the UK
Mereka Connect aims to build smart strategic partnerships with key creative economy ecosystem players that could open doors to new collaborations for their network of hubs in terms of new learning opportunities and business opportunities.