Commercials and promotion campaigns to support cultural industries
Creative industries development in modern European countries is inalienable from post-industrial economy. In Azerbaijan creative economy sector develops quite rapidly nowadays. One can say that there are already sufficient initiatives and small and medium businesses developing in the country that become more visible with every passing year. Creative unions are established, special art projects are implemented in relevant types of art, new private galleries and agencies are opened.
Of course, every country has its own development scenario for creative industries. Azerbaijan relies on multiculturalism which in its turn ensures various emerging cultural practices and also gives hope for both preservation of traditional culture and emergence of alternative income-generating cultural and creative activities.
Creative industries in Azerbaijan have long been represented with socio-cultural practices dominated by creativity on the edge of innovations, therefore, they have not always pursued commercial goals. It means, the bottom-line was not about income generation but development of new (or restoration of old) creative products. Besides, it was quite important to create a special atmosphere, comfortable environment for communication and new experience. But at the end of the day such initiatives are also part of creative industry as getting capitalized (from government or private support), they will be able to make significant contributions to the national economy.
Thus, creative industries appear to be a resource for development of regional socio-economic potential, an economic sector which directly impacts both development of socio-cultural life in regions and even their branding, i.e., creation of cultural identity, established and well-known images attributed to specific regions of the country. And this, in turn, means creative industries become a factor of modernization changes in modern culture of Azerbaijan.
One of the major tasks of creative industries development in the country appears to be searching for and supporting talents in all types of creative activities. It is talents, which Azerbaijan is rich in, that will form the new creative class and develop creative industries. And people who find and promote those talents facilitate promotion of cultural industries of Azerbaijan. It is the people we have talked to today.
Our first interlocutor is head of NGO Arts Council Azerbaijan, artist Dadash Mammadov.
- Idea to create the NGO emerged in 2005 when I graduated from German university and returned to Azerbaijan. I wanted to create something new in the country, something more creative that would complement activities of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Union of Artists. And now 10 years later I am pleased to say that Arts Council Azerbaijan that I established does not oppose but complements activities of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism which we successfully cooperate with. This is quite a positive fact because government support to creative industries is necessary and relevant everywhere and always. Because role of art in the economy today is quite higher than it was years ago, D.Mammadov begins.
- It's no coincidence that this year the first Global Cultural Summit was held in Abu-Dhabi (UAE). This event which is already said to be as important as the World Economic Forum in Davos was attended by representatives from over 80 countries. It was important and pleasing for me to be selected to participate in this tremendous event. By the way, organizers picked up participants on their own, there were no applications for participation at all. It means today Azerbaijan is known not only as the country with great potential but recognized on international arena.
The summit agenda included discussions on culture's role in addressing contemporary global problems, ways to preserve cultural heritage, methods of artistic community talents mobilization, potential joint projects implementation chances etc. Besides, it discussed high technologies impacts which often change essence of culture and cultural interactions worldwide. It also reviewed chances for potential projects implementation, sought for new funding opportunities for arts, support to creative activities and social development etc. Another important agenda topic was how to develop culture in the third world, how to help refugees to adapt to the environment and culture they feel foreign to. I especially would like to note the summit's format which was quite creative itself: for example, presentations were more like talk show and they were much more effective than standard speeches. Because such format implies regular exchange of views and live discussions.
The summit participants showed vivid interest in culture, music, cuisine and traditions of Azerbaijan, I received many questions about my country including questions about its history, traditions, founding principles of tolerance and multiculturalism. And outcomes of the summit will become visible shortly: we will have new international projects soon including inter-governmental ones as I had a chance to speak to officials from UAE Ministry of Culture.
By the way, for 10 years that Arts Council Azerbaijan exists we have been involved in many international events and projects and every such trip has been followed with new projects. For example, last year with US embassy support Arts Council Azerbaijan visited USA where we had a diverse cultural program and met with representatives of many cultural organizations. Upon return we implemented three projects in Azerbaijan.
Speaking about 10-year experience of Arts Council Azerbaijan, D.Mammadov noted:
- As of today, we are not just the most active NGO, but also have intensive cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, State Department of the Historical and Architectural Reserve of Icherisher and many government agencies. It shows the bottom-line - the government does give a hand which is very important for cultural industries development.
Our NGO implements 4-5 events in average and up to 9 ones in a month. This is a very good indicator. We cooperate with artists, photographers, poets, sculptures, i.e., all creative professionals. As to projects in Azerbaijan, I can speak for hours as they are really many. I would like to note the youth sector of Arts Council Azerbaijan that cooperates with young and yet to be known artists. Our objective is to find talents and help them become recognized genius not only in the country but beyond. We rely on their promotion of Azerbaijan through their creativity when representing the country abroad. Drawing school for children, Ceramics Centre and many other projects exist at the Arts Council Azerbaijan for a number of years.
As to international projects, Art Expedition is one of them - it is about collaboration between foreign and local artists. I mean, it's a kind of workshop. Within the project the foreign participants visit leading exhibition sites of the city, galleries, learn our traditions, music, applied art and cuisine. In short, they integrate in our daily life and get enriched with our culture. Such Art Expeditions result in expositions and exhibitions. Such projects have already been implemented together with Ukrainian and American artists.
We also closely cooperate with creative unions from CIS. We had four projects with embassies of Moldova, Ukraine and Lithuania. It has all been made possible because when I created Arts Council Azerbaijan in 2006, I also established a whole network of Arts Council with a long-term cooperation purpose. Today we have about 9 representations in CIS and other countries.
D.Mammadov pointed out that the best promotion of cultural industries is projects and participation in various events.
- The best way to introduce them is to do it through social media. No doubt that, posters, placards, specialized newspapers (we have our gazette called Art) also are effective. But in the modern world most people find it easier and more convenient to tap on the Smartphone screen to get all information they are interested in", he said.
D.Mammadov also touched upon what he believes are impediments for cultural industries development:
- Often there is no sufficient government support in facilitating various events. I am not talking about financial support but about organizational one as sometimes we have to go through many unnecessary paperwork and much similar unnecessary efforts to organize an event. I think, creative people need to have more freedom and privileges.
Besides, young artists need support as many of them cannot afford not only to rent a studio but simply to buy an easel. Prices on artistic appliances keep growing, for some reason they are charged with different duties and as a result, an artist cannot afford to buy even a canvas! People of art should not have such constraints! They need help including discounts for workshops purchase or rent. But in our country artists sometimes cannot afford even an improvised workshop in a garage because they need permission for that.
And, of course, copyright is a huge problem. In our country creative people are absolutely unprotected. As a result, more experienced and well-known professionals in art can suppress an idea of a young talent and then easily use it as their own. We need to address this problem.
I am sure that if creative people are allowed more freedom and better supported from the beginning, Azerbaijan will have large positive changes. People of arts, creative people are those bricks that form foundation of creative economy which in its turn becomes the most important element of the national economy, D.Mammadov.
Another our interlocutor is head of PR and Communication Department of YARAT Hokuma Kerimova.
YARAT title itself quite clearly describes main purpose of this NGO and is quite in line with the main theme of our project as in Azerbaijani this expression means "create".
- YARAT is an independent non-governmental organization established in 2011 by Azerbaijani artist Aida Mahmudova together with a group of other artists. The main goal of the organization is to provide professional support to modern art development in Azerbaijan and beyond, organization of festivals, workshops, master classes, training and education events aimed at promoting modern art among public.
One of YARAT's main objectives is education. The organization holds a number of master classes, workshops, cinema shows, literary evenings and regular meetings with outstanding professionals. Also YARAT deals with residence programs for artists.
In 2015 YARAT Modern Arts Centre was opened - it is the largest space of contemporary arts in the region that hosts both local and foreign artists' exhibitions. The main principle of the centre is further development of education programs and strengthening cooperation with the world-known artists, target audience and institutions. One can say that today YARAT Centre has become a kind of hub in the modern Azerbaijani arts, H.Kerimova says.
According to H.Kerimova, until 2000s cultural projects presentation perceptions considerably changed throughout the world. If in the past famous museums and galleries promoted themselves, today strategic PR approach plays an important role there. Besides, if in the past only large museums were on international arena, today due to professional PR strategy any gallery can present an interesting exhibition to the entire world.
- Since 2015 PR activities increased dozen times and not only because of what I have just said but because our activity went beyond exhibitions. I would say today modern arts perception experiences a new Renaissance. Only last year YARAT hosted 581 events attended by 37,000 visitors and this year we expect even more, H.Kerimova noted.
According to H.Kerimova, demand in PR in arts industry increased also due to increased number of festivals throughout the world. Each exhibition opening in YARAT invites Azerbaijani and foreign mass media outlets like The Art Newspaper, Art Forum, Flash Art International, Art Radar UK, Harper's BAZAAR, Forbes, Istanbul Art Newspaper, Canvas and others.
- It is important for us that all events in cultural industry in Azerbaijan are covered abroad too, therefore, we try to ensure foreign media coverage of each of them. It is also in line with one of YARAT's main goals which are enlightenment. It is difficult to promote in the modern world in general and cover cultural events in particular due to more information available to people. There are lots of media sources today and an average individual is overwhelmed with information. It makes delivery of the needed information to the target audience of an organization more complicated, H.Kerimova says.
According o her, as YARAT's target audience includes not only creative professionals but broader groups of people, information about all projects (both current and future) is delivered via various platforms and channels.
- Depending on the audience and the project, we decide where and how to inform about it. It is correct that today people get information through social media and so, we rely on them. But their audience are mainly young and middle aged people. But we need people of all ages: those who listen to the radio in the car, those who watch TV news while cooking in the kitchen, those who prefer printed media over web resources. Therefore, we are active in all areas, H.Kerimova says.
As we have already mentioned, one of YARAT's main goals is enlightenment. Therefore, they focus very much on education programs.
- For the upcoming two months we have a schedule of events and it is quite a busy one: two or even three events per day with wide range of topics: exhibitions, meetings with interesting people, literary evenings, cinema shows, art yoga, yoga for kids and so on.
Enlightenment and education are important in any age but it is better to learn constantly since childhood, therefore, we specifically focus on schoolchildren. Every day students of five comprehensive schools visit YARAT and they make up to 100 every week. I am pleased to say that YARAT's audience has considerably expanded recently.
Last year we had one-day children's festival attended by 2500 kids. It had broad program ranging from yoga for kids, master classes, children's theatre to children's orchestra concert of Teymur Goychayev. This year we go on: soon we will host a festival "Goodbye school!" to be attended not only by graduates but our young guests as well.
It is impossible to speak about all YARAT's activities and events. All I can say is that every project is prepared by our creative team. Naturally, every time working on a new idea, we take into account international experience as well. But I would like to mention that even projects with identical titles and main goals are implemented differently in different regions as every country is special. And it is very good because variety of cultures creates those exclusive and unique nuances which make each project different. The main distinctive feature of YARAT's project is in line with an exhibition ongoing at any given moment, H.Kerimova says.
- Besides, YARAT currently tries to expand its geography, I mean, it is the second year that we do our projects not only in Baku but in regions as well. We travelled to Mingachevir, Zagatala, Gakh, Gusar with YARAT's permanent collection exhibition. During such trips we also try to find creative talents and involve them in our projects.
We specifically developed platform we called ARTIM (which means growth) meant to support young artists and give them a chance to produce and show their work at experimental ARTIM platform. Apart from exhibitions, also meetings with artists, curators, thematic evenings, cinema shows are held there as well, H.Kerimova says.
According to H.Kerimova, all events at YARAT centre are free for all. The only exclusion is “YARAT-Friends” membership platform which is a community of people interested in modern arts.
Mainly, events for “YARAT-Friends” membership platform have a bit different format and participants get additional privileges.
As to the commercial side, YARAT Centre does not offer sale of paintings. But anyone can buy works of art at YAY gallery.
- I am confident that soon demand in our young artists will increase on international art market. Even now our artists have a chance to participate in such international projects as ART Festival in Dubai and Paris, 55-56 Venice Biennale of modern art etc.
One of our global projects is YARAT Academy where foreign curators give lectures. Quite an important nuance is that anyone can attend courses at the academy, not only creative professional or student. Tuition fee is neglectable while interest in the project is big enough. Each course has 80-120 pre-registered attendees. Besides, education involves lectures, master classes, visits to workshops of artists as well as creation of individual curator projects, H.Kerimova says.
Speaking about what is missing for better promotion of cultural projects in Azerbaijan today, H.Kerimova noted:
- I am convinced that all negatives of development are rooted in education gaps. Therefore, we make special emphasis on enlightenment. I would like to see emerging class of journalists that specialize in art-industry, concluded H.Kerimova.
So, nowadays, it is impossible in modern world to stay within traditional institutions - museums, theatres, libraries and functions of enlightenment and decoration of life. Culture in a sense means alternative innovations, it helps address a number of pressing problems including regional development issue. It is possible to ensure quality leisure time for population, set conditions for creative business and, thus, facilitate democratization of the society.
Therefore, the government has to act not only within its institutions but also assist independent cultural forms, create conditions for their development. Creative industries are entrepreneurship in cultural area, they are the new sector of economy. And, of course, it is good that this sector has started actively developing in our country.
The article is produced in cooperation with EU-Eastern Partnership Culture and Creativity Programme.