With this year’s Creative Ville, Flanders DC promised to organise a day that would give the creative industry an opportunity to recharge its batteries. The sixteen speakers amply fulfilled this promise with their varied presentations. Here’s a report about an inspiring day that simply flew by.
For the second day running, more than 600 representatives of the Belgian and international creative industry found their way to the magnificent, recently restored Handelsbeurs (Stock Exchange) in Antwerp’s city centre. Following the Fashion Talks fashion conference one day earlier, Creative Ville, which was held on 22 November, wanted to delight the creative industry at large with some fresh ideas.
Anyone was not wide awake that Friday morning would have certainly sat up when the first speaker started to speak. Aral Balkan warned against the threat of surveillance capitalism: too much of our data is in the hands of a small group of big tech companies. He therefore called on the public to know its history better, referring to the role that IBM played during World War II. He also argued that we need to regain more control over our data by relying on small technology companies. With his company Ind.ie., Balkan designs technological alternatives that respect our individual freedom.
Sofie Van de Velde, who owns a gallery, also tries to do things differently in the art world. She finds inspiration for this, among other things, in her previous career, when she worked in the social sector. Instead of competing with other galleries she chooses to collaborate with them, with the resulting network offering artists many more opportunities. That’s why she sees her gallery as a tool rather than an endpoint.
The world’s strongest brand
The talks on the main stage were interspersed with seven more intimate and often more sector-related panel discussions. For example, Debby Wilmsen gave specific tips on how best to approach public relations, while Tim Vekemans gave a presentation about why he prefers not to build, even though he’s an architect. Young illustrator Christina De Witte shared her experience of the long road to success while Wim Vanlessen explained just how difficult it is to remain at the top of your profession.
“Out of curiosity, I briefly popped in to listen to the talk given by my PR colleague Debby Wilmsen, but the main reason for coming to these kinds of conferences is to be inspired by a mindset that transcends our daily reality. So I was pleasantly surprised by the line-up of this conference, which was very strong in terms of content”, says Maarten Statius Muller.
The story of brand manager Sara Riis-Carstensen shows that even the most iconic brands can lose sight of their DNA. By responding to all kinds of trends, Lego had neglected the core of its existence - the Lego block. In addition to this, the brand also had to contend with the preconception that the blocks fail to stimulate children’s creativity. A smart campaign around Kronkiwongi reinforced the brand’s image once again, and in just a few years’ time Riis-Carstensen had transformed Lego from an almost bankrupt company into the world’s strongest brand.
While Aral Balkan dropped a small bomb in the morning, Mule Design’s Mike Monteiro’s plea against Silicon Valley’s technology giants was even more forceful. Using figures and examples, he demonstrated the destructive impact of social media like Facebook on our society and world and reminded that designers - and everyone in the room - that we all can choose who we work for and how we work. Like Balkan, Monteiro reminded everyone that we need to put people at the centre of what we do and that we should no longer place our fate in the hands of profit-driven companies.
As the director of Flanders DC, Pascal Cools gave a brief explanation about the power and value of the creative industry, which was in the news a lot in recent weeks. “In the debate about the cut in subsidies, I am surprised to note that many Flemings want to be entertained and amazed, but are not interested in investing in the creative sector. The 171,000 people who work in these creative sectors generated an added value of 12.5 billion together, however. In terms of employment, the sector is therefore doing significantly well and better than, for example, the chemical or car industry. Moreover, the creative sector grew by 26% in the period we examined, compared with 6% of the total economy.”
In addition to the great content and the interesting speakers, during the extensive lunch break and subsequent reception the audience had the opportunity to visit the discovery booths, where Creative Belgium asked the public about their views on inclusiveness and equality in the workplace, and where poet Jan Ducheyne wrote custom poetry and illustrator Wide Vercnocke drew the answer to your question. It was also a good opportunity to discuss the morning’s messages and catch up on news. Because that was also one of Creative Ville’s objectives: to encourage cross-pollination between the various players in the creative sectors. Participant Lien Debrouwere of design workshop ELLE-DEE: “The cross-pollination was quite contagious. The story of a writer can be very relevant to a fashion designer, and the talk of a product manager can be equally instructive for a graphic artist. Creative Ville was an exceptionally fascinating, well-organised conference in an amazing setting.”