In December 2015, I was an invited to speak and co-facilitate a workshop in Macedonia at the Skopje Creative Hub Conference.
The conference included speakers from hubs from a number of countries, including Bulgaria, Serbia and Slovenia. It was a fascinating day of learning about the different contexts/challenges and opportunities of establishing and sustaining creative clusters in the various countries.
Ljubo Georgiev of One Architecture Week from Plodiv, Bulgaria – spoke of the great work they’ve been doing to encourage communities to use the physical spaces in the city, bringing the Kapana area back to life with year round activities. This had a big impact on Plovdiv being awarded European Capital of Culture 2019.
Meta Štular of RogLab in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Rog bikes were the most popular brand of bikes in Slovenia until they stopped manufacturing at the Rog factory in Ljubljana in 1999, which hit the city hard. There are plans to bring the Rog centre back to life as a cultural and new type of production centre. Meta spoke of the current progress of the Rog Lab project, testing out the concept and building early stage support for the abandoned space.
Relja Bobić of Nova Iskra in Belgrade, Serbia – they do a lot for the creative community in Belgrade including offering flexible co-working spaces, an events programme, creative business support, and also work together to provide strategic design and innovation services to external clients.
Lynsey Smith from British Council spoke of their work supporting creative hubs around the world; and it was a great opportunity to talk about what we’ve been doing as a hub with Creative Dundee in Scotland.
Lynsey and I then ran a Designing Creative Hubs workshop, focused on developing a vision for Skopje’s creative hubs in 2025 and designing the practical steps required to achieve the goal. Themes which came out of the session broadly fell under the following:
- Talent development
- Tourism and country branding
- Hub visibility and recognition
- Policy to develop the creative sector.
Interesting discussions with delegates considered the role that creative hubs can play to be a driving force for building valuable relationships between creatives, the public and private sectors – with the potential to drive policy, supporting economic development, culture and social innovation aims also.
Participants felt that those working within the creative industries could help resolve big challenges which Macedonia faces such as improving the natural environment, through working with companies in other sectors. Air quality is a significant challenge in the city, as experienced in my short trip, and because of Skopje’s fairly picturesque geographical setting I was fascinated to find out why – this piece gives a good explanation of the difficulties the city needs to overcome to encourage more tourism and a better quality of life for citizens.
The Hub Conference was organised by designer, Laze Tripkov of Plakart Association Of Designers in collaboration with the British Council in Macedonia and with support of Ministry of Culture of Republic of Macedonia. More about the conference can be read here.
We also got the chance to visit a Skopje hub – the Public Room, a former artillery base which has been recently converted into a co-working hub, with design shop and bar – it was great to see the energy in the space. It feels that along with other initiatives such as the Western Balkan Start-ups project, the creative scene is growing fast in the region and will be interesting to follow its developments over the coming years.
With some time to explore Skopje, we also checked out the old bazaar area which is the only remaining part of the city following a devastating earthquake in 1963, and saw the equally incredible and controversial construction developments/statues across the city – including two massive new boats/ships which looked like Dundee’s Discovery and Unicorn (see images below) – one was a restaurant, the other hadn’t yet opened; we visited Matka Canyon which was pretty impressive/beautiful and great to see beyond the city.
With welcoming people wherever we went, a spacious feel, endless examples of brutalist architecture, and a passionate talented creative sector, it’s a city I look forward to returning to explore further.