“TCDC is an incubator for ideas,” said Apisit Laistrooglai, national director of the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC), at the centre’s official opening last month. “It encourages dancing with your imagination.”
The idea started back in Bangkok in 2003, not long after Thailand’s Tom Yam Kung economic crisis of 1997. TCDC was established as a kind of resource centre for the creation and sharing of knowledge and ideas at a time when Thailand was desperately in need of new ways to reap the benefits of mass exportation.
“After the crisis ended in 2000, it was time for the government to move on to the next step: rethinking how to create income for the country,” said Apisit.
And so, TCDC was born. Their mission? “To develop and promote human imagination and creativity, creating new products of usefulness, beauty and value, based on inherent skills, local resources and cultural advantage.”
TCDC Bangkok has provided a successful model for directors to implement elsewhere, and according to them, Chiang Mai was the obvious choice for a second branch, five years in the making.
“We chose Chiang Mai for several reasons,” Apisit said. “One, it has a history, a story to tell. Two, it is an epicentre for handicrafts and culture. Three, it is the capital of Northern Thailand, with lots of resources. And four, it is a very academic city, full of university students. They need to be taken to the next step, and that’s where we come in.”
Indeed, TCDC seems astutely aware of the rather difficult void that exists for young people post-college, the immediate dropping away of academic and professional resources and inspiration that they come to take for granted within the ivory tower. They realise that these young people have the potential to be successful entrepreneurs, but they need help turning that potential into a reality.
In response, TCDC has gone to great lengths to provide the necessary resources. The centre in Chiang Mai, which just opened in April this year, is an impressive new building featuring a spacious reference library with a variety of art and design books (mostly in English, due to a lack of quality texts in Thai, according to the director), ample workspace with top-of-the-line Mac computers, private reading and media rooms, a coffee shop, an exhibition hall, a variety of workshops, and a unique material library featuring samples of various textiles and a database for acquiring them locally.
“It’s important to spread not just knowledge but the application of knowledge, how to relate it to successful business, and how to create new ways to turn Thailand’s cultural history into something that can compete on a global level,” noted Apisit.
“Our challenge with Chiang Mai is how to transfer from history to today,” he said. “We need to find creative people to modify and come up with new ideas.”
The current exhibition at the centre, ‘Chiang Mai Revisited’, provides an interesting look at the city’s potential for sustainable and creative growth, featuring everything from interactive maps to postcard collections to an all-too-familiar display of the most popular items tourists buy in Chiang Mai (‘Same Same But Different’ singlet, anyone?). It’s an ambitious endeavour, but an enlightening one, putting Chiang Mai under the microscope in a constructive and unprecedented way.
The greater goal of TCDC is to promote creativity not just for Thai consumption but on an international level. At the same time, it strives to seek out Thai talents and skills and allow individuals to reap more benefits from their specific abilities, from industrial welding to hill tribe handicrafts to the service industry.
“We need to create two-way communication between the local and the global,” Apisit added. “It’s really about how Thailand connects to the rest of the world.”
The exhibition centre as well as the material library are free and open to the public daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except Mondays), and the reference library costs only 600 baht per year (300 baht for students) for unlimited access to what is truly an inspirational space for working and learning.
Visit TCDC Chiang Mai on Muang Samut Road, just down the street from the US Consulate, or check out www.tcdc.or.th/chiangmai to learn more.