Waclaw Idziak / Rural Creative Cluster
Thank you for your attention and spreading the word about what happens with Hobbits Village in Sierakowo. Now we're working on developing the idea of theme village in frames of Community Initiative EQUAL. Actual state of work you can find at the website wioskitematyczne . Or to be more precise, you can only "see", as we don't have yet the English version and for foreigners we can present only pictures - galeria.html Thank you also for inspiring links - we'll put that in our "Links" section on the website.
Fresh info on theme villages you can find in the following article "Rural creative cluster", which I presented during the "Creative Cluster Conference" in Newcastle, 5th-8th November 2006.
by Wacław Idziak
New policy for marginal rural areas on their way to creative economy
My presentation concerns the formulation of a new policy for implementing creative economy on marginal rural areas with small creative population and low levels of other development factors. It is based on experience gained whilst creating, since 2000 in Pomerania Region, Poland, a creative cluster containing 5 villages, each with unique specialization. The cluster is becoming a place for learning, experimenting and popularizing the creative economy.
Marginal rural areas are facing a hard challenge – to perish or to enter the new economy. They are not ready for this big step forward: low level of technical infrastructure, weakness of development capitals and a low level of creative class. Using the example of polish marginal villages it can be clearly seen, that the situation is getting worse with the escape of young and creative people and high unemployment rate. It’s accompanied by a low understanding of creative economy rules among politicians and entrepreneurs, both on local and national level. They are searching for solutions from the past, suited for the time of agriculture and industry.
To still exist and develop, villages have to enter into a creative economy stream. How is it to be accomplished with the low level of creative class and other barriers? That question was a starting point for a social experiment, started in year 2000 by Socio – Cultural Association of Koszalin. The aim of this experiment is to create a creative cluster, containing 5 villages located in Pomerania Region, Poland. These villages are characterized by high unemployment rate and low levels of cultural heritage. This is partially a result of World War II, as forced migration of people disrupted the cultural transmission.
The Cluster is in the early phase of creation. In it’s frame there were founded bases of specialization in 5 villages:
Poland lacks a coherent vision of how to introduce the village to the economy based on knowledge, information society, not to mention creative economy, or emotional economy. There are very few action in this regard. Many politicians view the village from agricultural and industrial point of view. Additional activities connected with the introduction of tourism and other services to the village are treated as a supplement of agriculture. The majority of borough leaders and councilors see the development of the village through the prism of investment in technical infrastructure and formal education, which does not prepare well for the new times.
There is still a conviction that workplaces in the village should be created by external investors and that the major factor of development is money and if there is no money then little can be done. Solutions are sought in subsidies, social benefits, public work and finally in leaving the village for a town or city or leaving abroad. True, there are training courses, there is support for entrepreneurship but it is done towards individual people and applies to very few, because there are very few villagers with entrepreneurial spirit and sufficient personal assets.
The strategies (central, regional, local) of developing rural areas, created from the beginning of the nineties, often remain just on paper. The EU programs help equally little in changing the situation in a village. Leader+ is one example of such a program. As a part of this program strategies have been created so far, which do not always create authentic Local Partnerships.
The rural creative cluster is being established in five villages in the north of Poland. Their creation was started in the year 2000 by the Socio-Cultural Association of Koszalin. At present the development of the cluster is supported by a Partnership formed under the European Union Initiative Equal.
The cluster is made up of villages where the unemployment rate in the initial phase of the project was 30%. In three of them there were State Owned Farms before 1990, and the dissolution of those left many people unemployed. The two others are villages depending solely on farming for income (the farms are from 5 to 30 ha in size) and on forestry as well as additional activities in the town.
The villages are poorly equipped in technical infrastructure, three of them are far away from the main roads. In four villages there are primary schools. However, two of them are at risk of being closed due to a decreasing number of students. This is because many people are leaving the village and the birth rate is falling. The population in the villages is between 250 and 350 people. When the project was being launched there was no non - governmental organizations.
The idea of a cluster is changing each of the villages which are part of it into a theme village. A theme village is a village which has its own and unique idea for development. Owing to the implementation of this idea it becomes distinctive. A village specializing in a particular field in comparison with other villages scores greater success in many fields. Finding a development subject lets them concentrate on the most essential issues. A good development subject is for a village like a unique sale proposal for a company.
While creating the theme villages a method of appreciative inquiry has been used. The cornerstone of this powerful method is helping people from disadvantaged communities to discover their own strengths and to appreciate their own achievements. This creates a victorious cycle; people once feeling confident about their own capabilities, are more inclined to explore new possibilities. The appreciative inquiry approach creates growth dynamics based on positives, rather than focusing on what is bad and wrong.
The village of Sierakowo was a pioneer where a hobbits village was created. The choice of the theme was not accidental. The landscape of Sierakowo resembles the land of Shire from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Some similarities to Hobbits were identified: Hobbits were a personification of traditional (rural) culture; they (generally) did not like to travel far or chase adventures.
This idea was tentatively accepted by the village representatives participating in the workshop and then presented and accepted on the general assembly of the village inhabitants. At this meeting, its participants also prepared an initial plan to create a thematic village within its area, for story line games and active education.
The Hobbiton village was created by citizens of Sierakowo, with active involvement of outsiders: students, Tolkien’s fans, scouts and inhabitants of neighboring villages. The capstone event is a story line game. Game participants are divided into teams and start with maps and other necessary equipment. The story is linked to the Tolkien’s Hobbits’ trilogy and includes elements of country life – Hobbits were farmers, weren’t they?
Participants’ path leads through the fields, forest, meadows and villages. They meet various characters from Tolkien’s book; every character has a task for them – a riddle, challenge of skills or another test. At the end of the game all teams meet in the village center, for some more games and fun.
The story line game involves usually some fifteen people: characters on the game path, at the final meeting place and at catering. In 2005 the game was conducted from June to September.
Some 5000 visitors participated in the game, predominantly children and youth. There were also a few families and retirees’ groups. Team building events were organized for corporate clients. In 2006 around 7000 guests are expected. Nine village festivals were organized since 2000.
Since 2000, in the region where the rural creative cluster is being created, juggling and circus performances are being popularized at the same time. About 600 students have learned to juggle and they are continuing to learn it. Even adults are beginning to juggle. Thanks to juggling new ways of spending free time are becoming popular and the attitude towards fun has changed, the basis of creativity is being formed.
Thanks to many workshops run on the spot and trips of the jugglers’ teams to other towns and cities, including Warsaw and Cracov, it was possible to promote juggling all around Poland.
The experiences gathered in the hobbits village and during juggling promotions are now the source for creating, with the aid of the Joint Initiative Equal, the basis for forming another four thematic villages and beginning actions concerned with the formation of a creativity cluster of five villages. There are the following thematic villages: Fairy tales and Bicycles (Podgórki), Healthy Life Style (Dąbrowa), Labyrinths and Springs, The End of the World (Iwięcino).
The inhabitants of the theme villages are beginning to earn money in their village by organizing games with a story line, festivities, picnics and educational classes in their farms and on specially prepared routs. They are also invited to run games and other fun during events organized in towns. Using this opportunity they sell products of the village cuisine. Sieraków and other villages are visited by people from other villages to learn on the spot about the functioning of thematic villages.
Running the project for some time, in close cooperation with the villagers, has been a source of many teaching and interesting experience. This experience has largely influenced the change of attitude towards the village and its capabilities. At the beginning we assumed that the villagers had a low level of creativity. Following R. Florida we could have noted a low Creativity Index. During our activities we have been convinced, however, that the villagers were creative in their own way. This is largely due to the fact that they have to cope with many things on their own as they have little access to the services offered in towns and no money to pay for them. This makes them good at many crafts and at surviving on very low income.
We have been convinced that many of the characteristics of the traditional society, preserved in the village, may be very useful in introducing the villages to creative economy. Those are: emotionality, living in a multi-generation family, bringing up children together, the tradition of games and other village pastimes, hospitality, processing of fruit and vegetables, gathering supplies for winter.
The villagers recall old games and use them for the activities in the village and when they go to a town. At the same time they discover that they love to play. What’s more they are natural in their games, which is a major advantage over some “entertainment specialists”.
It is difficult to start new enterprises in villages. The main obstacles are of mental nature. This is because commercial activity is often associated with financial investment. It is hard for them to understand that it is easy to start earning, even the smallest sums, by making use of an old barn, cowshed or the backyard.
This was the case in The End- of- the- World Village. Only when the opened in a few days Barn of Time and Entropy showed that a falling apart shed can be saved and bring profits did other villagers turn in an offer their outbuildings. It was similar when in the village of healthy lifestyle bread baking was started anew and classes were started on the meadow and in the labyrinth village first three labyrinths were planted being, at the same time, a source of willow with the aim to producing energy.
Due to the dominating mental patterns it is hard to explain what may the following enterprises in thematic villages be. This has to be learned through experiences, so a lot of significance is placed on learning by doing. This form of learning is also most commonly used during training. This is the way training is done regarding games and fun. The villagers learn them in practice, the sooner they start using them in practice, during fairs or during land games, the more willing they are to learn them.
The theme villages have been established with a widespread participation of people from outside the village. These are people interested, in a way, in the subject of specialization of villages and organizing a village is a perfect opportunity for fulfilling their passion. The villages also attract social entrepreneurs and social artists. The actions undertaken there are run in the spirit of the rules of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public Association.
This work with the villages is calculated to take a longer time. From previous experience it can be concluded that a village can establish its position on the market and act fairly independently after about four years from beginning specialization.
It is therefore important to build a system of support for villages. One of the elements of such a system is the creation of clusters including a few cooperating villages. The cluster organized within the framework of our project is currently working on a common offer. It assumes a seven day stay at the villages. The offer will be directed towards school children, families and firms (integrating events, training how to take action). The cluster will also be used as a place of experiences and training for the villagers looking for ways to appearing in creative economy. Within the cluster there are opportunities to participate in workshops of artistic craft, there is a workshop tuning bicycles and building machines and other devices based on bicycles. The success of the first story line games created in the hobbits village and the end of the world village shows that it will be possible to carry out classes devoted to creating games for other villages and towns. In order to make the village offer more interesting, new games are being created along with the prototype equipment necessary to play them.
The specialized village requires leaders and is at the same time a school of leaders. Those start to prop up in practice due to immediate demand for them. Many people now functioning as leaders never realized they had such a potential before. This also applies to entrepreneurial abilities. These showed when it came to first actions and first opportunities to earn money. Interesting is the case of women from Sieraków, who started working in the kitchen or cleaning and step by step they became actresses in a story line game.
The villages forming the cluster are not too rich in cultural heritage, which results from a major break in cultural transmission caused by the post World War II resettlements. Hence the importance of a new approach to cultural heritage. In the first place it is about its interpretation and implementation in order to earn money, on he other hand it is important to refer to the world’s cultural heritage. This happens in the village of labyrinths and springs exploiting the symbolism of labyrinths which grew on the foundation of many cultures.
An ethnologist recently visiting the village of labyrinths and springs asked: What legends and tales about springs are characteristic for this village? It turned out that there were no such legends present in the village but after all they are somewhere else, they form our shared heritage. How could it be used in the village of labyrinths and springs?
On arriving in the thematic village the students often admit that while being there they learned more than at the college. Students of ethnology, philosophy, sociology, astronomy, theology and other fields discover new opportunities of work in connection with the specialization of the village. Ph.D. students and students of ethnology from the University of Poznań discovered, that they can practice applied ethnology in those villages, young architects learned from the villagers that it is not enough to just design, often it counts if you know how to build.
Thematic villages are getting more and more popular, many inhabitants of bigger cities of the region visit them and ask: Why don’t we have something like this? Why isn’t our city unique in a similar way?
The experience obtained from previous work at creating rural creative clusters enable us to draw certain conclusions concerning the policy of development of rural areas, especially referring to joining them to the area of creative economy:
From supporting individual people to working with the whole village society. It is important to shift attention from supporting individual villagers (both in social aid and supporting entrepreneurship) to treating the village as a socio-economical system. Coming up with an idea for the whole village facilitates creating ideas for individual entrepreneurial activity. The creation of a common product of the village increases its competitiveness. Joining villages in a sort of cluster increases their position on the market even more. People attempting any action on their own are faced with great difficulties. Apart from the difficulty of entering the market there are additional problems with neighbors. The societies of many villages show a negative attitude towards people disturbing with their actions the status quo.
Rethinking the rural assets and possibilities. It is crucial to re-define, rethink the village assets and to take an even greater advantage of non-material factors of development. The village assets may also be enriched by external import. This applies particularly to cultural, information and human capital. When creating a map of the village assets territorial and time limitations must be overcome and the work should focus more on symbols and metaphors than material factors of development. The village needs challenges on the world scale. To have one’s place in the economy it is important to stand out and attempt to discover new unoccupied areas.
Creating the bridgeheads of creative economy. The village needs fewer strategies and plans on paper and more practical actions- development through action, by establishing examples of possibility, bridgeheads of the economy of creativity. It largely depends on cultural conditions: villagers are more willing to believe in what they see with their own eyes, what they can touch. The bridgeheads of creative economy in the village should be centers of experiencing and an area of learning for people from another village and town who want to enter the path towards creative economy.
Villagers as coaches and multipliers. Villagers learn quicker and more effectively from the like of them, who were successful, who are a tangible proof that the enterprise is profitable, hence the need for village multipliers.
From problem orientation to looking for what’s good. A logical framework is often used in creating the strategy of development in rural areas. One of the key rules is the analysis of the problem situation. Meanwhile the causes of problems are often too complex to easily find the perfect recipe for overcoming them. Approaching the situation in a village from a point of view of appreciating inquiry, we are looking for something good, something that can be the foundation for development, a new frame of reference, thanks to which the change of situation in the village will be made possible. It resembles the application of acupuncture where the needles are not always placed where it hurts.
Greater creativity and experimenting. Introducing the village to new times requires courage, fun, creativity and a consent to make mistakes therefore the projects in a village should be run in an informal, creative atmosphere.
System of support and real partnerships. To develop the specialization of a village one must go beyond its wattle fencing, invite schools, firms and other organizations dealing with the subject of specialization. Creating partnerships and networks of cooperation should stem from the need to create together, should stem from common interest. Partnerships must not be formed too hastily though, such is the requirement of the program. They should ripe so that the partners can get used to each other. In the case of thematic villages partnership does not need to have a territorial character. The parties of such partnership may be entities from all around the world which share the same specialization. The policy of development of rural areas must take into consideration world trends, otherwise the village will remain on the margin of changes.
Partnership with a town instead of dependency. Within the framework of creative economy there is a chance for the village to redefine its relationship with the town, as a place of creative fun, adventure, education, therapy, but also as an example of the possibility of entering creative economy.
The beginnings of the rural creative cluster consisting of five thematic villages show that this may be one of the opportunities for the village to join creative economy. On the set example it can be seen that the village possesses the sources of creativity. They are, however, of a different nature than in the city. How to use their dissimilarity and the hidden knowledge of the elder generation, which are not keenly used among the young generation? Introducing a village into creative economy meets various obstacles. Mostly these are difficulties in changing mental models. For most villagers the only thing of value is what they can touch. Performing games, being an actor in a story line game is initially met with a distance. Those in a difficult material situation are the first to decide because they have little to lose. Such enterprises are more successful in villages with poor soils and far away from towns and cities, where it is difficult to find a paid job. So the question remains: How to involve those who are relatively well off?
Creating a cluster disturbs the existing establishment which the representatives of local authorities have got used to. Such actions were received skeptically by individuals significant in the local society. Until this day many “serious” people treat it as a kind of silly game rather than economical actions. How to convince the important and influential people to cooperate in the development of the village?
Among those involved in the work to create and economically use the specialization of the village are mostly people above 25 or children. How to convince teenagers to participate knowing that most of them do not want to stay in the village?
Specialization of villages leads to the birth of unprecedented ways of earning money. Villagers had to shift into working in the service sector quite fast. This causes many difficulties. How to ensure adequate quality in such case? How to impose discipline in a quasi company created by the villagers themselves? How to prevent drinking alcohol?
The example of actions undertaken within the cluster shows that it is possible to change the existing model of dependency of a village from a town. Some innovative enterprises are more feasible in a village than in a town. The village can teach the town. Rural creative cluster is supposed to be, among others, a way of learning close to nature through game and adventure with a greater, than in the case of a town school, focus on sensual intelligence. Village schools have a major role to play here. How to achieve the situation when students of village schools would learn and earn by running classes for the inhabitants of towns and other villages?
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