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Municipality should establish design award

28 February 2007 - In order to strengthen the creative sector, Amsterdam should establish a design award. This was said by researcher Robert Kloosterman in a lecture he gave last night at the Lutherse Kerk.

According to Kloosterman, the creative sector is important because competition focuses on quality rather than price. It therefore offers cities such as Amsterdam employment that is not vulnerable to competition from low wage countries.

On the other hand, the sector is rather sensitive to economic fluctuations.

Following the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, Kloosterman sees culture as a source of subtle coded messages, by which the elite distinguishes itself from the wannabees. As an atypical example, he cited musical producer Joop van den Ende, who would have sold his brand new yellow Mercedes after having been told that it was completely uncool.

Most of the time, the mechanisms are slightly more subtle. For example, for starting architects it is important to wear the right glasses, read the right books and drink the right wine. Knowledge about such issues is gained through gossip with colleagues at specific bars and art galleries.

The importance of such local establishments is one of the reasons why the creative sector is strongly rooted in specific cities. Another reason is that cities are seen as brands that represent quality. For example, Rotterdammers are internationally associated with daring architecture.

According to Kloosterman, Amsterdam has a strong international position in advertising, design and publishing houses. According to O+S, over 30,000 Amsterdammers work in the creative sector.

Although it is according to Kloosterman a dynamic sector, with many new business start-ups, he also sees threats to Amsterdam’s position. For example, the city is too small to hold on to talent, resulting in talent leaking away to cities such as London and New York.

Writer Paul Scheffer, who got to respond to Kloosterman’s lecture, suggested that the solution may lie in conceiving of the Randstad - the Western area comprising Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht - as one city. The population of the Randstad is comparable to that of real world cities.

Kloosterman had his doubts. Within creative networks, face to face contacts are very important, and these are not very easily established with someone from the Hague.

Another weak point is that Amsterdam has too few critical consumers, while a critical home base is important because it forces creative businesses to excel. For example, Kloosterman pointed out that there are hardly any critical clients of fashion designers in Amsterdam.

This had been noted earlier by a travel guide, arguing that Dutch fashion designers may be ‘the hottest thing going’ internationally, but that they are less appreciated in their own country.

Kloosterman was also concerned about the rise of xenophobia in our country, because immigrants are important for the vitality of the creative sector.

Scheffer, who once all but invented multicultural society defeatism, suggested that we attract the wrong kind of immigrants. While Asian high potentials scorn our country, we are stuck with low-educated immigrants who are little use.

Kloosterman did not entirely agree. He pointed out that Moroccans, the group with about the worst coverage in the media, are very successful in literature.

The researcher warned cities that think they can create a cultural sector from scratch. However, there are possibilities to stimulate what is already present.

For example, rewards and competitions can play an important role. Not only do they offer starting creative entrepreneurs an opportunity to make a brake through. The participation in juries also strengthens networks within the creative sector.

Kloosterman therefore found that the municipality should establish a design award.

He was indirectly supported by a council member from Haarlem, who pointed out that almost all successful Moroccan novelists emanate from the El Hizjra literature award.

Incidentally, the same council member asked himself what to find of his city’s master plan to create a creative sector, now that Kloosterman had explained that such efforts are often a non-starter.

The lecture by Kloosterman was part of a series of Amsterdam lectures organised by the University of Amsterdam.


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