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Time for Experimental Funding & Quick Thinking

10 December 2020

© Micheile Henderson
Young designers at Dutch Design Week (DDW) such as Wongsathon Choonhavan and Daphne Gerodimou, are amongst many graduates helping those still coming up through their education. Their project 'Imagine Future of Jobs' aims to help educators and children to discuss, laterally, the option of creating jobs that do not currently exist. As we know, the world is rapidly changing, and everything is in flux: It seems like a good time to be reimagining what our future could be.

Whilst graduates are looking to assist others further down the line, there are also those who continue to bring the design community together around a collective and resilient spirit.

Social Label initiators Petra Janssen (Studio Boot) & Simone Kramer (C-mone) have done much to bring a community of practice together around offering up opportunities and creating something tangible for designers to cling on to in these troubled waters. They create socio-economic opportunities for disadvantaged persons in the 'working world' by working with designers, socially-minded companies, healthcare and governmental organizations in the Brabant region.

Designers Kiki and Joost (who also have a product range with Social Label) see a surge in smaller, more intimate artisan relationships. There seems to be more direct conversation and trade between designers and their respective local communities and supply chain. Petra notes, ‘if you design in a certain way, then everyone can benefit. If we can use workshops, educating young designers to lead workshops, then we'll have an excellent business plan for the Netherlands, and we'll still have craft in the future’.

Social Label is funded by The DOEN Foundation, ‘‘We are really happy with them, they are more like a partner. As we are talking about innovation it’s important in this area to work in partnerships,’ explains Simone, ‘if you are experimenting then you don’t have a business model at the beginning, that’s why we need partnerships and trust.’

Social Label - Hello Human

What would Petra and Simone what they would do if they were in control of funding creativity and design in the Netherlands? ‘When I think about funding, I think people have to be more experimental, innovative and new’, says Janssen, ‘It’s all about trial and error, and I think funding should be for organisations or designers, or groups, that are bringing about something new. What we see now in the Netherlands is that a lot of funding is going to big organisations, the bigger ones are growing and growing. For us, what we do, it’s design, it’s economy, it's healthcare, its social – so where do we go? Which department for funding? It's difficult. Our government is making policy for social entrepreneurship, but what they could do is buy the goods that are being made, to stimulate the economy. Buy the things that people are making rather than implement policy! This isn’t just about Social Label; this is for all social entrepreneurs, stop writing policy papers and just do it!

For Janssen and Kramer, what’s the level of discussion between government and the creative industries like at a grassroots level? This question is posed to the right people, as it turns out that one of their designers recently had a conversation with the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, on one of their radio shows (Social Label has their own radio station). It would appear that channels of communication are very much open.  

Speaking of the Creative Industries Fund, it brings about equal praise, ‘The fund is very good for designers and also what I really like from them is when COVID-19 came they said 'we are going to change our policy' and it happened really quickly, that’s great! With others, it’s a four-year turnaround on policy, they were very quick to react’ says Janssen.

‘It’s great to hear that Social Label recognises what we are doing because we have to make quick decisions at the moment’ says Syb Groeneveld, Executive Director of Creative Industries Fund, ‘And at the same time, but at the same time not hurry too much, you think about what you are doing, and try to think about how we can maximize the impact of what we are doing, in the short, medium and long-term.'

The Creative Industries Fund promotes the production and presentation of architecture, design and digital culture, awarding grants and maintaining a number of iconic institutions – including Dutch Design Foundation, the ‘parent’ of Dutch Design Week (DDW).

Talent Tours - Creative Industries Fund

How do things compare now to a year ago? ‘Almost day by day we’ve been rethinking how we act as an institution, but also thinking about our role in the field of the creative industries, towards the broader cultural sector: How we can maximise societal resilience? This is the main question that we need to deal with’ says Groeneveld. Can it be assumed that as the economic consequences of the crisis unravel we’re finding more creatives in need of funding support? ‘At the moment, we see that the number of applications in many of these grant schemes has doubled’ he notes.

How can designers help Groeneveld and his teams of judges decide on where policy and funding should go? How can we have better conversations?

‘This is a question that we also internally discuss’ says Groeneveld. 'We have all kinds of events where people can speak up, and they get to know each other. Recently we had a Zoom session with 130 talented young people where we presented what we can do for young talent, and they can ask questions. We are now thinking of starting up question times online, where people can put down their ideas, and we can give them feedback'.

This all sounds good, but what of grassroots money injections? ‘We want to start with what we call an ‘experimental grant’ in 2021, which is an amount of around 5,000 Euro. A grant where no co-financing is needed and where we give people and groups whose voice is less heard in debates the ability to apply, with a very low threshold which can also be a video pitch or a talk.’ Reducing paperwork and allowing experimentation, Social Label, will be pleased…Groeneveld continues with the good news, ‘We can almost immediately, or let’s say, within two weeks of application, decide whether or not to grant, and I think that it is very necessary. So that’s one of the means of thinking about it. And, a programme that we want to extend is that we want to link young professionals together in a master-companion kind of role with agencies. This will help both the larger design agencies to see new talent but also help younger designers to get a better understanding of what is happening in the creative industries.’  

‘I think that one of the biggest challenges of this period is how we can combine the power of design with the central government or semi-government organizations on the big themes of mobility, sustainability, energy transition’ says Groeneveld. 'Designers can prevent the Netherlands from becoming a very ugly landscape of solar panels, and we need that! We need to make sure we never become a distribution centre country that just has warehouses full of packages. We need the interdisciplinary methodology that Dutch design is famous for’.  

Eindhoven is an example of how design and planning can work together to place-make a city, DDW, is a yearly reminder of this. Is there an opportunity for the entire country to learn from what’s happening in the Brabant region?

‘I hope so yes, absolutely’ says Groeneveld, ‘The way inner cities are organized are still based on perceptions of what cities should be like in the 1960s. It will be a challenge to create bustling inner cities, no just with creative people, but also for healthcare, for education and all kinds of things that make it more vibrant and healthier environment. But of course, it's very difficult to realise it, because there are so many old-powers [at stake].

The Creative Industries Fund is based in Rotterdam, what is life like now in city? ‘It’s quiet; it’s devastating to see. It’s difficult to think about what it will be like in a few months. The days are getting shorter; people are in small houses, in difficult social situations. The inequality gaps that we have in the Netherlands are magnified, and that is a design challenge’ concludes Groeneveld, ‘To think about how we can solve some of these issues, and help to combat the effects of the virus. We need to stay positive.’