As Director of Bangkok River Partners and Co-founder of the Creative District Foundation, David Robinson tells us about the Creative District and what the future holds for Bangkok’s bustling riverfront.
In conversation with David J. Constable
Can you explain the history and the development of the Creative District?
When I took on the management of Bangkok River Partners, encouraging businesses along the Chao Phraya River and marketing as a destination for leisure and tourism, I quickly realised we needed to talk about our community. Duangrit Bunnag (DBALP), Pieter Compernol and Stephanie Grusenmeyer (P.Tendercool) and I invited gallery owners, photographers, writers, and entrepreneurs—about 40 people in all—to meet under a tree at The Jam Factory to discuss our part of town. We met every month, and before we knew it, the idea of an art district had become the Creative District. We held regular town hall meetings and soon planned to collaborate on BUKRUK, a significant international street art festival in January 2016. In 2017, we established the Creative District Foundation to help attract financial backing for community projects.
How important is creativity for the future of Bangkok?
On the subject of creativity, there was a happy convergence of ideas and activities. Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) opened in Grand Postal Building on Charoenkrung Road in May 2017. The government was renewing its support of the creative economy, and in our part of town, there were already digital start-ups, ateliers, artists, chefs and barman. I’ve found that Thai people have a natural disposition for creativity. In the Creative District, makers have been living and working in the neighbourhoods for generations. With the renewed energy and focus of the community, more and more people from creative industries are looking to locate in the Creative District. Business owners such as ICONSIAM, River City Bangkok and Warehouse30 are investing in galleries and museums to celebrate Thailand’s creative talent.
How are developments along the river changing and how does this affect Bangkok?
There is indeed a sense of revitalisation, reinvention, and renewed interest in being on the Chao Phraya River. The challenge from the Creative District’s perspective is encouraging balance. How do we ensure that everyone benefits from more opportunities for work and a better, greener, more livable environment? How do we protect the historic buildings and shophouses? How do we contribute to the local economy? Can we work with the government to provide high-speed internet, tax incentives and low-cost office rental help stimulate start-up businesses? In our town hall meetings with residents, business owners, government representatives and landowners we talk about the Creative District being a pilot for deployment in other parts of the country. It’s not a large area so it should be straightforward to bring about change with a little support from interested government agencies and business.
Is it important for you to work with the local neighbourhoods up and down the river on these projects?
We started in the riverside districts of Bangrak and Klongsan because they offer history and vision for the country. The riverside communities of Talad Noi and Soi Nana in Chinatown are also seeing a growth in creative businesses and projects. Authentic Bangkok experiences are found all along the river from Dusit and upstream, through, Rattanakosin, Kudee Jeen, to Bang Kachao and beyond. From time to time the riverside communities gather as one river group. Friends of the River’s call for a more thoughtful approach to the proposed river ‘promenade’ or coming together to collect plastic. Free downloadable guides to five districts on www.bangkokriver.com.
How are you planning to attract new talent and businesses to the Creative District?
We are not alone in this endeavour. Bangkok Biennial, Bangkok Art Biennale and Bangkok Design Week are three festivals that attract people to the River and Creative District. River City Bangkok’s new contemporary art floor for local and international artists opens this month with a multimedia art exhibition from the National Palace Museum of Taipei. ICONSIAM’s museum for national and international art opens 2019.
What have been the challenges in re-energising the riverfront?
Many cities around the world have established creative districts. CDF is a community-focused non-profit organisation with the belief that everyone can benefit from creativity. While the area we are hoping to energise is small, we are all volunteers with no resources to speak of. To succeed, we seek collaboration, an enabling framework, and a financial ‘leg-up’ to help stimulate the Creative District.
What future projects should we know about?
There are many projects in planning. Others are community pipe dreams requiring partnership and collaboration. Keep an eye on www.bangkokriver.com for what’s in the Creative District.