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The Next Steps of Chiang Mai UNESCO Creative City

In conjunction with Lanna Expo 2018, the Chiang Mai Office of Culture is holding the Chiang Mai Forum 2018 between June 25th and 27th to promote Lanna culture and wisdoms. The first half of the second day talk covering the topic ‘The Next Step of Chiang Mai UNESCO Creative City’ was joined by Assoc.Prof. Dr. Woralun Boonyasurat, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and the spear head behind Chiang Mai joining the UNESCO Creative City network. Others special guests included Phairat Maichompoo, Deputy Chief Executive of the PAO, Imhathai Kanjina of TCDC Chiang Mai and Kannika Buacheen of Umbrella Making Centre (1987) Co Ltd.

On October last year, it was announced that Chiang Mai received recognition as a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art along with over a hundred other cities worldwide. The achievement, which has yet again brought validity to Chiang Mai’s distinctive culture, marked a significant milestone for those who have been working on the project for years.

“The cultural asset we have is rich and unique,” said Phairat Maichompoo Deputy Chief Executive of the Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) who financially support not only this creative city project, but also the Chiang Mai world heritage project. The concerns of Phairat, however, are with the youths. “Kids who have been growing up in Chiang Mai know nothing about their city,” said Phairat who supported his statement with research conducted on 800 students that showed out of 100 questions about Chiang Mai and the city’s history, the average percent of correct answers floated around 10 to 20%. The highest score any student got in the test was just 42.

“Students are made to study curriculums created in Bangkok which are then applied throughout the nation, so of course it is not relevant to local community, wisdom and knowledge. On the other hand, trying to promote the knowledge of local wisdoms among school is very difficult as this information does not help when it comes to the central exams that all students must pass if they want to make it into university,” said Phairat.

Despite the challenge, the PAO has now launched a new curriculum focusing specifically on knowledge relevant to Chiang Mai. Over 200 Chiang Mai based schools have already adopted the additional curriculum using textbooks published by the PAO. The curriculum will include community field trips and activities that broadens students’ understanding about their city.

The concerns about lack of inheritance from the youth was by Kannika Buacheen of Umbrella Making Centre (1987) Co Ltd whose company revived a once renowned Boh Sang umbrella making community in San Kamphaeng. “This is not only about the youths themselves but also their parents. Many still perceive that working for local handicrafts is embarrassing, not cool like working for 7-11 or a private company. That has to change,” stated Kannika.

“The situation of craftsmanship is roughly divided to the craftsmen, those of 55 and above, whose wisdoms are slowly becoming extinct, the young entrepreneurs who are redesigning crafts and adjusting them to the modern world have abandoned the traditional knowledge completely. The first group is who we are most concerned about,” said Dr. Woralun.

“We can preserve but we can’t deny change. So, to hold these craftsmen’s hands through the path of change, helping the possess the knowledge – which will be the most valuable resource in future – is the duty that we pursue. We seek paths to facilitate craftspeople to coexist with the present world and connect them to the environment.” said Dr. Woralun. “Woodcrafts, for example, where the material used directly involves trees and the environment, must be looked at. Along with TCDC, we have introduced craftspeople to alternative materials while promoting tree planting in order to make the industry more sustainable.”

The project is now looking into a sharing space where all types of craftspeople can gather together and share their knowledge. In the closing statement Dr. Woralun encouraged all to join the movement by supporting local products, sharing them and caring for them, eventually leading to protecting local culture for years to come.

Watch full talk here

Related Article: Chiang Mai is a UNESCO Creative City…Now What?