Editorial: December 2017 Will Chiang Mai ever become a UNESCO city?

The fact that we got enough ducks in a row for UNESCO’s approval is pretty impressive, considering the lack of direction or support from the local or national governments.

By | Fri 1 Dec 2017

Chiang Mai is metastasising. The city is expanding in all directions and the population is bursting at the city-seams. Our industries are spouting noxious fumes and our investors are building towering condos. Our roads are congested and congealed and our cityscape is morphing into something unrecognisable. For the first time we are facing urban issues and challenges that are common to many cities around the world — traffic, pollution, waste, lack of resource management…the list goes on.

Yet in spite of these issues, which as a magazine editor I probably spend far too much time mulling over, we have recently been designated a UNESCO Creative City for Crafts & Folk Art, joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network of 180 cities in 72 countries around the world. To achieve this designation, Chiang Mai had to prove that it placed creativity and cultural industries at the heart of its development plan at the local level and was willing to cooperate actively at the international level. The fact that we got enough ducks in a row for UNESCO’s approval is pretty impressive, considering the lack of direction or support from the local or national governments. This was a labour of love, with the emphasis on labour, which involved years of toil by academics and communities who will largely go unnamed and unthanked by the public at large.

In spite of being a pretty big deal, this designation has largely gone unnoticed, as it was awarded right after the Royal Funeral on the 31st October and likely got lost in the onslaught of high season activities and news. The impact of becoming a Creative City for Crafts & Folk Art, however, is hard to measure as it will be up to us, the citizens of Chiang Mai, to take full advantage of the designation. The good news is that the application process itself bore noticeable benefits as hundreds, if not thousands, of activists, academics and various communities began to work together towards the shared goal of reviving local arts and crafts in a thoughtful and sustainable way.

A year or so ago, I was curious about our UNESCO proposal and sat down over lunch with Savitri Suwanasathit, the former Secretary-General of the Thai National Commission for UNESCO and current advisor to the Ministry of Culture, who gave me some insights from UNESCO’s viewpoint.

“Chiang Mai has to show UNESCO that it has the continuity to create, it has a legacy of crafts and arts it can pass down through the generations and if it can do that then it is more likely to become part of the Creative City network. If it does get the nod, then it will be thanks to the many members of academia, historians and other people in numerous sectors who are passionate about Lanna, both Thai and foreign.”

It is heartening that we received the nod from such an esteemed international organisation and there is a lot celebrate, thanks to people like Woralun Boonyasurat, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Chiang Mai University, and the force behind the Creative City designation, whose interview you can read here this month.

So let’s take this moment to congratulate ourselves on achieving this recognition from UNESCO and over the next year I promise we will feature stories, interviews and information on what is going on with the Creative City — Crafts & Folk Arts designation, what citizens are doing to hold the government accountable in its development planning and more importantly, how you can get involved so that Chiang Mai takes full advantage of all the opportunities available to it as a UNESCO Creative City. Hoorah!

On behalf of Citylife I would like to thank you all (in advance, as it hasn’t happened yet as we go to press) for the success of the Citylife Garden Fair (gosh, we hope so). We will post all of the accounts by early January and hopefully together we would have raised lots of lovely money to donate to the eight recipient charities. I would be grateful for any feedback so that we can be an even better community fair and raise even more funds for charity next year.