On October 31st, Chiang Mai was declared a UNESCO Creative City for Crafts and Folk Arts. Joining a network of 116 cities in 54 countries, our northern home has now become an official destination for creativity, with events held throughout the year which showcase local, national and even international art and design as well as an active community of artists and crafts people.
The north of Thailand has a rich history of artisanal traditions that have developed over hundreds of years. Today these traditions using local materials and indigenous craftsmanship are utilising modern technology and knowledge of world trends to bridge the gap between old and new. Now with our fancy new UNESCO Creative City recognition, things are only going to get better. As big fans of art, design and handicrafts, the Citylife team felt it best that we highlight some of the more exciting locations you can visit to see our creative splendour for yourself.
Arts and Crafts
Well known locally and recognised internationally, Studio Naenna is a community of women weavers, embroiderers and designers who bring together craft and textile design from various ethnic groups and create a range of unique and high quality products. The studio was founded by Patricia Cheesman a well-known expert and collector of Laos and Thai textiles. Throughout her decades in Chiang Mai she forged strong relationships with countless ethnic groups and villages, lectured at Chiang Mai University, and has formed the weaving group Weavers for the Environment (WFE). Today the studio is run by her daughter, Lamorna Cheesman, who is also a Chiang Mai Creative City Ambassador. For those interested in textiles, this is a perfect place to get a taste of true, natural weaving, dying and design of the local area. Their products are sold online and at their main gallery, which also offers indigo and weaving workshops.
Located on the old Chiang Mai-Sankamphaeng Road, this ceramic studio and factory produces a wide range of both modern and traditional ceramics with help from talented local artisans and an international team of designers and developers. When visiting the gallery, you can watch how the staff mold, paint and glaze the ceramics by hand and browse the showroom which features an astonishing number of designs. The styles range from modern to classic, bringing in notes of local art and traditions to create something quite fascinating. Prempracha has received numerous awards and accolades for their designs.
This small clay studio in the city was opened by Jirawong Wongtrangan, a native to the area who has fused Thai and Japanese clay techniques to create a series of clay products that marble colours, textures and designs. After spending half a decade in Chiang Rai working and training in the clay and printmaking arts, he returned to Chiang Mai to open his own ceramics gallery. Gaining inspiration from the Japanese clay working style of Nerikomi, he draws from is talents as a graphic designer to combines two shades of clay to create fascinating patterns. He also offers workshops for those wanting to learn the skill.
Education and Resource
Thailand Creative Design Centre (TCDC) is Thailand’s leading body when it comes to showcasing the nation’s best art and design. The Chiang Mai branch was their first regional design resource centre that aims at reaching out to local entrepreneurs, designers, students and researchers and offering them tools, books and platforms to study, research and showcase innovative ideas that can be turned into real economic returns. TCDC plays a big part in Chiang Mai’s numerous design events, such as Chiang Mai Design Awards and the recent UNESCO Creative City recognition. The centre often promotes exhibitions, seminars, and activities that are of international standards, and has a library that houses over 9,000 design publications, and over 1,000 design resources in multimedia and periodical formats.
This local artist community is part of the growing artistic scene found down the increasingly popular soi Wat Umong. This little eco-village is made up of a number of standalone buildings that house galleries, restaurants, cafes and workshops – from art and design to yoga and meditation. The community often hosts film screenings in their small amphitheatre, along with occasional organic food markets, art and design markets and yard sales. This is one of the best places to see local, upcoming art in the city.
123/1 Moo 5, Soi Wat Umong, Suthep
Set inside a white, colonial style building which used to act as the city’s main courthouse, the Lanna Folklife Museum is the best place in the city to learn about local ways of life and the history of the area, as well as feast your eyes on some of the region’s most amazing art and design works. It was opened after the current Mayor, Tassanai Buranupakorn, decided to revive Lanna culture and focus on educating the next generation about the North’s distinct history and culture. The museum has descriptions in both Thai and English and is right next to the Three Kings Monument where you can also find the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre.
Flanking the Three Kings Monument, this is another must visit for those wanting to learn more about Chiang Mai’s local art. Originally the provincial administration building, this repurposed colonial style building is now home to interesting Lanna pieces of art, as well as giving a solid background on this history and traditions of the region. Significant art pieces and artefacts are displayed alongside more modern contemporary local art and design. It also has exhibitions on agriculture, architecture, ethnic groups and future developments for the region. Probably the most comprehensive look at the past, present and future of Chiang Mai. Tucked in behind it is the Fuen Ban Library which is packed full of books about the local areas history, culture, art, music, cuisine and more.
For a more modern look into local creativity, visit Makerspace where technology is available for anyone to come and use it for their own creative design purposes. 3D printers and other modern technology such as photo telemetry are used to create and scan objects and input them online – building a database of local design. Although access is membership based, it is possible to pop in and see what people are getting up to. The owner firmly believes that Makerspace is where Thai people can hone their inherent skills.
For those interested in the art and design of ancient coinage, textiles and other tradable goods, then a visit to the Bank of Thailand Museum maybe a good choice. Located a bit out of town, this towering building looks empty a lot of the time but is in fact home to several permanent exhibitions featuring Thai Lanna money from times gone by and it also explores the history of Thai coinage and the evolution of the use of currency from the mixing of metals. In addition to coins, it also is home to an exhibition on Tai textiles that represent the different artistic, religious and cultural beliefs to grow out of the wider Tai community.
Maiiam features an outstanding private collection of art and since it opened its doors last year, has put Chiang Mai firmly on the Asian art map. The 3,000 square metre museum is home to over 200 pieces of art — paintings, sculptures and multi-media — from the Beurdeley–Bunnag family collection. In addition to the often rotating permanent art collections, the museum also hosts exhibitions from the region’s leading contemporary artists, including Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Kamin Lertchaiprasert. In the same month as Chiang Mai received UNESCO Creative City status, Maiiam became the first art museum in Thailand to be awarded the Best New Museum of Asia Pacific — often known as the ‘Oscar of the museum industry’. For those into architectural design, the front wall is an amazing sight, made up of thousands of mirrors reflecting the blue skies and green tree lines in front of it.
This is one of Chiang Mai’s most incredible architectural specialists, focusing on modern bamboo and earth architecture. Their portfolio is impressive and includes builds for some of Chiang Mai’s most well-known resorts, schools and even factory spaces. Their designs push the edge of what bamboo is able to do as they mold and bend their structures to create free flowing, self-sustaining designs. Bamboo is more durable than steel and more elastic so it is perfect for construction. To see their designs first hand, visit Panyaden School any number of resorts, restaurants and private residences which have also been designed by CLC. The modern bamboo builds bring a stark change of style to the concrete world we are used to and deserve to be mentioned as one of the most innovative designers in town.
As one of the winners of the 2015 Chiang Mai Design Awards, this little-known studio incorporates traditional Thai woodwork with modern architectural design. The founders were inspired by traditional Lanna architecture and wanted to preserve their city’s traditions while also reinterpreting old designs into more modern styles and characteristics. Their studio is one of these Lanna interpretations and is worth a visit if creative architecture is your thing.