Monday, December 21, 2009

UNESCO Creative City Program and the Lao

It's no secret one of the larger projects I'm committed to involves building the cultural and artistic infrastructure of my community over time, because I consider it essential to cultural development and growth.

I was intrigued by UNESCO's Creative City program. It's building a network to highlight cities who are accomplishing unique work in several fields such literature, film, music, crafts and folk art, design, the media arts and gastronomy.

Would I like to see a city in Laos one day meet those criteria? Absolutely, but I know that's a long way ahead. On a more 'practical' level, given the emergence of the Lao as a multinational culture, I believe effective resettlement/presence in any of our host nations benefits greatly from a commitment to cultivating this infrastructure. I'll discuss more of this throughout 2553.

I like film and writing, so these are the two areas I'm particularly hoping to see advocacy and growth in because I think they will be essential to growth and maintaining progressive cultural bonds.

For film-makers, UNESCO hopes a city would have:
* Notable infrastructure related to filmmaking, i.e. film studios, cultural/movie landscapes, cinematographic memorabilia, etc;

* historic links to the production, distribution and commercialization of films, especially within a native/local and culturally relevant context;

* cinematographic legacy in the form of archives, museums, private collections and/or film schools;

* tradition of hosting film festivals, screenings and cinematographic events;

*birthplace, residence and/or workplace of creators and artists in the film industry;

* depiction of the city in films, preferably realized by native creators and artists;

* existing films about the city.

For writers, the criteria are:
* Quality, quantity and diversity of editorial initiatives and publishing houses;

* Quality and quantity of educational programmes focusing on domestic or foreign literature in primary and secondary schools as well as universities;

* Urban environment in which literature, drama and/or poetry play an integral role;

* Experience in hosting literary events and festivals aiming at promoting domestic and foreign literature;

* Libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres dedicated to the preservation, promotion and dissemination of domestic and foreign literature;

* Active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature;

* Active involvement of media, including new media, in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products.

I think these can be developed, even within a 'virtual city,' 'virtual nation' context, but to me, transportation, funding and presentation/distribution infrastructure definitely need to be in place. How best to develop and cultivate these over time?

My colleague, Catzie Vilayphonh has also discussed the issue of the preservation of Lao cooking traditions, and I admit, that, too intrigues me. Under the UNESCO guidelines, such an environment would have:
* Well-developed gastronomy that is characteristic of the urban centre and/or region;

* vibrant gastronomy community with numerous traditional restaurants and/or chefs;

* endogenous ingredients used in traditional cooking;

* local know-how, traditional culinary practices and methods of cooking that have survived industrial/technological advancement;

* traditional food markets and traditional food industry;

* tradition of hosting gastronomic festivals, awards, contests and other broadly-targeted means of recognition;

*respect for the environment and promotion of sustainable local products;

* nurturing of public appreciation, promotion of nutrition in educational institutions and inclusion of biodiversity conservation programmes in cooking schools curricula.

I think it would be amazingly ambitious and interesting to see Lao gastronomy advance to a point where we have Lao food festivals, awards and other methods of recognizing truly great cooks and cooking traditions in our community, to see restaurants that openly advertise themselves as Lao and even to risk focus on regional cooking specialties, rather than the usual one-size fits all hodge-podge of the present. Of course, this too is a long way ahead, but I imagine it could be done in fifteen to twenty years.

Maybe sooner, if we really pull together.

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