by Harriet Deacon
In October 2019, I joined ten young heritage entrepreneurs and colleagues from CACSARC-kg, a NGO based in Kyrgyzstan, on a six-day field trip between Bishkek and Issyk Kul. It was organised under a two-year Creative Spark programme funded by the British Councilled by Charlotte Waelde from Coventry University. The field trip participants had received some HIPAMS (heritage-sensitive intellectual property and marketing strategy) training in two initial workshops during January and April 2018, with the assistance of KyrgyzPatent, the local Intellectual Property Office, and the Traditional Knowledge Division of WIPO. In the field trip, ten of the workshop participants were selected to conduct interviews with seventeen experienced small business owners.
The field trip gave participants an opportunity to develop stronger networks with experienced heritage entrepreneurs and with each other, helping to develop their skills of business analysis in this specific sector.After the field trip, the participants will mentor other young entrepreneurs within the network created by the project, and will present their own heritage business projects at the OIMO Festival in July 2020.
The participants interviewed heritage photographers, artists, yurt makers, shyrdak carpet-makers, traditional clothing designers, a falconry business, folk musicians and a traditional epic song performer, and several tourism businesses based on heritage experiences. They asked how these experienced business owners started and managed their businesses, including marketing and intellectual property protection, and how their businesses fed back into the practice and transmission of the heritage.
Interview questions included the following:
Experienced entrepreneurs talked about the value of networking with other businesses and seeking institutional support,personal motivation, determination and planning for the future. A number of them passed down their skills within extended families; others recruited non-family apprentices, sometimes through training workshops.
Many entrepreneurs spoke about the delicate balance between meeting consumer requirements, exercising creative freedom, and practising their traditional art. Educating consumers on the quality, nature and value of traditional products was important even in the local context because much local Kyrgyz culture had been marginalized, undervalued or lost in the Soviet era. Photographer Erkin Bolzhurovs spoke about doing a calendar of traditional patchwork in the 1990s. Initially, people in rural areas were surprised that he wanted to photograph older designs, but their exposure in the calendar and at subsequent exhibitions made these older designs much better appreciated by locals and foreigners. Trade fairs, exhibitions, films, books, calendars and promotional materials are very important for marketing and consumer education. Many of the experienced entrepreneurs said they were actively using local networks, social media and websites for marketing purposes, but few had registered IP rights, such as trademarks or patents. There was sometimes confusion over whether a trade name had been registered, or a trademark.
Participants in the fieldwork trip found that asking questions about the link between business and heritage gave them fresh insights for their own work, especially the importance of business planning, networking and marketing. They also realised the importance of raising awareness about the value of their heritage and planning ways of passing on the skills.
For the HIPAMS project, the field workshop programme is very relevant because it brought the disciplines of heritage management, intellectual property protection and marketing in conversation with each other through examination of the practical considerations faced by experienced heritage entrepreneurs.Experiences in the Kyrgyzstan Creative Spark project will hopefully be relevant to HIPAMS being developed by three Indian communities in the British Academy-funded India project, and vice versa.Experiences from the October field trip in Kyrgyzstan could be particularly useful in this regard because they highlight the impact of marketing within business planning (which is just as relevant to communities of artists as to a small business). They also support the value of networking between different kinds of heritage businesses (e.g. developing a common tourism marketing strategy, just as Indian communities work to develop a common ethics framework). Finally, they show the benefit of exploring a wide range of national and international platforms to create visibility (e.g. not just UNESCO intangible heritage listings and international craft fairs, but also high profile art calendars,and nominating key areas of cultural heritage value as Global Geo-parks or Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) where relevant).