However, noticing a lack of open dialogue in the field of creative discourse, George Nguyen, Mads Monsen, Sandrine Llouquet and David Everett Carlson decided to set up Saigon Creative, an independent and collaborative series of free, monthly talks held by the city’s diverse array of creative professionals.
“During normal networking events you have to initiate everything, and if you aren’t a person who feels comfortable with that, then you don’t find any value in it,” says commercial photographer Mads.
A co-founder of Saigon Creative, the Norwegian arrived in Vietnam 10 years ago and, after attending enough networking parties for a lifetime, decided to set up something a little out of the norm.
“Saigon Creative is different,” he explains. “There’s no alcohol and it’s in the morning, so the strongest drink you get is coffee and one hour of something completely different to your profession.”
Based on Tina Roth Eisenberg’s New York Creative Mornings model, which started in 2009, the Saigon group was established with the same principles in mind. “We thought it was a good idea,” explains TBWA managing director George Nguyen. “It’s created a platform for conversation — a key part I really like. There’s no agenda and it isn’t just an excuse to drink.”
Eisenberg, who heads up an influential design blog, “a bible”, as Mads puts it, has a policy of only allowing people she knows personally to run chapters carrying the Creative Morning moniker, of which there are currently 17 worldwide. “We wanted to do something like this, and hopefully down the road we will become an official chapter. It would raise our profile,” says Mads.
A Thirst for Arts
All four founders share one main concern regarding, as Sandrine Llouquet puts it, “a lack of information here concerning art and creation”. According to George, this opinion is widely felt.
“There is a big gaping hole for things here, whether it’s facilitated by Saigon Creative, San Art, or by any number of exhibitions being put on,” he says. “There’s a real craving and a hunger for this type of thing.”
Having hosted 11 speakers, the meetings are well on their way to addressing the “gaping hole” described by George, however, according to the founders, finding a steady stream of candidates ready to stand up and talk is one of the more challenging aspects, as is the way they express themselves.
But George and his colleagues work hard to make sure the topic is always relevant for the majority. For the inaugural meeting, Vietnamese actor Dustin Nguyen first discussed with George whether he should speak about his movies or experiences as an actor before agreeing to talk about balancing commerce and creativity. By massaging the topics, the audience, which is generally made up of a diverse cross-section of individuals from chemical engineers and housewives to production designers and image consultants, is able to take away something valuable from each presentation.
“Here I mostly miss a rich visual arts scene,” explains art practitioner and RMIT lecturer Cristina Nualart. A dedicated attendee of Saigon Creative since the beginning, Cristina “love[s] having a good discussion about art”. Hearing about the lectures online, Cristina was keen not to miss out on such a rare opportunity. “In London I was spoilt for choice with hundreds of weekly talks, exhibitions, workshops and performances to choose from. And though the options here are more limited than elsewhere, I try to stay alert to what’s on.”
Attending nearly all of the presentations since January, Cristina is now keen to give her own talk on the creative process that has “generated some of the most incredible art pieces seen in Europe”, a prospect that George is thrilled about. “For me, the best part about Cristina talking is that it’s the ultimate goal of this thing. Here is someone who just regularly attended because she was interested and then decided that she had something interesting to say.”
Adie Hart, a brand strategy consultant points out that even though the meetings don’t always directly impact his daily work, the themes and issues talked about are still relevant. And as for the effect it has on this city’s creative industry, Adie hopes that it’s a positive one. “The fact that it’s started and it’s there to get people talking and sharing experiences is a great thing.”
Onwards and Upwards
The future of Saigon Creative now lies in the hands of Sandrine, George and Mads (David Everett Carlson having since relocated to the US). And apart from the challenging task of finding inspirational speakers, they are also looking towards making the meetings even more accessible for Vietnamese speakers and attendees.
“Our big weakness is that this is in many ways an expat activity, the talks are held in English,” explains George, who is keen for the meetings to become more integrated and open to local culture. “The whole point is to contribute to the local community.”
The group is also hoping to eventually move out of advertising agency TBWA’s building, where the meetings are currently held. Though they acknowledge that holding the talks at TBWA allows a certain amount of flexibility, moving would enable the meetings to take place in a more neutral space. With these changes, Saigon Creative would continue to work toward Sandrine’s notion that “art often inspires the creative industry”.
And if Saigon Creative’s founders have learned anything it’s that bemoaning the perceived lack of cultural events in the city or the absence of spirited, impassioned debates will get you nowhere. As George rightly points out, “you have to go out and actively seek it”. Evidence of this determination and strong ethos is succinctly summed up by Mads, who says, “We want to learn something, we want inspiration and if we can’t find it, we will go out and create it.”
For more information, visit www.saigoncreative.blogspot.com. The Saigon Creative presentations take place once a month on the middle Friday.