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Report: CBBC "Creativity is GREAT" panel discussion and MoU signing ceremony

BritCham / CBBC
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On 15 October, as part of the GREAT Britain campaign, CBBC organised a panel discussion with a difference in Sanlitun Village themed "Creativity is GREAT". The event was followed by the signing of an MoU for SME development and a packed evening reception attended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.


Reflecting the best of British innovation and the choice of China's rise to creative prominence, it was no ordinary panel: Thomas Heatherwick CBE, designer of the award-winning UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo and London's Olympic cauldron; Ian Livingstone CBE, co-founder of Games Workshop and president of games publisher Eidos; Graham Fink, chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather China; Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief of Vogue China; Huishan Zhang, one of China's foremost young fashion designers; and Simon Chua, director of Benoy, the architects.


The event was held at the suitably sophisticated Opposite House hotel, owned by event sponsors Swire Properties. Lord Sassoon, chairman of CBBC, opened proceedings with a speech in which he described the UK and China as "Partners for Growth" - a term coined by David Cameron and Wen Jiabao - and emphasised the continuing prosperity of trade and investment between the two countries, as well as their great potential in the creative industries. 


Moderating the panel was John Howkins, vice-dean of Shanghai School of Creativity and a visiting professor. He introduced the discussion in irreverant style with an anecdote about the Bond film "Skyfall" and its innovative use of a 3D print-out model car as a prop that could be blown to smithereens over and again without damage to sets or budgets. Paul Smith, the British fashion designer, gave a compelling account of the UK's creative strengths via a recorded presentation, and the discussion was handed over to the panel.

Angelica Cheung got the discussion underway. If you didn't know that the editor of Vogue China resided happily in the Yorkshire Dales, you do now. She was full of praise for Britain as a centre of innovation, and adamant in her contradiction of the myth that the UK arrived too late on the luxury fashion scene. This fashionably late entrance was, she explained, perfectly timed for the UK to catch the crest of the wave - a phenomenon that Vogue China also experienced by arriving on the Chinese market after its competitors had already introduced Chinese consumers to the concept of high fashion. Now, said Ms Cheung, the Chinese market is brimming with talent and potential: Chinese consumers have a better idea about which international labels they like and want to buy; and they have an increasing stable of young, internationally renowned designers from whom to take their lead.


One such was Huishan Zhang, who some in China are hoping will emerge as the next big name in catwalk designs. Mr Zhang was accepted to the prestigious Saint Martins College - "where all designers want to go" - and, seven years on, he remains in London, which he chose as the base for his fashion marque. He told the audience about his permanent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and then, introducing "Brand Huishan Zhang", he made the thought-provoking point that the brand is 100% British but also entirely "Made in China" - though, as he revealed later, who knows whether these roles might be reversed in the future. For the time being, London's global cachet was evidently integral to the rapid recent development of his brand.


Thomas Heatherwick, introduced as the designer of the UK's "Seed Cathedral", the winning design at the Shanghai Expo, proudly revealed that it was also the cheapest to make. He told the audience that he aims in all his work to create things that mean something to people, rather than self-referential artistic pieces. The lesson he gave was the importance of practical experience in creative activities: his earliest successes, when he was at art school, came not out of the blue but as the product of hands-on experience in building things - something that he pointed out was lacking among many people in creative trades. Mr Heatherwick, whose iconic Olympic cauldron put UK design in centre-stage last year, also highlighted the importance of commissioners, since it is they and not the designers themselves who take the first creative step by suggesting projects to the designers. And a tip for anyone struggling with designer's block: start by thinking of what you DON'T want to create, instead of what you do. 

From building to advertising: Graham Fink started with some striking examples of British innovation, from the iconic Concorde to the less prominent but - in industry circles - similarly influential The Face magazine, the Sex Pistols and the films of Stanley Kubrick. Mr Fink's secret for creative success was surprisingly prosaic: attention to detail. That said, drawing on the examples above, he insisted on the importance of subverting the established order so as to move the creative boundaries - and this, he explained, was part of why he was excited to further his career in China, where the clash of East with West gave him the stimulation he needed to advance. He rounded off with the tale of a 19-year-old design student from Hong Kong, whom he was able to track down and identify as the creator of a much-admired Apple logo, and with whom he then collaborated to make an advert for Coca-Cola that became the most valuable in the company's history and the winner of a Grand Prix award at Cannes.

Coming from a gaming background, Ian Livingstone, founder of The Livingstone Foundation, demonstrated this significant area of the creative industries. He explained that his underestimated sector - which is in fact the largest entertainment industry in the world - offers young people the ideal way to develop their creativity. Pointing out that schoolchildren, despite knowing all there is to know about using online applications, usually know little about making them - and this is a missed opportunity, since gaming incorporates so many life skills, from problem-solving and decision-making to mental dexterity and perseverance. And games-coding, he said, puts youngsters from the UK on a level playing field with those in China: they may speak different tongues, but the language of coding is the same worldwide. The thrust of his speech was that the UK is outstanding in this field, being highly creative and possessing the most sophisticated technology; he drew on the example of Grand Theft Auto (produced in Scotland) to show that some of the best games developers in the world are from the UK. Not only that, but making games also inherently entails creating valuable intellectual property.


The entertaining discussion was wrapped up by Lord Green, Minister for Trade and Investment, who expressed his admiration for the speakers and said that if the UK's burgeoning commercial relationship with China is to continue to grow, it must be underpinned by reciprocal interest and understanding in our respective cultures, both ancient and modern. This would, he told the audience, be the basis for a new Britain and a new China; citing Samuel Johnson, he closed by reminding us that "if you are tired of London, you are tired of life" - that is to say, London is the most multicultural, multifaceted hub of creativity in the world.



Lord Sassoon signs MoU for SME development with Ministry of Industry and Information Technology

After the discussion, Lord Sassoon signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Collaboration in the Field of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises with Qin Zhihui, director-general of the ProSME Centre of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.



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