Reinforcing Public and Private Partnerships for Georgia’s Creative Cluster Ecosystem

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, determined to be a leading creative city in the Caucuses

The face of Tbilisi is rapidly changing. With art venues, co-working spaces and museums lining the streets, festivals and fashion week filling the calendar, and architects and graffiti artists reimagining this medieval city, the appetite for creativity is palpable. While the young talents are at the heart of this resurgence, Georgian citizens, government actors, public sector and private companies share the desire to support the emerging local art scene. Creative Georgia, a public organization with a mission to establish “appropriate environment for creative industries development,” is at the forefront of this effort.

Creative Georgia and UNESCO launched an EU-funded project, Designing a Creative Cluster Ecosystem in Georgia in June 2019. Georgian culture sector needs an ecosystem that boosts the existing community of artists and supports the entire lifecycle of creative work and career – from training aspiring artists, funding new projects, implementing effective cultural policies, to enhancing access to diverse content. With this belief, the project investigates the current state and the gap in the sector through open discussions, and proposes new legal and fiscal measures with the guidance from national and international experts.

During a conference Creative Cluster Ecosystem Development in Georgia organized by Creative Georgia on 18 October 2019, a diverse range of participants emphasized the importance of conserving or expanding the role of local communities in the future development of the creative sector. A repurposing of unused factories and warehouses into creative spaces to revitalize cultural activities, part of the government’s Cultural Strategy 2025, attracted particular interest during a session Governmental policy and creative spaces. Mr Valeri Chekheria, one of the panellists, provided a unique perspective as the CEO of Adjara Group, a hospitality company that has converted multiple abandoned buildings into boutique hotels with dedicated spaces to Georgian creatives.

Adjara Group, spearheading investment in the arts

“We have transformed Georgian hospitality through supporting and initiating artistic projects and cultural initiatives.” Adjara Group is today synonymous with the art scene to many Tbilisi residents. “Our facilities have become cultural hubs used for residencies, exhibitions, workshops, art fairs, pop-up events and public talks. We work with daring artists, critics and curators, who are pushing the country’s artistic and cultural boundaries.” Transformed from the 1930s publishing house in 2018, Stamba Hotel has a floor, free of charge, dedicated to groups of creatives and arts advocates, filled with a music studio, arts residency space, silk printing facility as well as the Tbilisi Photography and Multimedia Museum, the first of its kind in the Caucasus region. 

Radio City - New arts-based development under construction

Mr Chekheria observes the arts gaining ground outside of the hotel walls. Diving into a new arts and culture project, Adjara Group is leading a transformation of an unused former radio studio complex outside Tbilisi into a new Radio City. “We want to integrate artists, manufacturers, educators, entrepreneurs and professionals of diverse backgrounds into a synergistic ecosystem. The extensive 12-hectare territory will be used for international festivals, exhibitions, art fairs, residencies, co-working spaces, creative ateliers and studios. It will serve the future of creative economy in Georgia… Art is becoming integrated in major development projects. Steadily, Tbilisi is establishing itself as a cultural hub and competing with Europe’s most ambitious creative capitals.”

To Mr Chekheria, investing in arts is investing in Georgia’s future - an ever-growing conviction he has held for many years. “It is hard to imagine a country moving forward without developing creative industries. A strong, educated community will advance economy through creativity, entrepreneurship and inventiveness, and eventually bring recognition to Georgia. The progress of the Georgia’s economy depends on how much we help our artists.” 

Women leading the arts

Dr. Lidia Varbanova, a member of UNESCO’s Expert Facility, accompanies Creative Georgia to implement the EU/UNESCO project. A specialist in cultural entrepreneurship, she recalls her first mission in Georgia in October 2019: “I was amazed by the open spaces and cultural hubs around town - their architecture and design combine the vintage and modern, breathing new life into this historic city. I was also impressed by female leaders. Propaganda Network, a growing non-profit network with the mission to spread the ‘values of creative freedom,’ was founded by a group of women. The Photography and Multimedia Museum is led by female professionals. MAUDI, a multifunctional space for contemporary art, was also a fantastic creative hub co-funded by a woman. Creative Georgia, too, has a large female representation in the team.” Varbanova says creative spaces can unleash dynamic and cultural expressions of this country. 

Promoting the public and private partnership for the arts

The EU/UNESCO project hopes to empower the private sector to follow Adjara Group’s lead through advocating for the creation of a tax law that incentivises businesses to fund arts and culture. It also aims to develop a toolkit which provides a step-by-step guide on how to request the permission to transform unused state-owned buildings for creative purposes as a direct response to a frequently asked question during the conference - “I am interested in repurposing abandoned buildings, but where do I start?”