Feature: Behind the front door of Taunton's Creative Innovation Centre (From This is The West Country)
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Feature: Behind the front door of Taunton's Creative Innovation Centre
FIRST, there was America’s Silicon Valley. Then, London’s Silicon Roundabout – a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. Could Silicon Somerset be next?
If Taunton’s Creative Innovation Centre has anything to do with it, the answer is a resounding yes – and the organisation is promoting pioneering spirit across the board, not just in the technology sector.
The brainchild of Somerset-born design heavy-hitters, Andy Knutt and Richard Holt, CICCIC (Creative Innovation Centre Community Interest Company) sets exactly this vision in its sights, combining hard enterprise and innovation, with creative industry, artistic activity, and community spirit.
Yet, say the words ‘Creative Innovation Centre’ and you’re often met with furrowed brows of confusion. ‘Where is that?’, people say. ‘What goes on there?’ Walk up past Taunton’s library and information centre on Paul Street. Where the road curves left, you’ll find the zesty-coloured doors to the bright, light, organisation.
With real muscle, and unscalable ambition, CICCIC (pronounced ‘kick-kick’) has been wide open in every sense of the word since Christmas 2012.
And it’s this ‘openness’, say co-directors Knutt and Holt, that’s the key to unlocking the creative potential of Taunton and the county beyond.
Which, as their impressive combined CV of experience can testify to, they know a thing or two about.
“It’s a big old story,” says Richard. “Andy and I have worked together for about 15 years ‘on the block’, promoting design within the county and regionally.
“We were the building blocks for Design South West, which informs Design Council policy for the UK. Bombing along, working together, a partnership was formed.
“We understand each other’s viewpoints, Andy being more in the commercial sector, me being in the public sector, but looking more at policy and how we support our communities.”
Taunton’s ‘born-and-bred’ Andy chips in. “I think what nudged us to begin with, with regards to the design sector, was when Somerset County Council published a draft policy document on how they were viewing the creative industries.
“Not once was the word ‘design’ mentioned within this 30-page document.
“It was obvious those in the public sector had no idea what it was all about in terms of design – which can be anything from branding to logos, to web design, to product design, architecture. They were just missing the point completely.”
And, with the creative industries generating a whopping £36bn a year – defined by the Department for Culture Media and Sport as anything involving advertising and architecture, art and crafts, design and designer fashion, film, video, the performing arts, technology, music, gaming, TV, radio, publishing, even antiques – “we got involved to make sure the creative industries had a voice in the correct arenas, and to promote design locally,” says Andy.
Having built a reputation as the go-to guys for design in business, running workshops at the behest of government, looking to Europe to “uplift the economy through design”, CICCIC was a project waiting to happen.
Initial investment was £12,000 out of their own pockets to turn the vacant Memorial Hall into “the only space in Taunton for creative conversation,” says Richard.
“We are here to respond to creativity, enterprise, culture, economic patterns, and the needs of the Taunton community. As a community interest company, privately-funded by Andy and me, we respond to that as much as we can, as much as our resources will allow.”
“Our job here is to show the public sector how it should be done,” Andy adds.
“180 businesses have been through the doors since Christmas. A lot come in for intrigue, because they know that the Government keeps pushing the innovation agenda, and we do a lot of that.”
Culture and community action at CICCIC is the other, complementary, side of the story.
To date, the programme features theatre from the Exeter-based Cygnet company, of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
In June, former MP Ann Widdecombe, launched her autobiography, Strictly Ann.
Somerset Contemporary Artists’ Network (SCAN), have also made CICCIC their home for exhibitions and “art talk”, along with artist talks from Somerset Art Gallery Trust, and workshops to “make art accessible”.
“It’s a much better environment than a pub for us to sit and talk about art,” says SCAN chairman Diane Burnell. “CICCIC has ended up being our little hub. They are totally open to new ideas.”
“We get on average two or three artists a day wanting to find out about support, possibilities of exhibiting, links to other art forms, digital development,” adds Richard.
Prolific Saatchi Gallery sculptor, Guy Portelli, is even set to exhibit in CICCIC come October.
Then there’s Café Encore, a collaboration of CICCIC with the Stand Against Violence charity, working to tackle street violence.
On Fridays and Saturdays, 14- 19-year-olds are invited to take part in live music, in a “safe, inspiring and creative place” where they can talk about their worries and ideas.
There’s also talk of setting up a regular jazz night, an orchestra playing in September, along with reggae, much to Andy’s excitement.
So, what’s the future for CICCIC? For the historic 19th Century building, the directors hope crowd-funding will enable them to give the Memorial Hall the green makeover it so badly needs.
As for the wider CICCIC “mission”?
Holt and Knutt hope that by working together with organisations such as ‘Creative Somerset’ and with creatives across the spectrum, they’ll not only provide a meeting place for people to get support, promote their work, and collaborate in “knowledge exchange”.
They’ll be the point of fusion between the public and private sector.
“This is our personal solution to what we see out there in the community, and that’s a fragmented community that doesn’t have any glue. So we’re trying to provide a bit of glue, and a physical space for that to happen,” says Richard, tying up.
“We’d like to use the creatives as a catalyst for an exchange between the business community and the youth community, which would then allow for the transference of ideas and exchange.
“We’ll do everything we can for anybody who has a need, or an appetite for creativity as the way forward. Want creativity? Come and get it.”
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