Yosha Wijngaarden - Media and Communication

Yosha Wijngaarden studies 'practices, processes and expectations of innovation in small-scale creative clusters'

"This project combines research on three concepts: space, the creative industries and innovation."

It is one of the Dutch top sectors, and also one of the few sectors which has continued to grow over the last decade, even during the recent economic crisis: the creative industry. Yosha Wijngaarden, PhD candidate at the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC), studies how cultures of innovation develop in co-located creative industries. Her PhD project is part of the NWO-funded project Cultures of Innovation in the Creative Industries (CICI).

Out-of-the-box research
It doesn’t sound logical: a historian/sociologist studying at the faculty of Media & Communications. “I am certainly not the only one without a background in Media & Communications – a lot of interdisciplinary research is undertaken here,” Yosha explains.

“As a historian and sociologist with a strong interest in urban issues, I study these practices of innovation in the context of urban policies, heritage studies, cultural sociology and field research. This project combines research on three concepts: space, the creative industries and innovation.”

"The presumed potential of these creative clusters has become enormous."

Her research focuses on the development of, and interrelationships between, companies, markets, networks and the places where they are located (creative clusters), and the effects of their co-location on both the companies themselves, their competitiveness, innovative capacities, collaborations, and the environment in which the companies are located.

Yosha: “The presumed potential of these creative clusters, especially after the publication of a number of cluster promoting reports, academic research and toolkits, has become enormous. However, if and how clusters contribute to innovation remains a question yet to be answered.”

Ten creative clusters
During the past year, she has interviewed more than sixty creative entrepreneurs, artists and cluster managers at ten creative clusters in the Netherlands, ranging from large complexes where hundreds of people work and even live together (Strijp S, Eindhoven) to small, relatively unknown locations such as the Honigfabriek in Koog aan de Zaan.

She is currently supplementing these interviews with quantitative data on the basis of two surveys, as well as with ethnographic fieldwork by temporarily trading her Erasmus University office for a room in some of these locations.

"Other places have developed in a bottom-up way, for example out of the squatting movement. This results in different kinds of dynamics within such complexes"

Yosha: “The activities vary between the different locations, from very broad to highly specific. The means of finance also differ: at many locations, a housing association or investment company are involved, whereas other places have developed in a bottom-up way, for example out of the squatting movement. This results in different kinds of dynamics within such complexes.”

Industrial heritage
Above all though, the locations all share many similarities. “What is striking is that in all cases cooperation is seen as important,” Yosha says. “Freelancers in particular are looking for a feeling of collegiality. They really appreciate the communal coffee corners and lunch areas. In addition, almost all of the entrepreneurs promote themselves through their location and attach importance to the impression this makes on their customers.”

Another striking feature is that the majority of these creative clusters are housed in former silos, factory buildings or other remnants of the industrial past. Yosha: “How did this come about? And do the entrepreneurs attach importance to the historical heritage of their location?”

Critical scrutiny
Whereas in her past projects Yosha focused primarily on social problems, in her current project she investigates how something good can be made even better. “A positive subject, but one that I am also subjecting to critical scrutiny,” Yosha stresses.

“For example, these old industrial buildings were not built as office space. The investments required to make such buildings practical are enormous. Is this in proportion to what they deliver? And what is the added value of everyone working together in such a building. Does this actually exist?”

"A positive subject, but one that I am also subjecting to critical scrutiny,"

“The creative entrepreneurs and artists are sometimes used by cities as a city marketing tool, but is this really in their interest? And above all: what exactly does the innovative nature of such a location mean? What is innovation in the creative industry? I am investigating what various parties – artists, creative entrepreneurs, managers and policymakers – understand by this, because the term is used in different ways in different contexts. What, according to these groups, contributes to innovation and how do they use the term to get things done?”

After almost two years of collecting data, conducting, transcribing and analysing data, Yosha has now reached the writing phase of her research. She is now finally beginning to harvest the fruits of all that preparatory work. The results of the research will be published in a final report, and early in 2016 the research team will organise a conference for other researchers, managers of creative clusters, creative entrepreneurs and other involved parties.

Yosha: “This doesn’t mean we will then have a blueprint for how such a location can work best, but it will mean we can identify conditions that benefit the good management of such locations, what they can offer entrepreneurs – but also cities – and how to stimulate the users to cooperate or develop new ideas, as well as what the pitfalls are.”

Plenty of data
At the end of the project, Yosha will have another two years of PhD post to fill. “But I’ll still have more than enough data with which I’d like to carry out further research,” Yosha says with enthusiasm. “I’d like to further elaborate on the ideas about the term ‘innovation’ and see what this means in terms of the creative industries and artistic practice. Similar research is being undertaken in England, for example – maybe this is something I can join up with.”