Shops selling the áo dài (the Vietnamese national dress for women) in Đà Nẵng and Hồ Chí Minh City should develop industries involving the creative arts and culture, suggested UNESCO experts at a seminar held on 18 July in Hà Nội.

The seminar, which focused on developing new financial mechanisms and legal frameworks for the cultural industries in Việt Nam, came as part of a UNESCO effort to promote and encourage investment in cultural industries, including movies, music, fashion and the performing arts.

Policymakers, researchers, culturists, cultural managers and two UNESCO researchers, William Codjo from Benin and Dr Tom Fleming from England, participated in the one-day event. “Cultural industries are well-developed in some Asian countries, [but] it entirely stops in Việt Nam,” said Fleming. “If the situation is maintained, Việt Nam will lose its market [to other countries] in five or ten years.”

The researcher, who is an adviser and strategist on cultural policy, first came to Việt Nam in April to research cultural management and implement UNESCO’s convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions in the country. Hội An, for instance, Fleming said, is the most developed locality in Việt Nam in terms of the traditional culture trade, but most souvenir shops in the town offer monotonous products that do not meet the various needs of tourists.

In addition to suggesting the simplification of administrative procedures to encourage investment and financing, the UNESCO experts also recommended that Việt Nam should establish “creative cities” to stimulate new approaches and business strategies in the cultural industries.

Like special economic zones, a “creative city” consists of several cultural industrial parks specializing in arts, traditional culture and crafts, said promotional material about the seminar.

Thanks to special policies in investment and planning, such cities have great potential to develop together, as well as to provide human resources and spur consumption, according to the promotional material.

Unlike Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, there is no such model in Việt Nam, UNESCO points out.

Recently, the Los Angeles-based Galileo Investment Group proposed investing $11.4 billion to build a “creative city” along the Ba River in the central province of Phú Yên, however the province withdrew the investment license after the company failed to implement its plans on schedule.

The concept of “Creative Cities” is based on the belief that culture can play an important role in urban renewal, according to UNESCO.

UNESCO believes that as creative industries contribute to a city’s social fabric, cultural diversity and enhance the quality of life, it also strengthens a sense of community and helps define a shared identity.

Promotional material from the event states that the concept was introduced by urbanist Charles Landry in the late 1980s and has since become a global movement reflecting a new planning paradigm for cities and promoted by UNESCO together with the organization’s Creative Cities Network.

The Creative Cities Network connects cities who want to share experiences, ideas and best practices for cultural, social and economic development.