Set in what is usually considered one of the most problematic neighbourhoods of Lisbon, Mouraria Creative Hub is acting as an incubator and helping to boost the creative and cultural industries in the capital city of Portugal.
By Luciana Leitão
Apart from history, heritage and language, Macau and Lisbon seem to share something else: they are both trying to foster the creative industries. The Mouraria Creative Hub (CIM, in the Portuguese acronym) is the first incubator from Lisbon to support projects and ideas of business related to the creative industries, in particular in the fields of design, media, fashion, music, tile work and jewellery.
The headquarters of CIM — Quarteirão dos Lagares — is in Rua dos Lagares, number 23, in an old mansion-house dating back to the XV century, with islamic and medieval characteristics. In 2011, the city council of Lisbon decided to re-qualify the Mouraria and Intendente neighbourhoods — usually known for criminality, social exclusion and poverty — integrating them in the promotion of the cultural and creative industries’ strategy. In that same year, the rehabilitation work of the Quarteirão dos Lagares building started, having lasted until 2014. On May 29, 2015, CIM was inaugurated, becoming the first incubator for the cultural and creative industries.
“The big initial purpose was that this site [Quarteirão dos Lagares] would become an equipment for the neighbourhood [Mouraria] and that it welcomed local associations, many of which of social intervention nature,” the coordinator Carla Sancho tells mART, in a Skype interview. Yet, as the focus on the creative and cultural industries became clearer, that social intervention characteristic “got lost”.
The headquarters is in Mouraria but it is opened to all projects happening in the city of Lisbon. “There is a preferential criteria, in which the projects involved with the Mouraria neighbourhood have better scores, but that doesn’t mean they rely entirely on that,” she says. “Projects can have, for instance, contacts with the local residents — for instance, a cinema production start-up has already involved the children from the neighbourhood in the shooting of a long-feature film.”And some of the projects may have no connection whatsoever with Mouraria, as some of them are actually targeting overseas markets.
Consultancy all the way
CIM is more than a mere co-work venue, as it provides “mentorship and consultancy” to all the winning applicants, so as to allow them to prosper.
Yet, considering only one year and a half has passed, the success of the creative projects is to be measured in specific terms. “Certainly there are many projects that, after one year, are still not working as a company, but if they have work and start feeling they need to get revenues, then that’s a good sign, a sign that things are evolving,” she explains.
Ms Sancho says within the pool of projects under CIM there are already some showing these signs, while others have perished along the way. “Within the ones that jumped in right in the beginning, some died immediately — we opened with 19 projects, nine are no longer with us, we still have ten of them, plus extra four or five [that, in the meantime, stepped in],” she says.
In addition, success can also be measured through the media exposure and the partnerships some projects have created. “There are projects with partnerships with Embaixada — Concept Store, in Príncipe Real; also, some are having some media exposure, which is important,” she mentions.
Nevertheless, she admits “billing has been slower,” but, when talking about creative industries, this is normal. “We’re not talking about technological applications that can have a quick turnover — for instance, a video producer, within a year, has to sell really a lot to be able to cash in,” she explains.
Everything takes time, especially in this field. For instance, Go for Music — one of the start ups under CIM — is only now testing its services. “The concept is to sell packages to music festivals; they tested the concept, the product and the service in Lisb-on; only now have they tested, they were an entire year looking for the right partners.”
Once the projects are accepted by CIM, a consultant does the diagnosis plan, highlighting the weaknesses and strengths. In addition, CIM also features a team of a dozen mentors to help whenever it is needed, covering different fields, such as advertisement, social media, brand creation, market, photography, fashion.
Starting in October, they will hold a business building capacity program spread through time, which will combine training, consultancy and testing. “The test drive means going to the market, being accompanied by managers and companies in the market interested in integrating this programme,” she mentions. “All the projects under us need to do the training, but the test drive will depend on certain evaluation criteria.”
Still, eventually, the projects under CIM will need to show some figures. “We will now work with the building capacity programme, meeting the purposes of CIM itself and, in the end of next year, around September and October, we will do an assessment and hope that these projects have turned into companies, show more work positions and are sustainable,” she mentions.
In fact, even though she highlights it is not CIM’s intention to “pressure creatives into turning into businessmen,” they may withdraw their support if the projects fail to meet certain standards. “If it’s someone that is never here, doesn’t participate in anything, does not collaborate with the colleagues, it has no revenues, that person risks being invited out, as she is occupying a working space,” she warns.
The current creatives
Ms Sancho says there were some common features within the successful applicants. “In the first pool, we had a lot of projects related to fashion; in the second pool, we did a special edition on fashion, also related to our partnership with Lisboa Fashion Week,” she mentions.
Currently, the projects under CIM cover also gastronomy, event production and cultural production. “For instance, Transiberia is a cultural production company working a lot with Spain, Morocco and Latin America,” she reveals. “There are other projects, like Videolotion, which is a cinema and video producer, working hard, ” she adds, just to name a few. And, lately, “more cultural production and events production companies” have been showing up.
Even though Portugal is located in Europe, close to some of the most developed countries in terms of the cultural and creative industries, Ms Sancho says “it is not strange” that it is only now fostering this market. “We were under a dictatorship for 40 years, so we lost momentum in many things,” she says. And there are other historical reasons. “We were passive during Second World War; the countries which were active during Second World War had a huge development in all the fields, including the creative ones, afterward,” she added.
As a result, currently, there are still many factors preventing the sector to grow. “We don’t have an entrepeneurship culture — people have bachelor degrees and then they sign contracts,” she mentions, explaining the mentality was very closed up until the financial crisis broke out in 2010.
“We don’t have an education and an entrepeneurship culture of launching our own project; on the other hand, creative people still have no mindset so as to constitute a company, have profit and reach the market, fight the competition; only now are they starting to think like that,” she explains. “People have gained conscience [with the financial crisis] that jobs are not for life and that people need to create their own job.”
As for the future, from now on, she expects more focus to be, in Lisbon, on manufacturing trades, within the overall creative industries’ growth strategy. And CIM should move along that strategy.