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10 Best Creative Hubs Outside the US

Art + Architecture
by Yulia Denisyuk Mar 15, 2016

1. Santiago, Chile

Ever heard of the Chilecon Valley? The Chilean government has worked to put Santiago on the world start-up map since 2010 with its Start-Up Chile initiative. With flexible immigration policies, friendly tax system, a remarkably transparent bureaucratic system, modern infrastructure, and radical access to both coastal and mountain exploration opportunities, Santiago is a unique creative-friendly option in Latin America. Annual events include Santiago a Mil Art Festival in January, The S Factory pre-accelerator for women in June, Santiago International Film Festival in August, and the Santiago International Book Fair in October.

Santiago’s neighborhoods — barrios — mix some of the world’s most dynamic street art with craft shops and upscale galleries. Barrio Lastarria is one of the most creative scenes, supported by venues like PLOP!, an art gallery dedicated to illustrations and comics. Barrio Bellavista has lots of art and green spaces, as well as Pablo Neruda’s house / museum. For a cup of great coffee and an occasional musical performance, stop by Café de la Candelaria in Barrio Italia. Round it out with a visit to Centro Cultural Matucana 100, an art space in Barrio Brasil.

2. Tallinn

The tiny nation of Estonia is running what may be the coolest government experiment in recent history. Prospective residents are offered digital voting, healthcare, and tax filing systems, low tax rates, and free Wi-Fi usage across the country. Various events run throughout the year, including Jazzkaar Jazz Festival in April, #EstonianMafia flagship tech conference Latitude 59 in May, Õllesummer Art and Music Festival in July, and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in November.

Tallinn’s Old Town has lots of art galleries, museums, and exhibition spaces. To get grounded, visit Tallinn Art Space, a contemporary art center, workshop, and gallery located in the central Kesklinna area. Experimental Hobusepea Gallery provides an even fresher look at the up-and-coming artists such as Robin Nõgisto, a young local artist with a background in street art. For a complete immersion into Tallinn’s creative economy, spend a full day at Telliskivi Loomelinnak (Creative City), the largest creative center in Estonia set in an old industrial complex and hosting a wide array of businesses ranging from Nordic design ateliers to massage parlors and NGO organizations. Rest in the nearby Kalamaja district at the minimalist restaurant Klaus Kohvik.

3. Marrakech

Marrakech goes off with nonstop energy in its souks, a flourishing gastronomic scene, and the intricate details of its stunning riads. There is year round calendar of cultural events, from the Marrakech Biennale Art Exhibition (which opens in February and runs through May), the International Festival of Contemporary Dance and Marrakech International Entrepreneurship Event in March, the Oasis Fest Music Festival in September, and Marrakech Film Festival in December.

The Medina often takes center stage with its many design shops and galleries such as Galerie Dawiya or the Max & Jan clothing atelier, but the creative scene is burgeoning in other Marrakech neighborhoods as well. Gueliz, a hip area in the modern part of the city, sets the tone for the rest of Marrakech with work from galleries such as the David Bloch Gallery set in an industrial complex and highlighting North African street artists. Back in the Medina, Nomad Marrakech is reimagining Moroccan cuisine with modern twists on such classics as the harira and regular pop-up dinners by visiting chefs from France, the United States, and India.

4. Reykjavik

Reykjavik’s thriving creative scene is shaped by three months of continuous daylight, a small town vibe with all the attractions of a big city, and smart policies that foster development of the arts. Big annual events include Sonar Reykjavik Advanced Music and New Media Festival in February, Design March expo and Icelandic Music Experiments (Músíktilraunir) in March, Reykjavik Culture Night in August, and Reykjavik International Film Festival in September.

Hitt Husid is a youth center with multiple ongoing projects to engage young people in art creation, such as its Summer Job project where the artists of the future design and experiment with art on their school break. Nearby, Kraum Icelandic Design has set up shop in Reykjavik’s oldest house and i8 Gallery has contemporary works on display from Olafur Eliasson, an acclaimed sculpture and installation artist of Danish and Icelandic descent. In the Laugavegur area, Boston bar has an ever-changing and vibrant scene of locals from all walks of life and professions.

5. Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand’s northern capital, is becoming a second home for many US expats with its mild climate, plethora of coffee shops and coworking spaces, and exceptional (and cheap) quality of life. Chiang Mai hosts a number of unique events throughout the year, such as the Umbrella and Handicrafts Festival in January, Nomad Summit startup event in February, Art@Prom contemporary art expo in March, Nimman Art and Design Promenade and Jazz Festival in December.

Start working on your bootstrap strategies from the light-filled offices at Punspace in Chiang Mai Old Town. Print your first prototype with the 3D printers at Makerspace, a product design community center nearby. Fuel your ideas at the Librarista, a coffee shop/art museum in trendy Nimman area with an in-house library collection. Other places to connect include Ristr8t (best gourmet coffee in Chiang Mai) and BarCamp, a networking community for Chiang Mai expats.

6. Eindhoven

Holland’s design city is best known for its affiliation to Phillips, but this city of more than 215,000 has recently been attracting creatives of all types. With excellent infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle friendly commuting, a close proximity to Amsterdam, and focus on high tech and innovation, Eindhoven is an excellent choice for creatives. Events run year-round, starting with The Go Wild Music Festival in March, Dream and Dare Technology Festival in April, Dutch Technology Week in May, Dutch Design Week in October, and Glow Art Festival in November.

The city’s art-scene exploration should start at the Strijp-s, an impressive complex of several buildings showcasing the work of Eindhoven’s lead artists, designers, engineers, and musicians. At Kazerne, a first of its kind expo-restaurant in the city center, guests are exposed to works of design, experimentation, and art, while enjoying dinner and drinks. Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus, dubbed ‘the smartest square kilometer in Europe’, is home to several restaurant concepts and shops and serves as community’s resource for budding entrepreneurs.

7. Lisbon

Lisbon has a subtle mix of modern cosmopolitan and historic cobblestone neighborhoods. It’s got a port city energy along with affordable living, plentiful sunshine, and Lisbon’s youth culture to excel amid one of Europe’s worst economic recessions. Big annual events include ModaLisboa Fashion Week in March and again in October, IndieLisboa Film Festival in April, Festas de Lisboa celebrations and Street Art & Urban Creativity Fair in June, Sintra Portugal Pro bodyboarders competition held in September.

The cultural epicenter of Lisbon is the LX Factory, a self-described ‘creative island’ set in Alcantara’s portside industrial complex. Here you’ll find trendy restaurants, shops, galleries, and coworking spaces. FabLab Lisboa, a rapid prototyping space in the once derelict Forno do Tijolo area is backed by Lisbon’s municipality and is open to anyone who wishes to quickly prototype their ideas. The spirit of revival is also felt in Braço de Prata, a rundown industrial neighborhood that is now seeing new life with projects like Fabrica Braço de Prata, an abandoned factory turned music and art venue.

8. Waterloo

This small town in the south of Ontario is largely unknown to the outside world, but there is a quiet revolution happening there right now. The birthplace of Blackberry has moved on past smartphones and into the Internet of Things among many other tech-related developments. With a small, community-oriented vibe, moderate weather compared to the rest of Canada, strong knowledge-based economy, and access to tech companies such as Google and Intel, Waterloo is on the frontier of Canadian technology-driven entrepreneurship. Annual event line-up features Winterloo season celebrations in February, CAFKA Biennial in May, EverAfter music festival in June, and the Oktoberfest in well, October.

Uptown Gallery in Waterloo Town Square features works from local artists, many of whom demonstrate their art techniques in the gallery. A hip coffee shop, Death Valley’s Little Brother, pours craft espressos and whiskeys in its central location next to University of Waterloo campus. At Velocity, a UW-led program, budding entrepreneurs get free access to office and lab space, along with funding, mentoring, and residency initiatives. The founder of Pebble Watch, Eric Migicovsky, was among the early participants of the program.

9. Bangalore

South India’s Garden City may owe its fame to Infosys and the onset of IT outsourcing in the early 2000’s, but it is this city’s young and diverse population that keeps it on the forefront of India’s creative economy. With a pleasant climate, burgeoning nightlife scene, well-built IT infrastructure, and access to tech talent, Bangalore is a creative hub unlike any other on the subcontinent. Year-round events start with the Unmaad Cultural Fest in January, Karaga Festival in March/April, Unpluggd startup conference in May, and International Short Film Festival in August.

Recommended spots include Sunday Soul Sante, a potpourri of food offerings, street performances, art installations, and music in the sprawling Whitefield neighborhood. Check out Time and Space gallery on Lavelle Road for works by contemporary artists and stop by Dyu Art Cafe in the hip Koramangala neighborhood.

10. Istanbul

Istanbul has Mediterranean temperatures from April to October, and a true East-meets-West cultural mentality. There is an up-and-coming energy here, a drive to put the city on the world’s design map. Events run all year, starting with Istanbul Independent Film Festival in February, Istanbul International Film Festival in April, Istanbul International Music Festival in June, Istanbul Design Biennale and Startup Istanbul events in October, and Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair held in November.

Taksim may be referred to as the city’s coolest neighborhood, but the lesser-famed areas of Balat-Fener and Karaköy are even more interesting. Balat and its neighbour Fener have historically been known as poor immigrant enclaves. With a recent focus on renovation, both neighborhoods have seen an uptick in new residents, many of them designers and artists. Galeri Eksen in Balat is a first of its kind concept, combining a gallery, a cafe, and a residency for artists under its roof. Nearby Perispri in Fener, opened by glass and ceramics artist Cahide Erel, offers captivating views of the Golden Horn and the artist’s own works on display. Get your project off the ground in Karaköy’s Yazane, one of many new hot co-working spaces popping up all over Istanbul and celebrate it with dinner at Colonie, a self-described neo bistro with light-filled open air design worthy of its own expo at the nearby Istanbul Modern.

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