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A village of innovation hubs crucial to our creative futures

Updated: Mar 25

The next wave of the modern Creative Economy is building as we speak. Nations around the globe are racing to fill gaps in infrastructure and business supports, especially for barriered populations in urban and rural areas such as women, Indigenous people and new Canadians. The good news is that filling these gaps also fills gaps for less-barriered creative entrepreneurs.

On the ground this means well-situated innovation/creativity hubs, and customized early-stage creative entrepreneurship supports. This map has come out of five years of research and engagement with the Vancouver Island/Rural Islands creative ecosystem.


This article will discuss how these creativity hubs differ from the traditional makerspace and DIY models.

But first a story.

A few years ago, a long time woodworker from Campbell River donated his wood working shed to the local arts council. The arts council created an artists residency program with a strong community engagement focus.

Local singer, carver and community worker Shawn Decaire was the first artist to be accepted into the program in 2022. I attended the end-of-residency ceremony last fall, where Shawn told tale after tale about the magic that happened in that small space. You can watch it here.

The short version of Shawn’s fabulous presentation is that he was never alone during his four month residency. He was constantly surrounded by members of his family and his Nation, by precariously housed friends, by researchers and activists.

All ages and cultures and genders and lived experiences flocked to this shed. The space was animated day and night. People were eager to sit quietly in a warm and friendly space, learn from each other, master old skills and invent new ones. Together this accidental team of collaborators invented a sleeping cart for unhoused people, fulfilling the arts council’s community-minded vision for the residency program.

In this time of digital disconnection and widening socio-economic gaps, access to space and tools and knowledge and collaborators and teachers and learners and witnesses and benefactors and beneficiaries is more important than ever.

The Campbell River arts council, together with Shawn’s magnetic personality and skills, created a roadmap for the future of creativity and innovation. This new model is fundamentally different than the makerspace movement that prioritizes DIY self-mastery, and diametrically opposed to the solo-preneur fortunate to have the resources to create a private studio or workshop with a private collection of tools.

This new model is for people bursting with ideas and talents with little access to the resources and supports with which to explore them. And this new model syncs beautifully with what we’ve learned over the past year at the Central Island Digital Creation Hub, and the make-together and maker-for-hire models being tested right now at the Alberni Makerspace.

The dynamic results coming out of these local case studies are mirrored in emerging global research that is redefining the physical and social infrastructure required to break open siloed field of innovation and ideation, to allow the rich potential of those left behind for too long to get a seat at the table.

Here on Vancouver Island, after four years of research and engagement with hundreds of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations, artists and creative communities - and factoring in our super-region's unique assets and opportunities, we now believe the way forward looks like this:

  • A connected network of hubs (like Portugal's FabLab community)

  • A directory of makers-for-hire

  • A coordinated supply of tools and technologies so creative enterpreneurs can easily move / work throughout our economic ecosystem

  • A coordinated business and market development strategy to ensure creative capital (talent and products) is discoverable and available

In larger communities and urban centres, these hubs will need 5000 to 20000 square feet of space to house essential components such as:

  1. Smart manufacturing equipment such as 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters and specialized tools for rapid prototyping and small-scale production

  2. Essential wood, textiles and metalworking tools - power and hand

  3. Digital creation studio equipped with photography, videography, scanning, lighting, sound and audio tools

  4. Mentors and trainers to provide guidance on various aspects of entrepreneurship and manufacturing, from design and prototyping to intellectual property protection and market entry

  5. Well-curated materials library that contains different types of wood, metal, plastics, and composites to enable creative entrepreneurs to explore and experiment with new materials

  6. Ample storage solutions for materials, works-in-progress, and personal belongings

  7. Dedicated area for painting, finishing and surface treatment

  8. Flexible workspaces (shared workbenches, meeting rooms, large open areas) that foster cross-pollination of ideas and facilitate unexpected collaborations

  9. Community workshop space (for wannabe and weekend warrior makers)

  10. Office space for staff

Nice-to-have additional offerings include:

  • Flexible storefront area for sales and events

  • Cafe or break area

  • Packaging and shipping station

  • Virtual collaboration tools

  • Electronics lab

In smaller communities and rural areas, these hubs would need at least several thousand square feet, and the first four items on the essential components list, above.

Revenue models for these hubs range from non-profit to profit, and often rely on a membership structure. The non-profits seem to be more successful because they can access workforce development and innovation grants. Another key success factor is partnerships with businesses (e.g. tool companies) and educational institutions, as well as connections to venture capitalists, angel investors and other funding sources.


** We need to start using the terms 'creative entrepreneurship' and 'creative entrepreneur' more. This excerpt from the Brookfield Institute's 2020 report A Portrait of Creative Entrepreneurship and the Creative Economy in Canada explains why.

“The concept of entrepreneurship today is rooted in traditional ideas of business, economics, and scalability. Even more so, recently entrepreneurship has become synonymous with tech start-ups. These narrow views of entrepreneurship can discredit the entrepreneurial nature of creatives.
As a result of entrepreneurship’s traditional commerce background, some in the creative industries do not personally identify as entrepreneurs. However, if creatives do not self-identify as entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to access resources that are targeted to entrepreneurs, such as funding and other business support opportunities.”


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