"Building your startup is like sculpture or architecture - you need talented people, stable materials and great ideas." - Zoe Zhang of CreatingBoxJan. 30, 2015, 3:57 a.m.
Zoe Zhang is a 2014 SLP fellow from the Shanghai chapter. Young and dynamic, Zoe is an avid and ardent art enthusiast, and has acquired her Bachelor’s degree in Public Art from the China Academy of Art. Her Master’s degree is in Interactive Design, from the Eindhoven University of Technology. Presently, she is working on a media platform to bring creative innovation and concepts from around the world, called Creatingbox that she launched in 2013. Creatingbox has academic as well as commercial partners in three countries presently - China, US and Netherlands.
EDUCATION AND EXPERTISE
You brilliantly combine the two fields of art and entrepreneurship. How do you do it?
I think there are some commonalities between art and entrepreneurship - curiosity and persistence being two, among many. Both artists and entrepreneurs have the passion to create something new and valuable for human beings. Art and design education allows me to be creative and innovative. I think the most important thing is not only making creative projects for myself, but to make a bigger impact on society. Most people think that artists are the kind of people who are living in a bubble, but I think what they are thinking is extremely important for the society since they bring in different perspectives. This is why I wanted to create a platform to combine art and the internet. Entrepreneurship, for me, is a new journey of my experimental project. Building your startup is like sculpture or architecture - you need talented people, stable materials and great ideas.
Do you ever feel like going back to doing freelancing work? Tell us about the transition from being a freelance artist to creating your own startup and working as a curator? Did you face any constraints?
As a freelancer, I ran a design consultant studio for company strategy, branding and marketing. After three years of hard work, we got good clients and good cases, but I found we were wasting our time on temporary things. I wanted to create an ecosystem that runs by itself and has a more valuable and bigger impact. As a curator, a lot like a VC in the art industry, we hunt for good artists, create a budget for their show, enhance their value and help them showcase themselves in the art market. My startup is like an internet curator - I want to create an automatic system that can take the place of curators.
You are interested in many experimental projects related to science, literature and humanics. Can you tell us about one of your favourite projects in these categories? Do you see art and design in all aspects of life?
I have so many favourites, but those that top the list are: the ‘Smelling Project’ from Sissel Tolaas, the ‘Sweeties Project’ from a Dutch studio and the ‘Delivery for Mr. Assange’.
Art and design exist in our daily life, we just need to find the funny, interesting and creative sides to our life.
CHINA, ART AND THE GLOBE
What are some of the cultural barriers you face in bringing art back to China? Are there any hurdles that you had to overcome when you collected art from Netherlands and the US?
With globalization, we believe that the cultural barriers are relatively smaller now. This has greatly helped the cultural environment in China - we are only improving. The environment is more open than before. Additionally, an awareness of intellectual poverty has also developed. The hurdles that exist depend on what kind of art comes from overseas, but it definitely is getting better.
China is a superpower today, thus, it is extremely popular throughout the globe. But there are many countries who do not have the same homogeneous reach. Have you ever found interesting art or design in these remote or less popular countries?
The reason for the increasing popularity of Chinese art or isn’t a result of China’s superpower status, but the power of t globalized capitals. There will be more and more countries which were previously not being focused on and are yet to be discovered - like, for example, South America and Africa.
ART INDUSTRY IN CHINA
Do you feel that there are not enough entrepreneurs who concern themselves with art? Do you think art and entrepreneurship have a bigger and brighter future in the years to come?
I agree that there are not a lot entrepreneurs that focus on art, in terms of comparative numbers. However, there are already a lot of companies or startups like art.sy, fab.com or galleries that are doing business in art or design industry. The art industry is not a normal and not a mass market - it has lots of value and revenue. I do believe that It will be a trend in the future, especially in China.
Creatingbox is an amazing tool for people who are serious about discovering culturally diverse forms of art and design. Have you ever considered expanding into countries of Africa that have a lot to offer in terms of diversity?
We are open to expanding everywhere. In fact, I recently visited Kochi, India and had the opportunity to explore the Indian culture there.
How has Startup Leadership helped you through your journey?
I started Creatingbox right before I joined SLP. I met with many talented people and learned a lot from them.
Often, and especially in South Asian countries, art or design is dissociated with study. People also think that it is something that only girls should choose. Keeping these stereotypes (that need to be broken) in mind, what advice would you give young and aspiring artists today?
I would like to keep it very simple : Like an entrepreneur, follow the passion and mission and keep doing what you want to.