guest post by dave liang: let a hundred flowers bloom (online)

Aloha! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed break from blogging for a bit. But it's all good, because I've enlisted the help of some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Dave Liang of The Shanghai Restoration Project, who interviews one of the founders of NeochaEDGE.

As producer of The Shanghai Restoration Project, I'm always inspired when I see others presenting China to the world in an innovative way. One such company that falls into this category is NeochaEDGE, a Shanghai based web magazine and creative agency that matches Chinese artists with the likes of Absolut Vodka, Adidas, Coach, and Nike. Since coming on the scene in 2007, its unique business model has caught the attention of many, including the BBC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and most recently The New York Times.

I've had the pleasure of working with NeochaEDGE on several projects over the past few years and was thrilled to have an opportunity to share this wonderful Chinese creativity with the readers of Angry Asian Man. Below you will find a recent reel and a transcript of my interview with Chinese-American Sean Leow, one of the founders of NeochaEDGE:

Why did you found NeochaEDGE?

Back in 2007, there wasn't a good way for young creative kids in China to connect, collaborate and promote their work. It felt like a lot of talent was not reaching its potential, so we built a social networking site to facilitate the connections and channels to enable sharing and promotion. Over time, we realized that our greatest value to the creative community was to actually provide commercial opportunities so that creatives could make a career and support themselves through their talent, so we built a creative agency.

What types of opportunities does NeochaEDGE bring to its artists?

The main things we offer are: 1) domestic and international exposure for their talents and work through our media channels 2) paid, commercial opportunities (and some non-commercial) for them that, in most cases, they wouldn't otherwise get (in China and abroad) 3) Mentorship and education through our experience working with brands / organizations, in-house art directors, free workshops we organize, etc.

Please share some recent NeochaEDGE project highlights:

We recently finished up a super cool installation for PUMA's flagship store in Beijing. By hanging 167 shoes from the ceiling, we created a 3D model of the PUMA cat logo:

Last year, we designed some limited edition packaging for Mayflower, which is basically the Kleenex of China. It was fun because we took such a boring, everyday product and made it really fun and fresh.

Can you describe the types of the artists that are drawn to NeochaEDGE?

I think the 80后 ("post-80s") generation in China is a really unique one globally. This is a generation that grew up before much of economic boom so they are fairly humble and hard workers. At the same time, they are the first generation really exposed to the Internet and with it, a huge amount of information and influences from around the world. Lastly, they've lived their adulthood through the heart of China's rise as a global power with the Beijing Olympics, Shanghai Expo, growing economic power, etc. so they're much more confident in China than previous generations of artists.

These factors come together to drive a generation of creatives who are confident in China to draw on the enormous cultural heritage while also blending the best of international, modern aesthetics. This is the style that we strive for most when we look for new members to join our creative collective.

Where specifically in China are these artists located and how do you coordinate with them all?

They're everywhere from first tier-cities like Beijing and Shanghai, down to third-tier cities like Nanning and Quanzhou. There are certainly higher numbers in the bigger, more creative cities, but we believe talent can be found anywhere.

Our primary method of communication and coordination is via the Internet. It's efficient, cheap and everyone has it. We're trying to provide opportunities to whoever has talent so the Internet works well to level the playing field.

Out of curiosity, how fluent in English are the artists with whom you work? Have many of them had the opportunity to go outside the country?

It varies but I'd guess that most of them have higher than average levels of English just because they have a lot of international influences. But we work with all of them in Chinese as that's definitely what they're more comfortable speaking. In terms of travel, they haven't had too many opportunities to go abroad. I would say ~10% have traveled outside of China.

To what extent has the Chinese government helped or hindered the progress of NeochaEDGE?

Contrary to what many people may think, the government has been supportive of what we do. We've been named by the Shanghai Creative Industry Center (an arm of the Shanghai provincial government) as a top representative of creative culture multiple times.

China knows that it needs to move from an industrial country known for copying to one where creative industry thrives. We are just one small part of that but the recognition and occasional help (e.g. sponsoring a venue for an event) is not overlooked by our team.

It's also important to remember that Chinese creatives and young Chinese kids in general are largely un-interested in political issues, so there's not much the government would be worried about content-wise.

How different is the company now from where you envisioned it going?

Looking back, our journey has been full of twists and turns with surely more to come, but our shared goal and vision always remains the same: Celebrating Chinese Creativity.

On that note, I'd like to include one more project from way back in the day just because it's close to my heart and representative of our roots. The day we launched our social networking site, Neocha.com, we organized a massive creative festival in a 150-year-old warehouse in Shanghai.

Your company is based in Shanghai. Can you show us a glimpse?

We've moved a few times but love our current studio space. We're right in the heart of the French Concession and always love friendly visitors!

Dave Liang is the producer of the The Shanghai Restoration Project, a music group that blends Chinese culture with hip-hop and electronica. His music has received coverage in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC, and NPR All Things Considered. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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