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1095 days of Culture for Cities and Regions, plus one: Culture for Cities and Regions Final Event

 

 

 

While anthropologists struggle to understand exactly what culture is, cities are focussing on what culture can do: Foster entrepreneurship, generate huge returns on investment, strengthen communities and improve the quality and richness of life for citizens.

 

Culture for Cities and Regions (CCR) drew to a close with a final event on 25 October, the culmination of three years of cities putting their heads together to more effectively foster culture, spark investment, and harvest its returns.

 

These programmes are our oxygen

 

Annelies Storms, deputy mayor for culture, tourism and events in Ghent, kicked off the afternoon by hailing the success and importance of programmes like CCR. She highlighted the power of such programmes to help cities reinvestigate and strengthen their own administration, that they can provide an insight into other cities that is a source of inspiration for change, and that the hard data and case studies they furnish can inform future European policy. “These programmes”, she declared, “are our oxygen.”

 

Cities crying out

 

Cécile Houpert, EUROCITIES Project support officer, celebrated the success of the programme, which received excellent feedback from host cities, their guests and the Commission. Julie Hervé, senior culture policy advisor at EUROCITIES, pointed to some of CCR’s outcomes: developing better connections between culture and private industries, communities and migrants, and shaping the thirds spaces of the future.

 

But the speeches were far from a show of back patting, Ms Hervé also revealed that though 444 cities had applied for CCR, only 150 had been able to take part. Almost two thirds of cities crying out to develop their cultural policies were unable to access the programme. In future projects, the supply of EU funding needs to be adjusted to meet demand.

 

Cities ahead of the game

 

Philippe Kern, managing director at KEA, explained how cities use their cultural resources to stimulate industry and entrepreneurship, exploiting creative hubs to “encourage accidental encounters” so that arts can mingle freely with science and tech to produce innovation. Cities are ahead of the game in this respect, and the EU is a first rank investor in urban cultural projects.
Nonetheless, Mr Kern also pointed out that the cultural sector is often not aware of how much it does for the city, and gets a lot done with few resources while local authorities often pay lip service to culture without putting their money where their mouth is.

 

Not investing more deeply in culture is a big mistake on the part of those guilty of it, Mr Kern explained, as studies have proven that investment in culture actually has a higher margin of returns than investment in technology.

 

Be our guest

 

The CCR programme works by arranging knowledge sharing activities between cities; those who wish to improve their cultural sector visit those who already have strong and innovative cultural policies in place. So what’s in it for the host cities? In dialogue with EUROCITIES projects and knowledge sharing director Nathalie Guri, Susanna Tommila, cultural director of the city of Espoo, explained the value of CCR for host cities like her own.

 

According to Ms Tommila, this was an excellent opportunity for self analysis, learning how to articulate their cultural achievements, and seeing how outsiders reacted to them. On the one hand, they learned appreciate the enormity of their successes, but they also ended up making fundamental changes to increase accessibility to one of their initiatives as a direct result of input from guest cities.

 

Critical friends

 

Kurt Eichler, head of cultural affairs for Dortmund, added that Dortmund’s experience as a host was an excellent opportunity to gain insight into the cultural policies of other cities and countries, providing context which gave one a better understanding of one’s own position. He emphasised that host cities were not playing the role of consultant, but engaging in a relationship of critical friends.

 

Urban expert and town planner Nils Scheffler added to this that of all the programmes he has participated in, EUROCITIES is exceptionally effective in its knowledge sharing activities, involving all relevant stakeholders at an early stage and preparing them intensively for study visits.

 

Amplifying the volume of culture

 

Belfast arts officer Christine O’Toole, spoke of the enormous benefit of CCR for her city. “We benefitted more that we had hoped for” she enthused, as the study “rewrote the agenda for community planning”. Having international experts made city officials who were more sceptical of the importance of cultural development sit up and listen, and examples of successful programmes and outcomes in other countries helped to convince them that changes needed to be made.

 

This sentiment was also expressed by Eva-Maria Gräfer, project coordinator in Chemnitz, whose study visit to Bologna resulted in the development of KRACH, an incubator programme inspired by Bologna’s IncrediBol.

 

Creative communities

 

Following workshops in during which attendants had the opportunity to hear about and further discuss projects within CCR, some closing remarks were offered by Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council and chair of EUROCITIES culture forum. “The speed and flexibility of cities”, Mr Ward declared, “make them an ideal test bed for new policies”.

 

The question for cities, according to Mr Ward, is “not just what you can do for culture, but what you can do through culture.” It is essential to remember that cultural investment is “not just about the ‘creative class’ but about working for a community.” He ended the event by expressing the hope, and confidence, that such programmes would continue.