The legacy of Culture for Cities and Regions. An inspirational speech by Ian Ward.



I am delighted to be here today and be given this opportunity to conclude three years of an initiative that clearly demonstrated that culture is a smart investment for cities and regions.

I myself have been involved in Culture for Cities and Regions and participated in a study visit in Sofia, Bulgaria, to learn from their public-private partnership programme for the cultural and creative sector.
In Sofia we saw that if you set up a public/private joint venture in the right way, recognising what the private sector want from such a partnership, then it is possible to lever private sector funding for cultural initiatives.

The added value of EU funding

Culture for Cities and Regions directly benefitted about 150 cities through their active involvement in peer learning initiatives. This has been possible thanks to a clear willingness from the EU to help cities and regions share knowledge. It is a great example of the added value of EU funding. Such peer-learning processes are very difficult to implement without it – at least at such a scale – and it allows for the involvement of a high number of professionals working in the field of culture and creative industries at local level. Sustaining and strengthening this component of the initiative over the long run would certainly contribute to delivering greater social, economic and cultural impacts across Europe in a cost-effective way.

Strong European networks for better policy making

Supporting so many cities and regions to develop bold and innovative cultural policies in a time when cities are facing new and existing challenges has only been possible thanks to strong European networks that play a key role in supporting cities. EUROCITIES, the European network of large cities, celebrated its 30th birthday last year and I am proud that along with Barcelona, Frankfurt, Lyon, Milan and Rotterdam, my home city of Birmingham was an original founding member.

As many of you will know EUROCITIES works together on many urban policies, but the focus of discussions today, has been on the particularly important aspect of working together on the cultural agenda. Our culture forum, brings together political representatives and directors of cultural administrations, sharing local practices and developing practical solutions to common issues and ensuring that the voice of cities is heard in Brussels.

Why is it important for cities to share knowledge? Well this is because although all cities are different, they share the same challenges.

What are cities’ cultural challenges?

On the EUROCITIES Culture Forum, last year, we asked our member cities to imagine what their local cultural landscape will be like in 2030 and to examine their cultural challenges. After evaluating an enthusiastic response, we found that most large cities generally expect to face the same challenges, albeit in differing ways:

1. The first of the challenges identified is a demographic one, as many cities are experiencing changes in their populations. Some see growing numbers of young families or increasing numbers of older people, while others see their population shrinking. The arrival of many more newcomers to cities means that their populations become increasingly diverse. In response, cities need to develop new cultural offers that meet the evolving needs of their changing populations. For many, intercultural dialogue will be at the heart of their strategies.

2. The second challenge is around audience empowerment as audiences expect more flexibility and tailored cultural offerings. Some cities already organise regular local cultural fora that serve as platforms for local cultural organisations and audiences to share views and build a local cultural agenda together. In Birmingham, we have a very young and diverse population and as a city we have designated this year as the Year of South Asian Arts to reflect the communities in the city. It has already been a great success and we intend to share the experience with other cities.

3. The third challenge relates to governance and networking. We expect to see the number of cross-sector projects involving culture grow over the coming years to address areas such as health, wellbeing and social inclusion. Cities will continue to play an important role in encouraging new partnerships, collaboration, sharing resources and exploring innovative forms of income generation.

4. Another challenge identified is how will cultural organisations and city administrations responsible for culture adapt to the new digital context and, in effect, ride the digital wave? Cities will need to play a key role in ensuring everyone is included in the digital transition. We can all learn from best practise from other cities.

5. And the final challenge is around finance and organisation both now and in the future. This is very relevant in Birmingham at the moment and across many cities in Europe, as there are fewer resources and sadly this is only expected to get worse over the coming years. This means that instead of providing financial resources, cities will need to assume new roles as brokers, advisors and promoters. Indeed, cities can offer much more beyond purely financial support. They can use their connections to broker new partnerships between the cultural sector, financial institutions and organisations working in other fields. They might provide physical space for artists and cultural activity or they may offer advice, such as assisting local cultural organisations with responding to calls for EU-funded projects.

Interestingly, most of these challenges can apply to other areas of urban policies such as economic development and social inclusion so this learning and networking is relevant across all areas of cities’ interests.

So, how can we as a network help cities to overcome these challenges? There is no one-size-fits-all approach to culture-led development, but cities nevertheless have plenty to share and plenty to learn. It is essential therefore that cities have a place to share and exchange expertise and good practices, which is why initiatives such as Culture for Cities and Regions are so important.

The urban cultural and creative spaces of the future

Culture for Cities and Regions clearly confirmed that cities still have a lot to learn from each other, specifically on non-financial support to the cultural sector; better partnerships, and developing ownership and participatory approaches to culture-led development through the co-design of cultural agendas.

Also, many local cultural and creative places are currently re-thinking themselves. This is the case of libraries, youth centres, co-working spaces, creative hubs etc.

This is what we will discuss tomorrow on the occasion of the EUROCITIES culture forum on ‘The role of culture in shaping third places in cities’. Third places function as meeting places, spaces for cooperation, connection and inspiration. These places are transforming themselves to respond to new audiences’ expectations, and we need to reflect on what is the cultural and creative space of the future: What does it look like? What happens there? How is it managed? These are questions that require further thinking, sharing and experimenting at local level.

Local actions, better future. The legacy of Culture for Cities and Regions

As city leaders, we put citizens at the heart of what we do. We can contribute to a Europe that is stronger by being closer to its citizens. The question is not whether we need ‘more’ or ‘less’ Europe in the future. It is how best to arrive at a Europe that offers effective solutions to our common challenges.

Our cities should be places of equal opportunities for all, of dialogue and co-creation with our citizens, with a good quality of life and high standards of services. To deliver this, we are committed to continuing our efforts to become more resource efficient, more resilient, more inclusive and to work with our citizens to understand their needs and deliver innovative urban solutions to our challenges.

The number of applications we have received from cities to participate in the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative clearly shows that cities need European peer learning schemes. Such programmes allow cities to develop and grow and it is important that they continue to learn from each other in the future. It is imperative therefore that we build on the successes we have already seen and experienced.

A long term EU funded programme to support cities would ensure that best practise could be embedded across all our partner cities, helping them to manage the many challenges already identified for the future.

There is a need for us all to continue to work together in challenging times. We do not know what is around the corner, particularly in the UK as we prepare to leave the EU. This is a decision that I do not agree with, in fact it is possibly the worst political decision of my lifetime. I desperately hope we can find a way to reverse it because cities in the future can only benefit from closer and deeper partnerships and by learning, sharing and networking, under the umbrella of a long-term Culture for Cities and Regions programme, we can all face issues head on and plan for a brighter, cultural future.


Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council


Drawing Barbara Govin