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What is the future of culture in cities?

Headlines from the World Cities Culture Forum public session

What is the future of culture in cities? The public session at the 2016 World Cities Culture Summit in Moscow brought together leaders from cities across the world – ably chaired by writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun – to ponder just this question.

“What is the role of culture as cities grow?” asked Eshun in his introductory remarks. “What is the role of policymakers? In fact, is there a role for policymakers? Or should they move out of the way to allow cultural producers… to actually make the city on their own terms?”

Rather than simply resisting the idea that policymakers should move out of the way, the panel offered a range of engagements with this theme. It is clear that, in the twenty-first century, the three-sided relationship between the political, artistic and urban world has become ever more complicated. Our thinking must become correspondingly more sophisticated if culture is to maintain a leading role in cities.

Here are some of the headlines from the public session:

  • Cities are inextricably linked to the wider world. Issues like climate change and the refugee crisis have proven that if the world changes, cities change. When nation-states are unable or unwilling to take a lead, cultural policymakers in cities should lead the way.
  • Cultural institutions have fallen behind society, and urgently need to catch up. Opening up institutions is about more than access and participation. It should also include co-production – even reaching as far as co-production of public policy. “What’s next is going to be incredibly exciting,” said Ana Méndez de Andés, Advisor to the Councillor for Culture and Sports in the City of Madrid, “but maybe it’s not exactly institutions that are going to define it. Society is going to define it.”
  • Cities are so diverse in their approaches to the support and administration of culture that there is clearly no one-size-fits-all model for the future. The City of Moscow employs 44,000 people in its cultural institutions. Greater London, with a far more devolved and diverse approach, has ten people in its Culture Team. Given this, perhaps the most surprising thing – as demonstrated in discussion at the public session – is how much WCCF member cities can learn from one another.

One final question from Ekow Eshun: “Is it the role of culture and cultural departments to try and manage change in society… or is it the role of cultural departments and policymakers to change society itself?”

The full session can be watched here.

BOP convenes the World Cities Culture Forum (WCCF) - an international network of more than 35 cities sharing a belief in the importance of culture – providing research, policy analysis and moderation services.