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EUROCITIES Culture Forum: five take-aways

  • culture

EUROCITIES Culture Forum met in Lisbon from 17-19 October to discuss how fast-changing cities can effectively support and benefit from collective projects on culture and heritage. Here are the five main messages the 25 attendees from 68 cities took away from the event.

The Culture Forum is a peer-learning initiative that shares knowledge on how to make smart investments in culture and focuses on cultural heritage, creative industries, culture for social inclusion, social innovation and inter-cultural dialogue. October's event concentrated on collective projects in fast-changing cities. Collective projects are grassroots projects that start from collective citizen actions or organisations through bottom-up decision-making. These projects aim to increase social inclusion, strengthen ties between participants, improve quality of life in specific areas and develop cultural activities. Through the (financial or non-financial) support of municipalities, such projects can be powerful tools for urban change and the development - and redevelopment - of neighbourhoods. 

Collective projects have multiplied recently in Lisbon in response to the growth of tourism and the rapid transformation of several historical districts. The city shared local examples at the event and recommendations were developed for how best to invest in collective culture projects. These are the highlights.

1.    Creating a new city image through socially-inclusive cultural projects

Lisbon has managed to overcome the economic crisis of 2009 and create a new image for itself by taking the reins of cultural management. Citizens are the instigators of a variety of collective initiatives re-imagining the future of their city. Cozinha Popular in the Mouraria neighbourhood, for example, is a social project designed to revitalise the area by providing employment and access to food for those in need which exemplifies inhabitants’ creativity in finding sustainable local solutions.

The municipality has proved it can reimagine itself by making inclusive cultural activities a priority. Not only does it support creative spaces, it also invests in art projects in public places - such as the public art festival Muro- Festival de Arte urbano. This approach confirms the city’s innovative and comprehensive cultural investment and proves the adaptability of large cities as cultural leaders.

Inspiring management of culture as 'a means of resistance'

The inclusive cultural management approach of EGEAC, a municipal company that manages Lisbon’s key cultural spaces and events, is proving to be inspirational. Initially focused on city central areas, the organisation has shifted its attention to cultural initiatives in public spaces and peripherical areas. Its actions are reinforcing social cohesion and contributing to the creation of the city’s identity through its inhabitants’ memories and stories.

3.    Encouraging city administrations to appreciate citizens’ expertise

Grassroots collective culture projects need to be recognised for their capacity to come up with concrete and inclusive solutions to cities’ challenges. There is a shift from top-down cultural management to greater acknowledgement of citizens’ expertise and increasing support for collective projects by city administrations.

Administrators are increasingly seeing citizens as invaluable initiators of cultural projects. Examples shared in Lisbon include the revitalisation of a car park in Amsterdam where citizens’ emotions were part of the project planning and the transformation of a parking lot into a garden in Bologna, based on a close collaboration between the municipality and students.

4.    Becoming increasingly flexible and digitally savvy

Cities administrations are reinventing tools supporting collective initiatives on culture and increasingly embracing the digital challenge. Innovative examples include the new participatory budget in Helsinki and the community-based platform SynAthina in Athens, which promotes and maps citizens’ projects on culture.

Cities are also becoming more open to temporary use of spaces and sites and not afraid of experimenting with new forms of governance. In the management of the NRE-area, a former industrial site that is now a creative hub in Eindhoven, the municipality has implemented an organic approach to governance with end-users, demonstrating how a good understanding of collective projects helps to avoid conflict and improve collaboration among stakeholders.

5.    Valuing the neighbourhood scale in sustainable and inclusive projects

The neighbourhood scale is key in collective projects. Investing in culture in poor areas can foster sustainable cities and prevent the uncontrolled effects of mass tourism. EGEAC’s investment in cultural projects in public spaces in Lisbon’s deprived areas, such as the Festival Na Rua, or the focus on public art by Gdansk’s municipal Centres of Contemporary Art Laznia 1 and Laznia 2, confirm this trend. Such projects also nurture a sense of belonging and pride at neighbourhood level.  

October's Culture Forum event saw the cities of Espoo (Finland) and Dresden (Germany) elected Chair and Vice Chair of the Culture Forum for two years.

The next EUROCITIES Culture Forum will take place in Chemnitz on 10-12 April 2019.