Chemnitz hosted 92 representatives from 61 cities on 10-13 April to discuss the role of city administrations in developing and supporting local cultural networks and the lessons and impact of local networking examples.
At the Chemnitz forum participants shared local examples of how best to develop and support networks of local cultural organisations and stakeholders. These networks are made up of local authority departments supporting the sector and local cultural and creative actors and spaces such as cultural centres, youth centres, libraries, creative hubs, co-working spaces, incubators and maker spaces.
Such networks have proved useful in giving a better understanding of the support needs of local cultural and creative actors, enabling knowledge sharing between actors, developing areas of cooperation and trust and helping local authorities develop innovative support services.
Here are some of the takeaways from the local activities discussed at the forum.
1. Chemnitz: a transforming city making space for culture
Chemnitz has developed a new cultural strategy whose structure reflects the outcomes of a close collaboration with local cultural organisations. The city has triggered a constant process of networking involving existing and newly-created structures and stakeholders from a wide range of sectors, as well as representatives from cultural politics, science and administration, in cooperation with the team preparing the city’s application for the title European Capital of Culture 2025.
An important contribution to the process was made by a group of external experts and city peers during a tailor-made visit which was part of our EU-funded culture for cities and regions programme.
2. ‘Cognitive proximity’: city administrations and cultural organisations on the same wavelength
Collaborative local networks can flourish if city administrations and cultural stakeholders share a similar vision and are willing to join forces to achieve a common goal. A fruitful cooperation relies on mutual trust and open discussion. To that end, regular meetings and direct involvement must be encouraged, creating the conditions for partners to rely on each other.
Local examples presented included Gothenburg’s Children’s Theatre Academy which enables established and young playwrights to come together and share risks that would not otherwise be possible for emerging artists. Participants also heard how the city of Leeds supports the Donut Group, a self-established group of cultural venues situated outside the city centre which promotes an overarching narrative on culture that is not homogenised by big institutions.
3. Local networks based on a bottom-up approach to improve cultural policies
By grouping together, stakeholders can raise their voices, giving their city the opportunity to better understand their needs. The role of city administrations in connecting local cultural organisations is often crucial in initiating networks of stakeholders and providing them with both financial and non-financial support. In order to be effective, these networks should adopt a bottom-up rather than top-down approach.
This lesson was identified by the city of Espoo in developing its strategy CultureEspoo 2030. It was also highlighted through DanceNet in Dresden, a self-governed local network whose activities are backed by the city without interference. Such local networks can usefully contribute to developing better local cultural policies.
4. Bidding for European Capital of Culture as an opportunity to strengthen local networks
Cities taking the opportunity to bid for the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) title benefit from the process regardless of the result.
Cluj-Napoca, one of the Romanian candidates for 2021, established a collaborative city platform bringing together the municipality, the county council, local cultural institutions and organisations, all local universities, business clubs and clusters and civil society organisations. The title was eventually awarded to Timisoara, but the Cluj Cultural Centre remains in charge of the implementation of the programme developed for the ECoC application.
Although the United Kingdom is no longer eligible for the ECoC programme, Leeds decided to continue along the path it had mapped out in its ECoC 2023 application and to host specific projects and events in 2023.
5. Successful models of local networking are inspiring for all cities
Cities are increasingly drawing inspiration from each other. In initiating its Children’s Theatre Academy, Gothenburg was directly inspired by Barcelona’s model. Similarly, Chemnitz established KRACH – a project providing artists and creatives with free spaces to work – on the basis of the successful IncrediBOL! programme in Bologna, marking the beginning of a close collaboration between the two cities.
You can find a summary of projects presented by member cities in Chemnitz as well as an update on upcoming EU-funding opportunities here (you will need to login first).
The next EUROCITIES Culture Forum will be in Leeds on 9-11 October 2019, focusing on inclusive cities through diverse partnerships. More information will be available soon here.