“By sustainable culture, we mean local cultural policies and activities that are greener and more inclusive,” explained André Sobczak, Secretary General at Eurocities, officially presenting the Eurocities Lille Call to Action for low carbon and more inclusive culture at the Brussels Urban Summit last week.
In the audience, mayors and deputy mayors who want to sign this new commitment to principles for local cultural policies that do their part in protecting the environment and the wellbeing of people. Yet, the first signature came from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv even before the official launch. “This first signature shows that this call sees no borders,” said Marie-Pierre Bresson, Deputy Mayor for Culture at the City of Lille.
What’s at stake
As the outgoing Chair of the Culture Forum, Dresden evoked the three priorities it had set for its mandate: making culture more sustainable, uniting European cities, and strengthening recovery efforts. “The climate crisis is the most urgent priority,” stressed Annekatrin Klepsch, Deputy Mayor for Culture in Dresden. “You are here because you share and understand that we have to act now. You understand the contribution of culture to sustainability. Our commitment to this call will help our efforts in each of our cities. Congratulations on being part of the solution.”
Already 24 cities signed the call during the Brussels Urban Summit, and more have expressed their intention to do so in the coming weeks. By implementing cultural strategies in coordination with other departments, cities are creating better living conditions for people.
“Culture is prescriptive and motivates to act and wakes consciences up,” added Bresson. “It defends ideals such as diversity, democracy and freedom, solidarity within and in our territories, cooperation and cohabitation between individuals. Without this, it’s impossible to have sustainable life between people.”
Culture is prescriptive and motivates to act and wakes consciences up
Catherine Magnant, Head of Unit, DG Education and Culture at the European Commission, supported the Call to Action. “We believe in the transformative power of culture and in the fundamental role of cities in changing the world,” she said, congratulating the initiative on its timeliness.
We believe in the transformative power of culture and in the fundamental role of cities in changing the world
She also stressed how such a commitment is essential today as the industry and some European leaders are pushing back against policies that would allow the Commission to achieve the Green Deal objectives this mandate had set for itself. “It’s not an easy moment for Climate,” said Magnant. “We need action at all levels.”
The European Commission can support cities by developing cultural policies, encouraging change and exchanging good practices. For example, Magnant mentioned the new European Heritage Hub and past work cities and regions have done towards including sustainable goals within cultural heritage actions. The European Commission can give directions, shared Magnant, but initiatives like this Call to Action can lead the way to concrete steps.
What concrete actions in cities?
For instance, in Lille, the discussion on climate issues was embedded in their 2022 cultural season, and, more recently, the city developed a tool to measure the carbon footprint of the cultural spaces and activities it manages. By knowing what they emit, they can also monitor their reduction efforts. “Our objective is to become the Capital of Sustainable Culture in 2024, 20 years after having been European Capital of Culture,” announced Bresson indicating that the Call to Action is a step in that direction.
Magnant encouraged cities to implement a monitoring system to follow up on the commitments to the Call to Action. Municipalities like Lille and Dresden are acutely aware of the importance of monitoring. For example, Dresden’s Charter on Culture and Sustainability enables local stakeholders to measure and report on their advancement.
Glasgow is within the first group of cities to sign the Call to Action and commit to several of its priorities. Glasgow’s initiatives span from taking creative climate action, giving everyone access to all art forms, integrating gender issues and ensuring gender parity in local cultural policies to dealing with its colonial past in schools and introducing an Agent of Change facilitating radical changes within the local administration. “We hope to right the wrongs of the past by introducing change in the whole system via culture,” said Annette Christie, Councillor at Glasgow City Council.
Join the movement
Cultural and artistic activities consume energy, resources and materials and generate several forms of pollution. However, arts and culture can also be powerful levers to support positive change: cultural institutions, artists, audiences, and other stakeholders can gather locally to build more sustainable projects and models.
Cities who wish to join the Eurocities Lille Call to Action and contribute to creating more inclusive and sustainable local cultural policies can still do so either online or in October 2023 during the Eurocities Culture Forum in Birmingham.