100 representatives from 57 cities met in Leeds, United Kingdom, on 9-11 October 2019. Discussions focused on how cities celebrate diversity through innovative cultural partnerships.
The following takeaways were identified:
- Leeds 2023, an international cultural festival which will put culture at the heart of the city
The result of the referendum on membership to the European Union in 2016 meant that UK cities could no longer participate in the European Capital of Culture 2023 competition. However, the process of developing the bid had galvanised the creative sector, residents and businesses to such an extent that the City Council decided to continue with plans for ‘Leeds 2023’, an international cultural festival that will strengthen the city’s culture, economy, tourism and communities.
- Leeds: a city with a welcoming culture
19% of Leeds’ rapidly increasing population have a minority ethnic background. The city counts 140 nationalities, over 170 languages are spoken there. Strong relationships between the City Council, cultural organisations and communities have been crucial in promoting inclusivity and celebrating the diversity of the city. Migration features as a key theme in the ‘International Capital of Culture’ area of focus of Leeds Culture Strategy. The city works in close partnership with communities’ organisations, for example the West Indian Carnival that started 52 years ago and attracts more than 100,000 people. Being inclusive works best when community groups and creative industries are fully involved because they are not just beneficiaries, but partners and co-creators.
- A unique portfolio: Chief Communities Officer
In Leeds Shaid Mahmood has a job that is unique in European cities: he has leadership responsibility for prevent and counter extremism, equality, cohesion, migration, tackling poverty and equality in neighbourhoods, strategic work with the third sector, and the council’s work with communities to generate greater capacity for self-reliance and sustainable community-based solutions.
- Enable citizens to access culture in their own locality
The lack of cultural offer outside city centres is a barrier to citizens involvement in cultural activities. The organic development of cultural spaces and events allows communities to access culture and be creative in their original locality. In Leeds, Chapel FM (an art centre and radio station) is a place where the community of an isolated district can enjoy cultural activities. Since 2014 Chapel FM has taken the lead of a ‘Donut group’, a network of small-scale cultural venues situated outside the city centre. The University of Leeds is currently investigating the impact of the venues on their communities.
- Give artists a voice in the political discourse
To prosper, cities need vibrant cultural scenes. Keeping a regular dialogue with artists helps local policy makers develop effective strategies to improve the city’s cultural offer. In Leeds, a group of artists responded to the lack of space for artistic creation by transforming an abandoned space into East Street Arts, a workspace that became so important for the people living in the neighbourhood that the city of Leeds decided to give it additional spaces.
- Universities and local governments working together to shape the city
“Great cities need great universities and great universities need great cities”, pointed out Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. Universities have a good understanding of the complex local ecosystems and provide evidence and analysis on city assets and needs. The University of Leeds founded The Cultural Institute to increase research collaborations with the local creative sector, to widen cultural engagement and participation and to build students’ skills.
Next EUROCITIES Culture Forum will take place in Tampere, Finland, on 23-25 September 2020 and will focus on ‘Culture, health and wellbeing for all’.