Culture as a tool in cities

In these times of austerity a prevalent theme is the utilisation of culture – in other words culture must be seen to do something and preferably more than just one thing. The prevailing discourse is that the days of ‘art for art’s sake’ are over.

When we speak about culture and what culture should do it is important to clarify the exact definition of culture to ensure that different stakeholders in cultural projects speak from the same page. Inspired by Raymond Williams’ Keywords, I find is useful to distinguish between three main definitions of culture.

  1. Culture as the abstract concept which describes the “general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic l development” (Williams: Keywords)
  2. Particular way of life – ie. youth culture
  3. Culture as “works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity”. Is many ways what is usually the domain of a ministry of culture.

It is specfically this third definition we want to use when talking about culture and the creative city. By having a clear and tangible description of culture it is easier to use ‘culture’ as a tool for doing other things.

The concept of the ‘creative city’ is often used as a description of culture and creativity permeating the city at every level. It was coined by Charles Landry and Franco Binachini in their seminal essay The Creative City from 1995. In his preface to the publication, Peter Hall argues that the concept of the ‘creative city’ is an important development for two reasons: 1) Culture, creativity, sports and entertainment is increasingly seem as a serious economic tier within local economies 2) Culture and creativity are in their own right the source of innovation which can be exported beyond the local parish.
Bilbao Guggenheim
The key point in Landry and Bianchini’s thinking is summed up neatly in the following quote from the essay: “Everything [in the city] is seen as a resource including things commonly regarded as liabilities”. The point is to think holistically and join up the resources in a city in new ways. We need to nurture “Genuine creativity involves thinking a problem afresh and from first principles; experimentation; originality; the capacity to rewrite rules; to be unconventional; to discover common threads amid the seemingly disparate; to look at situations laterally and with flexibility.”

Subsequently Richard Florida has also elaborated on the  creative class which is distinct from others by it’s ability to create new value compared to just doing routine work:

I have recently looked at two cases where culture and creativity plays a more active role for other agendas:

Aarhus 2017 : European Capital of Culture

The Creative Europe Programme.

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2 Responses to Culture as a tool in cities

  1. Brid says:

    Great article! Utilisation for creativity.

  2. Pingback: User participation in creative cities. | The CoDesign Research Cluster

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