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Spotlight on trends in urban cultural policy
Leveraging culture to ignite a new civic spirit in world cities

World politics is entering a new phase. The established order is being challenged by tectonic global shifts across multiple arenas: culturally, socially, politically, economically, and technologically. In the three years since the last edition of the World Cities Culture Report in 2015 the challenges for cities have been profound.

But in this climate of change, cities are rising to the occasion, our research reveals a shared purpose among our cities and across national boundaries. Culture has a critical role to play in providing solutions to contemporary urban challenges. This role requires us to rethink what culture means and how it’s delivered. As our Research Director, Richard Naylor has highlighted this means ‘New types of cultural practice in new places and spaces, new formats and technologies, and new producers, audiences and decision-makers must be recognised and supported.’

Over the coming months, the World Cities Culture Forum will be publishing a series of posts that outline the latest themes and best practice in urban cultural policy from around the world. These insights are distilled from the latest edition of the World Cities Culture Report, the most comprehensive compendium of current global city cultural policies in existence today.

More than ever our cities are providing the examples and leadership for what we want our wider society to look like: open, fair, inclusive, democratic, human centred and forward-looking. That is why we are pleased to present our first set of initiatives, innovations and programmes, developed by member cities and demonstrating how cultural policy can drive civic engagement and community empowerment. The programmes below by our member cities demonstrate how culture can ignite a new civic spirit in world cities

- WCCF Director, Paul Owens


In Lisbon, the government is using cultural programming to address social challenges, namely a lack of interest in politics, low rates of participation and low public trust in institutions following historic reports of corruption. With the Festival of Politics, a two-day programme of debates, workshops, films, art, music and children’s activities, the organisers are providing a platform to make politics more accessible and relevant to people who wouldn’t normally engage.

The festival began in 2017 as part of a wider City programme to commemorate the Portuguese Revolution of April 1974 and has now evolved into an annual event which involves both the public and the artistic community in politics. The programme is designed to be widely accessible, with all programming free to the public and with segments translated into Portuguese Sign Language and available in Braille.


Culture Connects was launched by the Mayor of Dublin in 2016 as an anchor of the city’s new cultural strategy. Each Culture Counts project was designed based on a series of consultations with local community groups and their ideas about cultural engagement. The initiative was designed to enable citizens to feel greater ownership over their local cultural resources.

The flagship project of Culture Connects is The National Neighbourhood Project which brings together citizens and community groups, artists, and the city’s eight National Cultural Institutions to co-produce original artworks and performances of relevance to the communities’ interests. According to the City Council ‘All of the programmes focus on new partnerships and on new ways of working, that acknowledge how culture can bring neighbourhoods together.’ The project has brought 1,000 residents and 60 community groups across 29 neighbourhoods together with 50 artists and creative entrepreneurs to deliver 32 separate cultural projects.


To further develop a cultural policy which includes and engages its citizens, Bogota has created a strategic approach to ‘Citizenship Culture’. This is a broad and ambitious long-term policy strand of Metropolitan Development Programme’s ‘A Better Bogotá for All’ initiative.

Through Citizenship Culture, a series of policies and programmes have been instituted to break down barriers and entrenched distrust between the city government and citizens and to elevate the role of citizens in shaping the character of the city. Some of the initiatives have focused on democratising the city’s public spaces and cultural offer. Films for Bogota offers films in parks in less affluent areas of the city during summer months, and ‘Bogotá in 100 words’, a short story competition invites citizens to ‘capture the essence of the city’.


How do a city’s cultural institutions keep up and connect with an increasingly diverse population, in a nuanced and dynamic way?

In response to this challenge, Brussels’ public policy research organisation Demos has created a new kind of multidisciplinary arts event: ENTER Festival BXL. The organisers are bringing artists and local communities together to design, curate and deliver the content of the festival. The participatory process begins with an open call, in three languages, for suggestions of artistic productions which involve citizens in the creative process. The longlist of options are then presented to residents in four distinct districts of the city, which form the four festival zones. Residents are given a budget and invited to choose which of the artistic options should take place in their neighbourhood. The 2018 festival was followed by a debate event, discussing participative formats in the arts and exploring how these relate to wider issues of diversity in the city.


PAssion Card is a popular membership and debit payment card run by the government-affiliated ‘social cohesion’ agency People’s Association (PA). In 2018, the People’s Association launched the PAssion CARES initiative. Through the scheme, members can tap their Passion cards at dedicated terminals set up at People’s Association arts and cultural events, allowing them to donate ‘points’. These points then go towards various community projects.

Users can also redeem their points for arts and cultural experiences in the community including socially minded and engaged performances festivals, and pop up art experiences delivered by local theatres and community arts groups.

Image credit: Lisboa Na Rua © Egeac Jose Frade