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The Seoul World Cities Culture Summit
A time of sharing, learning and inspiration

Last November, the World Cities Culture Forum met in Seoul. This marks the third of three blogs that brings out and reflects on the key discussions and topics that took place there. Our previous two blogs on Seoul’s civic driven cultural policy and the Seoul Declaration can be found here. This final edition looks into how world cities have much in common and much to learn from each other.

One of the most important yet intangible benefits of the World Cities Culture Forum is the power that comes from meeting together and sharing expertise, sharing challenges, and experiencing mutual support and comradeship together in one place. Although there is a great deal of diversity within our member cities, we continue to see striking similarities in the types of challenges that cities face. Resources like the Policy Handbooks on Making Space for Culture or Culture and Climate Change, and schemes like the Leadership Exchange Programme, provide the means to forge partnerships and shared learning in pursuit of common goals.

“The knowledge level of the presenters and attendees was routinely off the charts, and the opportunities to learn from people who have real world solutions to important cultural issues was extraordinary. And now to have the chance to increase the real-world learning through the new Leadership Exchange initiative – most excellent.” - Jim Butler, Creative Industries Development Manager, Cultural Arts Division, City of Austin, Economic Development Department

Here are just a few of the shared experiences that emerged from our time together in South Korea:

The role of culture can be amplified through collaboration in city hall
Culture teams in city halls need to collaborate across departments to achieve their objectives. Whatever the issue at hand, they need to speak in terms of other agendas, while reminding city colleagues that artists and creatives offer something special and distinct.

Cultural leaders to strike a balance between stepping in and stepping back, between leading and being led
In the Candlelight demonstrations of 2016 the use of public space by artists became a catalyst of social change in Seoul. The city’s main square, Gwanghwamun Square, was taken over by artists who, in response to censorship, opened the temporary Black Tent Theatre to perform work free from censorship and provide a platform for marginalised voices.

“We have Black Tent Theatre in Japan and their activities include political messages. We should notice that arts and culture can address political issues and change our society. … city governments should support them.” Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Board Member, Arts Council Tokyo; Director of the Center for Arts and Culture, NLI Research Institute.

Very often the beneficiaries of culture are those living in specific neighbourhoods, or tourists visiting the cities

The new Seoul Culture Vision 2030 commits to investing in cultural facilities in parts of the city that have been neglected. Other World Cities are also addressing inequality of cultural access within their cities. It’s often the case that central or affluent neighbourhoods benefit from a greater concentration of cultural facilities, amplifying the inequality within cities.

Chengdu has developed a policy whereby its citizens are never more than a 15-minute walk from a cultural facility. Edinburgh and Hong Kong are seeking to support community arts in all areas of the city, and for the benefits of locals, rather than simply tourists or those who already engage with the arts.

“At the summit, I learnt about different solutions given by world cities to address how to engage citizens in shaping their own cultural strategy and how to bring cultural life to people where they live, instead of asking them to reach venues in the city centre, where most cultural institutions traditionally are located” Luca Bergamo, Vice Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Cultural Development, City of Rome.

Gentrification and a focus on economic development can have a damaging effect on the cultural vibrancy of World Cities

Many (although not all) deputy mayors for culture are forging policies that address the effects of economic development and gentrification in historically poor yet vibrant neighbourhoods. The Community Arts Stabilization Trust in San Francisco has proven to be an inspiration for London in pursuit of practical responses to the effects of market capitalism on the cultural fabric of a city. Other initiatives that were shared in Seoul included Zurich’s policy of providing for artists through running studios and support with paying rent, and Austin’s approach to repurposing available civic spaces to accommodate arts activities.

In Seoul, the city government has begun to address that fact that rapid economic development has come at a cost to citizen wellbeing. Inspired by the Seoul Culture Vision 2030, which emphasises the cultural wellbeing of citizens, the Summit explored how a more sensitive and human-centred approach could lead the design of policy and programmes.

“Discussing citizen wellbeing and engagement in such a deep and pervasive way was unexpected and reassuring: it made us realise that our work sits in a social context, and how important culture is to building social capital. I returned home with a renewed commitment to pursue more nuanced approaches to citizen engagement through culture.” Lisa Colley, Manager Cultural Strategy, City of Sydney.