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“You can’t buy creativity… it has to be invested in”
What is the relationship between the music industry and vibrant global cities?

How can cities work together with the music industry to create socially and economically vibrant places? This question is an increasingly urgent one, given the threats to live music in city centres. It was recently addressed at the Music Cities Convention in Brighton, England, attended by a number of member cities of the World Cities Culture Forum.

It is clear that there is a continuing need to legitimise music:

  • As an industry and a part of the wider business environment, rather than simply a target for subsidy
  • As a contributor to the quality of life in cities, rather than a ‘nuisance’ source of noise complaints and anti-social behaviour
  • As a source of societal value and economic impact

Speakers were conscious of the threats to a vibrant music scene in cities: gentrification, regulation, and the increasing privatisation and control of public spaces. ‘Recent large-scale corporate investments in massive luxury housing…’ observes WCCF Policy Briefing #4, ‘directly threaten the long-term survival of the cultural sector in world cities.’

Conference participants argued that cities must consciously make space for the often anarchic and freeform nature of the arts. Some saw political interventions in the music scene as a double-edged sword, leading to burdensome regulation as much as support.

Yet there were inspiring case studies of how cities could operate in more permissive ways: Jocelyn Kane of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission spoke about using building codes to protect nightlife venues from noise complaints, while Julia Jones of Busk in London discussed how clear policies and better communication could help to ensure “the continuation of a performance culture that has existed on our streets for centuries.” Music Canada’s Accelerating Toronto’s Music Industry Growth and Sydney’s Live Music and Performance Action Plan provide examples of how cities can work with the music industry in ways that create value for all.

“It’s really hard,” said Mirik Milan, Night Mayor of Amsterdam, “to penetrate nightlife from City Hall.” Yet the role he created has helped policymakers around the world to do just that. Milan recently visited London to share his experience with the new Night Time Commission, a visit facilitated by the World Cities Culture Forum. Building bridges across sectors and roles is necessary for cities and the music industry to work successfully together.

As Chris Cooke of Complete Music Update put it, supporters of music need to be clear that the vibrant artistic ecosystem that brings cities alive “doesn’t just happen.” Research can help to tell the story of the positive impact of music on city life: Phil Nelson of the British & Irish Institute of Modern Music is mapping Brighton as a Music City, while Jocelyn Kane shared research from San Francisco on the impact of night life on the city’s economy. “If you’re not doing this in your city,” she said, “you should.”

“You can’t buy creativity,” observed Mirik Milan. “It has to be invested in.”

Special thanks to Shain Shapiro for the invitation to Music Cities Convention.

Photo credit: Jully Black at Luminato Festival, Courtesy of City of Toronto