Cities cultural offer
On the foundation stone of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery you will find an inscription: ‘By the gains of Industry we promote Art’.
Those who made their fortunes in business and industry during Victorian times regularly supported the arts through philanthropy and bequests. It was clear back then that economic activity stimulated the arts. But as we look forward towards 2040, could the reverse be the case?
Not only could the arts and cultural sectors make an increasing contribution to economic activity within our cities, but they could become key areas of differentiation as cities compete to secure the levers of economic growth: increasing employment and prosperity.
But is it really the case that cities with a strong cultural offer are likely to perform better, and if so, should cities increase their stocks of cultural capital?
Dundee built a thriving creative sector employing 3,000 people and turning over £190m. Having built its fortune (famously) on ‘jute, jam and journalism’ it is now a global leader in video gaming technology – the home of both the Beano and, more recently, Grand Theft Auto. And this year will see Dundee open its new V&A designed by Kengo Kuma as part of a major £1bn waterfront regeneration.
It has been argued that as cultural capital translates into economic capital in the long term; culture itself is a catalyst for positive change and growth in neighbourhoods. As we write elsewhere, city festivals can aim to achieve that, and will be increasingly common in the future. But it goes much wider than this: in fact it is culture in all forms that can have this effect.
The European Commission Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor covers 168 cities. The study notes how that in historic times cities such as Athens, Florence and Amsterdam all saw major advances in cultural activity drive innovations in urban planning and governance, finance, architecture and engineering. And sure enough, the Monitor looks at modern cultural cities across Europe and notes significant employment and demographic benefits relative to other cities of similar size.
Figure 1: Cultural and creative cities – how do they compare?
Source: Cultural & Creative Cities Monitor 2017
So, what does the ideal cultural and creative city look like? According to the Monitor, it is a blend of eight named European cities. Most are medium in size, and within which the only UK city is Glasgow. This could perhaps be a legacy of its European City of Culture designation in 1990 as we write about elsewhere, into the contribution that the formal designation of City of Culture can make).
What is the UK doing to capture the culture premium? In April 2018, the UK Core Cities Group launched a new Cultural Cities Enquiry with the aim of making the, best use of new and existing resources for culture to unlock maximum social and economic value for communities.
The Group aims to look not at how rather than why culture should be resourced, with the aim of maximising the benefits which can in turn, it says, be shared by all in our society.
In times of austerity this may seem counter-intuitive, but there is clear evidence that investment in culture is an important part in delivering a successful, modern and inclusive city.
So, if we return to visit the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 2040, don’t be surprised to see a new inscription or perhaps in an extension that claims that, by the gains of Art we promote Industry.