- The World Cities Culture Forum (WCCF) on Wednesday announced the selection of 18 global cities to participate in its Leadership Exchange Program, designed to support culture and the "global creative economy." The program is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Google Arts & Culture.
- The selected cities will participate in seven collaborative exchanges to address a range of cultural challenges that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Such challenges include providing equitable access to creative space; supporting democratic participation; addressing at-risk cultural venues and identifying new avenues of cultural funding.
- The exchanges and their participants are detailed as follows:
|Civic engagement||Warsaw, Poland and Lagos, Nigeria||Warsaw and Lagos will assess their arts biennials to explore how culture can be used as tool for civic engagement.|
|Arts and culture policies||Lisbon, Portugal and Montreal||Lisbon and Montreal will exchange information on their cultural quarters policies to better address cultural support in neighborhoods.|
|Funding models for culture||Vienna and Zurich||Vienna and Zurich will collaborate to explore innovative funding models for arts promotion and participation.|
|Access to affordable creative space||Austin, TX; Sydney and Melbourne||These cities will exchange strategies for increasing equitable and affordable access to creative space.|
|Cultural equity, inclusion at the Olympics||Paris and Los Angeles||Paris and Los Angeles, which are hosting the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 and 2028, respectively, will focus on strategies for cultural equity and inclusion at the events.|
|Cultural mapping and data||Amsterdam; Austin, TX; Barcelona, Spain; Chengdu, China; London; Los Angeles; Milan; Montreal and Stockholm||These cities will develop shared learnings for the support of data collection and mapping of cultural assets.|
|Addressing culture at risk||London and New York||The cities will share strategies on supporting cultural organizations at-risk of shuttering due to COVID-19.|
WCCF's inaugural Leadership Exchange Program supported four exchanges between nine cities in 2018-2019, resulting in a number of tangible outcomes and lessons learned for the 2020-2021 program. And while many of the participants in this new program round were also members of the inaugural exchange, the cities face entirely new challenges to address in the wake of the global health pandemic.
Tracey Knuckles, a member of the cultural assets management practice at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said several of the the topics of this year's exchange "seek to address the inequities that COVID has amplified" in regards to cultural access, particularly for vulnerable communities.
"The urgency behind the proposal has only become more real," she said.
The definition of culture can vary by city, as can a city's dependency on that culture for tourism and economic revenues. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 225 independent live music venues that generated $1.36 billion in 2019 and supported 10,000 jobs, though most of those jobs have been furloughed this year. State legislators are now pushing the Save Our Stages Act to allocate $200 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to support these venues.
In cultural hotspots like Nashville, TN and New Orleans, cities are looking to support the artists themselves with funding. Nashville's Metro Arts department announced in April a $50,000 emergency fund to support local artists, while the New Orleans Business Alliance established a relief fund for gig workers, including musicians, arena workers and festival production staff.
"Art is essential to our culture, even if it's not an essential business," said Nashville resident and artist Elisheba Israel Mrozik in an earlier interview. "Without art bringing us together, especially in this period of social isolation, it would be a pretty bad place."
A broad shift to digital programming has helped many of these venues and performers stay afloat as communities move their work online — and there's more work cities can do to tap into digital resources, Knuckles said.
"It will never take, in my mind, the place of a performance or the real experience of seeing a painting on a wall or experiencing the choreography that a dancer is performing in front of you, but I think the digital realm still has a lot of exploration ahead of it," she said.
Knuckles also emphasized that cities, particularly those that depend on cultural tourism, will now be required to work more locally by engaging citizens to explore their own cities. The "cultural mapping and data" exchange outlined in this year's WCCF program intends to prioritize that local engagement by highlighting cities' cultural assets beyond anchor institutions such as theaters or museums.
"Understanding where your assets are can really help you plan accordingly," Knuckles said. "You can plan your funding to local artists and communities, it can help you think about longer term investments in the public realm and public infrastructure, and ultimately better understand the needs and desires of your residents."
As cities struggle to patch budget deficits that resulted of "painful reductions in revenues" amid COVID-19, some may not see culture as a leading issue — and officials involved in this program hope to change that.
"Culture and creativity have the power to accelerate our economic recovery and to unite our communities during these challenging times," Justine Simons, WCCF chair and London's Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, said in a statement. "[B]y bringing cities together from around the world we have a unique opportunity to learn from each other."
Knuckles echoed this by likening cultural recovery to that of any other sector. "In the same way that we think about other issues being at high risk of loss, I think the U.S. has to think about arts and culture in that kind of way. What's the risk that we lose culture? There's plenty to lose," she said.