GCDN CONVERSATIONS: WHOSE CULTURAL DISTRICT IS IT ANYWAY?

GCDN CONVERSATIONS: WHOSE CULTURAL DISTRICT IS IT ANYWAY?
08/04/2020 gscarpella

Aug 2020

Thursday, 23 July 2020 at 11am EST | 4pm BST | 7pm GST

Contributors:

  • Lizzie Araujo, Cultural Affairs Manager, Department of Art, Culture and Tourism (ACT), City of Providence
  • Vilma Jurkute, Director, Alserkal Avenue
  • Andrea Dempster Chung, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Kingston Creative – Moderator

Who do you really serve and who benefits?

Facilitated by Andrea Dempster Chung and attended by about 70 attendees, this session explored the key questions, challenges and opportunities that should be considered when thinking about engagement and representation of stakeholders in the current moment. In particular, the session advocated for a model of engagement that is networked, collaborative, and responsive to the concerns and needs of citizens and society.

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Summary of Key Points
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Cultural districts are unique but also share common goals for community and civic engagement:

The discussion highlighted two unique cultural districts that were developed through distinct contexts and modes of governance, but with a shared emphasis on community and civic engagement:

  • Department of Art, Culture + Tourism (ACT), City of Providence
    • Although this Department is part of the city government and oversees the cultural activities citywide through a public sector model, the need and desire for its formation emerged from the bottom-up – as the community was calling for the development of an arts department to enable policy impact and artist representation.
    • For Lizzie Araujo, the Department exists to enable local voices to be heard and represented, and a large portion of their work involves the staff “going into the community and meeting people where they are”. There is an emphasis on including and collaborating with local communities to create policies and partnerships that will strengthen the neighbourhood.
  • Alserkal Avenue, Dubai
    • Established as a private venture in 2008, Alserkal Avenue has become a public space that allows young adults who are residents of the city to develop their own creative communities and sense of belonging.
    • With a young and diverse population of more than 200 nationalities and a median age of 33 years old, Vilma Jurkute believes that Alserkal Avenue’s mission is to produce new forms of learning and knowledge. She also describes Alserkal Avenue as a collective movement that is bridging and forming a new creative community.

 

Common principles and strategies for stakeholder engagement:

Although each district is unique in its specific contexts, challenges and features of governance; they shared common principles and practices that underpin their stakeholder engagement:

  • The need to connect with residents and local artists, and instill a sense of ownership in the local community
  • Strengthen local participation by recognising that local artists and citizens are your district’s best advocates and ambassadors
  • For meaningful co-creation, enable local representation and a diversity of voices at the decision-making and policy-making table
  • Be open and flexible about how relationships with stakeholders are continually changing and evolving
  • Stay agile and leave room for growth, especially in terms of allowing space for informality and organic engagement

The contributors also shared practical strategies for stakeholder engagement:

  • To recognise personal connection as a foolproof way for outreach and engagement, especially in terms of being part of the ground-up activities and everyday life of the neighbourhood
  • To acknowledge that there is no utopian approach to community as each community is diverse and unique
  • To accept that not all stakeholders will be aligned to your objectives
  • To not dismiss the private sector, as its actors hold valuable community resources such as real estate
  • For areas that are perceived as unsafe, relevant programming can be an effective method to reach out to audiences and encourage them to visit

 

Covid as an opportune moment that highlights the importance of community and neighbourhood:

The discussion also highlighted Covid as an opportunity to rethink and/or reaffirm the importance of community engagement strategies and investing in your local neighbourhoods. The contributors shared some common concerns and areas for action:

  • To be open to remodeling and recalibrate operational models and objectives, especially in relation to rethinking the civic roles that your cultural district can play in the wider ecology
  • To recognise that your cultural district has a civic responsibility and accountability towards your local communities
  • To be part of the collective action of coming together as a community to find answers and solutions that will uplift and alleviate communities, especially the more vulnerable
  • To proactively adopt a pay-it-forward mentality, and protect cultural workers
  • To rethink programming and ensure that it is not tokenistic but truly inclusive
  • To enable safe spaces for healing and for communities to express their fears and stress
  • To embrace this opportunity to question “who really owns the city”, rethink neo-liberal spaces and transform them into civic and community spaces, such as community housing

 

Gentrification and displacement are pertinent long-term challenges with no fool-proof preventive measures:

Finally, the discussion also recognised gentrification and displacement as pertinent long-term issues facing cultural districts and neighbourhoods such as Little Haiti in Miami and Shoreditch in London:

  • The potential for the pandemic to exacerbate and/or accelerate gentrification was noted, especially for vulnerable lower-income families, local artists and smaller arts organisations
  • Lizzie identified gentrification as a significant issue facing Providence, especially art-washing and increasingly high rental costs that prevent artist ownership.
  • Lizzie also suggested that for districts that are highly dependent on tourism, it is critical to ensure that the cash inflow and resources trickle down to support and sustain local artists
  • Although Vilma stated that gentrification and the speculation of real estate are not current issues for Alserkal Avenue as it is an industrial area with a policy that allows only local citizens to buy land, she hoped that the pandemic would encourage more people to embrace their civic responsibilities, and result in the remapping of a global commons (both digital and physical) and the development of more equitable models

 

“A city’s creative magic is held by the people that live there” – Lizzie Araujo

 

Notes taken by Dr Hoe Su Fern, Assistant Professor and Arts and Culture Management Programme Coordinator, Singapore Management University