Bigger Thinking for Smaller Cities: how arts and culture can tackle economic, social and democratic engagement challenges in smaller cities.
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March 2010 - This discussion paper, prepared by the UK Regional Cities East (RCE) group, provides British examples of how the arts and culture sector can help stimulate and sustain economic growth, build a sense of shared identity, promote community cohesion, and help address challenges regarding infrastructure and skill levels. According to the paper, smaller cities “offer many of the right characteristics for the arts and culture to flourish”, such as easier networking and sharing of ideas, a high quality of life, and low carbon emissions.

Regional Cities East is an alliance of six towns and cities: Colchester, Ipswich, Luton, Norwich, Peterborough and Southend-on-Sea. These historic and vibrant urban centres are amongst the United Kingdom’s most productive areas. The RCE seeks to maximise their collective commercial, social and cultural potential to help drive sustainable growth and demonstrate that small and medium sized cities can make a significant contribution to the national economy.

The discussion paper’s six principles to “place the arts and culture at the core of local strategies” might be of interest to municipalities of any size:

  1. Arts and culture can act as a stimulus to complementary economic activity.
  2. Arts and culture can revitalise and make effective use of under-utilised physical assets.
  3. Arts and culture that is rooted in the community can build into a strong positive identity for a place at a local, national and international level.
  4. Arts and culture can demystify community differences and bring diverse cultures together.
  5. Arts and culture can engage communities and encourage active citizenship.
  6. Arts and culture can engage marginalised groups to take part in collective action and help them to achieve their potential.

The paper argues that “a thriving arts and culture sector is an essential component of a prosperous, stable and happy society. But more than just adding colour and escape to life, arts and culture are at the very vanguard of tackling serious national issues”.

The discussion paper recommends four policy-related measures:

  1. Local authorities should “collaborate to maximise resources and impact”. Linkages could include pooled resources and shared cultural services teams, as well as collaborative commissions.
  2. Creative public engagement strategies should be developed in order to strengthen communities and enable social cohesion and active citizenship.
  3. Local, regional and national authorities could develop functional cultural areas through “a programme of co-investment that focuses resources on key assets, organisations and high impact interventions. Public money and the combined advocacy of the partners can be used to lever other sources of investment finance and philanthropy.”
  4. Creative leadership should be harnessed: “Arts leaders can play a significant role as civic leaders, collaborating with local authorities to shape local priorities, advocating for the value and contribution of arts and culture to future well-being and prosperity, and driving increased philanthropy locally.”

The paper concludes that successful programs are built on existing strengths. “There is no single model that can be applied uniformly. Activities and interventions must respond to a vision that is specific to each city’s strengths and needs in order to deliver high impact results.”

For more information, visit the UK website for Regional Cities East