Local Roots for a Universal Event?

graffiti-wall.jpgPaper presented in: 3rd International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, HEC Montreal (25-28 August, 2004) [powerpoint slides] 1990 – and Bilbao – opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997.

Despite the generalised use of cultural initiatives as catalysts for urban regeneration, it is not frequent to find parallel developments in city-specific cultural policies. This has often meant that the high levels of investment required to produce hallmark cultural events and infrastructures are not accompanied by long-term legacy planning nor by coherent strategies to secure a balanced spatial and social distribution of benefits.

This paper explores the experience of Barcelona and looks at the design, production and promotion of the latest hallmark event in the city – the Forum Barcelona 2004. The main aim is to examine whether the city’s official cultural strategy has had an impact on the definition, production and/or long-term viability of such a large-scale event.

The paper has the following objectives,
1. Identify points in common and points of conflict between the Forum rationale and the main vision of the city’s cultural strategy
2. Understand the extent to which potential event legacies have been facilitated by the existence of an official city cultural policy / strategy

Methodologies and Theoretical Perspectives

Research for this paper has involved the review of Barcelona city policy documents, event strategic documents and promotional materials produced between 1997 (first announcement of the Forum) and May 2004 (opening of the Forum). This is complemented with interviews with representatives from the Forum, city authorities, cultural policy makers, journalists and selected cultural and community groups in the city. Finally, a follow-up of reactions and commentary by public opinion leaders has been developed through reviewing national press coverage about the event from 1999 to May 2004.

In order to generalise some of the findings, this material has been compared with data collected in other cities that have hosted major events with strong cultural components. These are Sydney (Olympic Arts Festival, 2000) and Manchester (Cultural programme of the Commonwealth Games, 2002). Comparisons are also established with data from the cultural programme of the Olympic Games in Barcelona (Cultural Olympiad, 1992).

The gathering and analysis of data is informed by the work of Franco Bianchini, Charles Landry and other researchers associated with the UK think-tank Comedia (Bianchini & Parkinson, 1993; Bianchini, 1990; Landry et al, 1996; Landry, 2000). The research is also informed by the policy discussions in Barcelona (Diputació de Barcelona, 2000) and at a European level (Council of Europe, 1993). This research has also benefited from the theoretical frameworks discussed by Jordi Borja and Josep Subirós (1989), Eric Corijn (1996) and Graeme Evans’ report to the DCMS (Evans et. al., 2004).

Main Findings and Conclusions

At this point, emerging findings suggest that the rationale for the Barcelona Forum has been linked to the city’s main cultural strategy, which has resulted in a greater dedication to planning for long-term legacies and a balanced distribution of benefits throughout the city. This compares favourably with the experience in 1992, when Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games and organised a parallel cultural programme or ‘Cultural Olympiad’ which did not satisfactorily address issues of sustainability and accessibility. However, some challenges remain for the Forum, since its remit is far broader than that of the city’s cultural strategy. As such, many aspects of this event are not framed by a defined policy. Without a clear guideline to address the effects of the Forum in terms of land use and its implications for social justice, it is unlikely that the event provides the fair distribution of cultural benefits it promises at this stage. One question that remains unanswered is whose culture is going to be represented and/or favoured during the event and its aftermath.

The Barcelona case reveals that, although some progress has been made since the mid 1980s, urban cultural policies tend to have too narrow a remit. As argued by Bianchini (1999), urban cultural policies are often focused on narrow concepts of culture – fundamentally, the arts. Moreover, they are often subdivided by art-form, which limits the possibility to guide or inform major event hosting processes, typically involving a broad and multiform approach to culture. In order to ensure that urban cultural policies maximise the role they should and could play in contemporary cities, fundamental revisions need to be made to the terminology currently in use. Their remit needs to be expanded in a way that addresses the multifaceted nature of urban culture. In line with the debate around ‘cultural planning’ (Bianchini, 1999), this will require a more holistic and flexible understanding of cultural policy that informs both the current notion of an arts and cultural sphere, and the economic, political, social, educational and environment spheres.

Selected references

Bianchini, F. and Parkinson, M. (Eds.) (1993). Cultural Policy and Urban Regeneration. The West European Experience. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Bianchini, F. (1990). Urban Renaissance? The Arts and the Urban Regeneration Process. In S.MacGregor & B. Pimlott (Eds.), Tackling the Inner Cities: The 1980s Reviewed, Prospects for the 1990s. Oxford: Clarendon Press (pp. 215-250).
Bianchini, F. & Greed, C. H. (1999). Cultural Planning and Time Planning. In C.H.Greed (Ed.), Social Town Planning. London: Routledge
Borja, J. & Subirós, J. (1989). The Rebirth of the City. In Documents and subjects of the Eurocities Conference (21-22 Apr) Barcelona: (pp. 13-24).
Corijn, E. (1996). Urban Cultural Policies. In J. Verwijnen & P. Lehtovuori (Eds.), Managing Urban Change Helsinki: University of Art and Design Helkinki Uiah (pp. 26-35).
Council of Europe (1993). Culture in Towns. Cultural Policies of European Cities Today: Assessment and Perspectives. In European Conference organised by the Council for Cultural Co-operation in conjunction with the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and the City of Prague. Strasbourg: Council of Europe
Diputació de Barcelona (Ed.) (2000). Cultura i Poder Local. Reflexions i propostes des de la Taula de Regidors de Cultura dels municipis de la província de Barcelona. Barcelona: Pagès Editors i Diputació de Barcelona, Area de Cultura.
Evans, G., Shaw, P., & Allen, K. (2003). The Contribution of Culture to Regeneration in the UK. (A Report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). London: London Metropolitan University
Forum Barcelona 2004 (2000). Agenda of Principles and Values. Universal Forum of Cultures. Barcelona. [online] www.barcelona2004.org
ICUB (2001). Pla Estratègic de la Ciutat.. Barcelona: Institut de Cultura de Barcelona.
Landry, C. (2000). The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators. London: Earthscan.
Landry, C., Lesley, G., Matarasso, F., & Bianchini, F. (1996). The Art of Urban Regeneration. Urban Renewal through Cultural Activity. Stroud: Comedia.
Porter, Robert (Ed.) (1980). The Arts and City Planning. New York: ACA.