City of style… and substance

Garcia, B. ‘City of style… and substance. Tracing the legacy of 1990 on Glasgow’s creative communities’, presented at: Creative Clusters Conference (Belfast, October 23-26, 2005) [powerpoint slides]

Glasgow’s reign as 1990 European City of Culture is regarded as a successful example of culture-led regeneration. Claims of success focus on Glasgow’s ability to use a cultural event as a catalyst for image change, which led to a dramatic growth in leisure and business tourism and contributed to strengthening the city’s creative economy. Glasgow 1990 was also originally praised for its broad cultural remit and spatial distribution of activity to reach out to marginal communities. However, this is rarely mentioned as a legacy or mark of success. This is partly a result of the limited visibility that Glasgow community programme had beyond those directly involved, an example of the trend towards excluding grassroots stories from the mainstream media.

Fifteen years on, references to Glasgow 1990 have resurfaced due to the nomination of Liverpool as 2008 European Capital of Culture and the interest in establishing replicable models for cultural regeneration. The emphasis is on economic regeneration but linked to the expectation that, with it, will come social and cultural regeneration. On this basis, it is relevant to revisit what was achieved by Glasgow’s approach to community engagement in 1990 and assess whether the experience has led to any sustainable legacy within the city’s creative economy.

This paper presents the results of a three-year project looking into the long-term cultural legacies of event-led regeneration. The research involved the content analysis of 20 years of press references to Glasgow 1990 and related cultural policy documents, 55 personal interviews and seven focus groups with event stakeholders – including a wide range of grassroots art groups. The findings support the claim that localities must work towards diverse and inclusive social environments to secure high levels of local creativity and thus maximise distinctiveness, competitiveness and long-term sustainability.

Selected findings

  • Glasgow 1990 community programme lacked profile at the time but lives on in the work of the city’s best established grassroots art institutions today. Community art leaders claim that the most important legacy of 1990 is the confidence boost it brought to alternative arts groups. This led to higher levels of entrepreneurship that, ultimately, allowed them to find new funding sources at a time of cuts in public spending.
  • The 1990 community programme strengthened the view that the arts can make a difference within deprived and marginal communities. It acted as a catalyst for the disability arts movement and as a point of reference for pioneering work in multicultural and multi-faith experiences resulting in the opening of the Hidden Gardens in 2003.
Successful components of 1990 community programming
  • Avoiding paternalism and instrumentalism: organisers followed an artistic vision rather than social or economic targets. Participants were encouraged to engage with a creative experience rather than treating it as ‘therapy’ or a purely skill-development exercise
  • A flexible and organic process: broad time frames allowed a wide range of groups to present proposals; funding was subdivided so that everyone could get support; there were no strict thematic or format restrictions
  • ‘Mainstream arts’ budgets: generous funding which also supported research and development. The programme thus became more aspirational.
Selected policy lessons:
  • Cities must invest in longitudinal research in order to identify the cultural legacies of regeneration
  • Identifying and understanding cultural legacies is important because they tend to become embedded in the fabric of a city and can thus be more meaningful and sustainable than economic and physical legacies
  • Securing strong cultural legacies is particularly relevant to marginal communities as they require a strong confidence basis and a tolerant environment to develop their own approach to creativity and eventually contribute to the wider city economy
  • Cultural legacies flourish better in flexible environments by following organic rather than excessively strategic processes. This is particularly the case within deprived communities which rely on informal cultural networks