The cultural value of event-led city regeneration

I am in Helsinki presenting the paper The cultural value of event-led city regeneration. What makes a European Capital of Culture sustainable’ .

My presentation is part of the international symposium Culture(s) in Sustainable Futures: Theories, Policies, Practices, organised by the University of Jyväskylä as part of a COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) research programme.

Find my abstract below:

Ever since the realisation that culture can have economic value, cultural expressions have been commonly interrogated through an economic and, often, purely instrumental lens. Economic or – at most – socioeconomic impact narratives and associated methodologies to capture such effects have grown exponentially since the 1980s and become pervasive in the 2000s. Cultural events have been at the forefront of such narratives, viewed as a key catalyst for economic and social change and becoming one of the most sought-after vehicle for culture-led regeneration strategies. However, by 2015, it has become apparent (in academic, if not yet political circles) that a narrow focus on economic measurement alone leaves unexplained some of the most valuable – and sustainable – dimensions of the event hosting process.

This paper shows the importance of developing a holistic methodology to capture the value of a cultural event as opposed to just measuring (or counting up) its economic and social effects. The paper offers an overview of the comprehensive methodological framework developed to assess the multiple impacts of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC), a EU title launched in 1985 and hosted by close to 60 cities in 30 countries to date. The paper proves that, despite the emphasis on narrow statistical evidence to claim success, the most sustainable event experiences have taken place in cities capable of engaging in and projecting out cultural conversations which require a far more complex, locally sensitive and internationally aware assessment model.

Beyond a broad programme overview, the paper offers a close interrogation of two of the most high profile ECoC examples, taking place over two decades apart: Glasgow 1990 and Liverpool 2008. It shares for the first time a detailed comparative analysis of the media coverage surrounding two cities from the moment of being awarded the title until several years post award, covering over a decade in each case. Such assessment, which builds on a comprehensive media content and discourse analysis methodology developed over two decades, provides an example of how to capture cultural value and, in particular, the effects that events can have on image change, identity formation and city renaissance debates. The paper concludes with a reflection about the importance as well as limitations of media analysis as a tool to capture cultural value and its sustainability in the context of other emerging qualitative and quantitative event impact methodologies.