At a time when most public administrations are making do with fewer resources, city administrations are increasingly providing non-financial support to local actors and assuming new roles. One of these is match making local partners. In the field of culture, local administrations are well-placed to use their connections to help broker new partnerships and develop and support local networks of cultural and creative actors.
Yet many city administrations profess a need to learn more about improving such connections. As the network of big European cities, EUROCITIES is working to address this key demand. On the other side of the aisle, networks of cultural and creative stakeholders are keen to develop new approaches in their ongoing work with local administrations. By working together, we hope to boost local cultural offers and strengthen local cultural ecosystems.
Increasing the local cultural offer
Local cultural networks provide unique opportunities for local cultural actors to connect, to get to know each other and to share what they are working on. They also act as platforms where cultural actors can make their voices heard and where city administrations can better understand the specificities and needs of cultural actors (e.g. cultural centres, youth centres, libraries, creative hubs, co-working spaces, incubators and maker-spaces). They can be developed by city administrations, or by cultural actors themselves, and financed in various ways. However they are formed, crucially, they allow city administrations to develop more targeted support services, be they financial or non-financial.
When managed successfully these local networks of cultural stakeholders can be a boon for local economic development, by coming up with innovative ways to deliver public services and by supporting joined up programmes for the local cultural sectors, saving time and money.
There are many practical examples from cities across Europe that show how networks of local cultural stakeholders have positive impacts on policy development, on public support to the cultural sector and on the creation of new cultural offers.
Chemnitz, in Saxony, which recently hosted EUROCITIES Culture Forum to share learning with more than 50 fellow cities, developed a culture strategy in collaboration with local cultural organisations. The city has continued this process of constant engagement ever since, which involves existing and newly created structures and stakeholders from a wide range of sectors as well as representatives from culture, politics, science and administration.
In Espoo, a city in the suburbs of Helsinki, all big cultural investments are first discussed between the city administration and the big local cultural organisations. They meet twice a year to develop future cooperation and current implementation of the local cultural strategy.
In Belfast, a Festivals Forum, and later a Visual Arts Forum, were created by the city council as many local festivals wanted to collaborate, to avoid diary-clashes, and had similar training and marketing needs. Key outcomes include the purchase of resources that can be shared across organisations and the creation of a “Late Night Art” event every first Thursday of each month. when 20 galleries across the city welcome visitors for an evening celebration of visual art.
A vision for future success
Although there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to building successful long-term local networks, there are key success factors to keep in mind.
Sharing a joint vision, based on open discussion between all actors will allow local cultural networks to flourish, giving different actors the opportunity to join forces on shared projects, and providing quality cultural services to citizens.
Once cultural networks are developed by city administrations, or other cultural stakeholders, it is important to give the various local actors’ the freedom to work in the way they prefer. City administrations can steer and provide spaces for meetings, but the group should be empowered to make local decisions – for example, through a steering group.
Europe’s large cities are demonstrating a clear willingness to develop and sustain local networks of cultural organisations and stakeholders. Through networks like EUROCITIES, cities can learn together and adapt successful cooperation models to their local context, always considering the DNA of their diverse cultural and creative ecosystem. We know there is a route forward for better cultural policies in cities, despite difficult times. So, let’s get collaborative.
Julie Hervé is a senior policy advisor at EUROCITIES, the political platform for major European cities.