GCDN partnered with UNFOLD Art XChange for its 2nd Annual UNFOLD Art XChange Art + FinTech summit to launch a panel around Building a Creative Economy: The Transformation of Urban Spaces into Cultural and Educational Districts. Moderated by Adrian Ellis, Director AEA Consulting, (London, New York) and Chairman, Global Cultural District Network (GCDN), the panel comprised of distinguished GCDN members. Held under the patronage of Her Royal Highness, Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa in collaboration with Tamkeen, the Art + FinTech summit was integrated as part of the talks programme for the fourth edition of ArtBAB, Bahrain’s foremost international art fair. The three days summit brought together an unusually stimulating group of speakers from corners of the art world- where art meets financial technology, block-chain, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The event - or more specifically the calibre, enthusiasm and fierce intelligence of the speakers - convinced us, among other things, that these corners are interesting and important and probably, to abandon the metaphor, more than corners. The building-based projects discussed during the panel provided an interesting counterpoint to the almost entirely digital world that constituted the balance of the agenda.
Each of the panelists are involved in an epic adventure of summoning into existence not a single building but a multi-faceted complex of cultural and related activities. They have different roles – Angelita Teo, Director, National Museum of Singapore has a day job running the anchor institution in her district – as well as the Festivals and Precinct Development Division of the National Heritage Board (NHB); Laila Al Qatami, Managing Director, Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre is navigating the gestation, birth and now the infancy of Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre - a cluster of six museums and exhibition centres in Kuwait City. Duncan Pescod, CEO, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is responsible for the most ambitious urban renewal schemes ever in the cultural sector – certainly holding its own against historic districts like Albertopolis in London, comprising a series of performing and visual arts spaces – the first of which - the Chinese opera house or Xiqu Centre - has just opened. Lastly, Anna Jobson is the Director of Change Management in University of the Arts, which is an anchor constituent in a new cultural and educational in the East of London on the site of the 2012 Olympics.
The panel discussed the interesting conundrum that these large scale projects represent in the age of virtual and augmented reality and a time people in the arts are telling us is tough: when trends in philanthropy and in public sector funding are making it more difficult to secure operating funds; when legacy institution are being written off by US Foundations as no longer relevant; and when competition for leisure time and dollars is fierce. Here we are witnessing a quite extraordinary level of investment in cultural infrastructure– and serious thought being given to what is required to make this investment productive. The panelists, who have responsibility for delivering capital projects, know that delivering them does not just mean a building on time, on budget and meeting the spec. It means the buildings – as a collection – fulfilling multiple complex social and economic purposes alongside their cultural ones.
The panel also discussed the many role these project play:
1. Symbolism– icons for their cities and countries
2. Tourism – cultural tourists spend more, stay longer, and return moreoften
3. Anchors for urban development – these project lift adjacent propertyprices
4. Generators of social and educational capital – they animate and provide a context for socialgathering
5. Coaxers inward investment and knowledge workers – all highly mobileand requiring a compelling reason to settle
Each one of these– they suggested - requires a particular approach to hardware, to software, to governance and representation, and to the business model. And each has a separate set of metrics associated with it. ‘Success’ is multi dimensional, and so is failure.
These are complex and sophisticated ambitions - and districts have become critical policy tools in the limited arsenal available to cities and countries in an open economy. Indeed, if there is one driver behind all this – we concluded - it’s globalization – and if we are in a period of backwash, it will be interesting to see what happens.
So this is fascinatingly rich territory – and these four eloquent panelists – gave a robust defense of the physical world, the importance of place making, and the contributions of culture to it.