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11 creative ways cities are making space for artists

Smart ways cities can invest in their creative capital

Frank Turner concert in London; the city’s Grassroots Venue Rescue Plan has helped preserve small clubs vital to the local music scene.
Greater London Authority

Artists have often been in a bind when it comes to finding space to thrive in cities. Access to culture can both improves neighborhoods and property values, creating a system where the creative class becomes victims of its own success. But increasingly, urban leaders have long seen the value of artist, according to Paul Owens, the director of the World Cities Culture Forum, a 32-city cultural organization that promotes the arts and artists. Now they’re focused on working with both artists and developers to create alliances that can benefit both parties, as well as the city at large.

“Rather than see artists as sort of free-range chickens who come at random, we’re arguing that artists need to be organized and contribute value and well as get value,” says Owens. “Artists are going from canaries to being partners in crime.”

As part of its mission to promote cultural space and the cultural industry, the World Cities Culture Forum looked at creative solutions its members were using to encourage arts and engagement in the face of rising costs and increased development. The new WCCF report Making Space for Culture presents case studies on ways cities can create thriving art spaces while building their cultural infrastructure.

According to Owens, these efforts come from the realization that arts and culture aren’t just amenities that come with a rich civic life, but important tourism and economic drivers. Many of the cities in the forum count on cultural industries for anywhere between 7 and 15 percent of their economic output.

Over the last decade, a sea change at city halls has led more and more municipal leaders to take culture seriously. Once cutting-edge roles in local government, including city cultural ministers and night mayors, have become commonplace, and leadership at many levels has sought solutions to encourage artistic engagement.

“Artists can be catalysts for other things to happen,” says Owens. “At their best, cultural centers thrive when they’re interacting with other parts of the city.”

Here are case studies from the WCCF report identifying new ways cities are helping to build up their creative infrastructure.

Hong Kong Arts Development Council

Arts Space Scheme in Hong Kong: Finding room for art in one of the world’s densest cities

Saying Hong Kong, a city of 7.3 million, is crowded is an understatement. In some areas, the metro area can seem to be bursting at the seams, making it harder and harder for artists to find room amid rising property costs. To facilitate local art, the city worked with a private landlord to covert a former factory into studio spaces for creatives. By funding the factory conversion, the city was able to coax a the owner into providing below-market rent. The success of this trial has led the city to experiment further, attaching requirements for studio space to some future industrial renovation projects.

TAK Kartal

TAK Kartal in Istabul: Making room for mobile creative space

Tasarım Atolyesi Kartal (Design Atelier Kartal, abbreviated as TAK Kartal) is a public-private program that helps bridge cultural divides and engage locals in the design of their own neighborhood. The municipality of Kartal, an area of 460,000 residents who have mostly resettled from other parts of Turkey, wanted to improve the quality of life for locals, renovate old industrial spaces, and create space for designers. The solution, a series of design studios and roving public programs, asks neighbors to provide feedback for new community development, provides spaces for children’s events, and holds public forums and events, including movie screenings, seed bombing classes, and illustration workshops. TAK Gezici, a mobile design atelier, and TAK Kondus, portable and expandable modular units that function as gathering spaces, engage the community, wherever it is.

Global Beats
Greater London Authority

Grassroots Venue Rescue Plan in London: Saving the home of local music

London’s contributions to contemporary music are enviable, but rising rents in the rapidly developing city are threatening the small spaces that incubate unique talent. To combat the loss of smaller clubs and venues, City Hall created a Grassroots Music Venue Rescue Plan in 2015, which included recommendations to stem the loss of venues, determine the economic value of these venues to the local economy, and discover the scale of the problem (35 percent of these venues had been lost since 2007). The London Music Board, an industry group, has taken over implementation of the plan, and has already moved forward, appointing a Night Czar and adding an “Agent of Change” principle to local planning (which requires new developments to invest in soundproofing to avoid noise complaints against existing venues). These actions have begun to turn the tide: a report earlier this year found no new loss of venues for the first time since 2007. It also discovered the sizable impact of these spaces: £92 million ($112 million) per year to the city’s economy.

Ayuntamiento de Madrid. Licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0
Ayuntamiento de Madrid. Licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

Imagine Madrid in Madrid: Giving Spaniards tools to reshape their city

Suffering through the effects of a prolonged economic downturn, citizens of Madrid, especially younger designers and architects, faced severe unemployment challenges. Imagine Madrid, initiated by the City Council, taps into this creative energy and brainpower to help empower locals to redesign their city. Beginning in 2013, the city government funded three pilot programs—a mural, open-air cinema, and urban garden and gathering space—to bring artist-driven interventions to the city, an “urban acupuncture” take on placemaking and cultural infrastructure. The success of these initials trials has led to an extension of the program this year, which is accepting submissions for 10 new projects.

Scott Inn
Courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission

Community Arts Stabilization Trust in San Francisco: Find space for art in a hot property market

Fueled by the tech boom, San Francisco has become one of the most expensive property markets in the country, putting the squeeze on artists and non-profits. To help preserve the cultural community amid rising commercial rents, and provide guidance and assistance in a cutthroat real estate market, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) was set up in 2013. The real estate development and holding company raises money to buy property, which it leases to non-profit arts groups at below market rates on a least-to-own model (it also provides grants and technical assistance). So far, CAST has raised more than $20 million, has two tenants who have the option to purchase their properties in 2020, and is looking at expanding into Oakland.

Yongsuk Choi. Courtesy of Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture

Street Art Creation Centre in Seoul: Giving new genres a chance, and a home

In the fast-growing South Korean capital, developers and builders are straining to keep up with demand. The same issue impacts arts groups, which have trouble providing cultural space and support to an expanding population, especially for newer forms of expression, such as street art. The new Street Art Creation Center, a joint project between the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture which opened in 2015, found a home for street artists in the northeast corner of the city, turning the decommissioned Guui Water Intake Station complex into a space for classes and gallery events. By recognizing the need for infrastructure for all forms of art, local leaders helped create a new cultural cornerstone for the city.


I-FACTORY in Shenzen: Creative futures from an industrial past

Like many Chinese cities, Shenzen has grown exponentially as its economy boomed. But the focus on economic expansion often left civic artistic development behind. To help provide an incubator for the new generation of creative industries, the Shenzhen Municipal Government and China Merchants Shekou, a state-owned company, turned old factory space in the city’s port into a multi-use arts venue. Freed from many regulations, and supported with tax incentives, the new space has become a hive of activity, including film shoots, fashion shows, and music concerts.

City of Sydney

Creative Spaces and Built Environment in Sydney: New rules for today’s cultural industry

Like many cities, Sydney has found its old warehouses and vacant industrial sites cycle through stages of development, from lofts and artist workshops to hip, expensive loft condos. But that shift has left creative industries out to dry, as development robs them of the spaces and buildings that once housed startups and performance spaces. The Sydney government, seeing the value in promoting these artists and entrepreneurs, has embarked on a long-term plan to evaluate and change building regulations to help knock down regulatory barriers and find new ways to create creative spaces. Beginning with a white paper, “New Ideas for Old Buildings,” in 2015, the city has studied building codes and cultural policies, with an eye toward evaluating a new set of reforms sometime this year.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Kagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour in Tokyo: New platforms for traditional arts

It’s not just new genres and cutting-edge culture that needs help. Tokyo’s Kagurazaka neighborhood has been a center for traditional music and culture, but changing entertainment trends and the 2008 financial crisis have left performers and venues struggling to find patrons. To help support this industry and preserve traditional culture, Tokyo lent support to the Kagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour, which has helped promote the area and its artists since 2013. These events have become models for cultural support, bringing nearly 40,000 fans and tourists to the annual celebration.

City of Vienna

F23.wir.fabriken in Vienna: Creating a cultural hub in a neighborhood that never existed

Vienna’s rapid expansion has led to a few growing pains for the cultural sector. In the city’s newest district, formed out of a handful of village incorporating into the Austrian capital, there isn’t a real town square or meeting place. To help facilitate community development, create cultural space, and develop a neighborhood identity the Vienna government, along with a number of cultural partners, is in the midst of transforming an old Art Deco factory into a new multi-purpose arts space. By keeping the historic exterior while building a modern performance venue inside, the city has invested in a long-term space for cultural projects and activities.

untitled by Rirkrit Tiravanija in the Brodno Sculpture Park.
City of Warsaw.

Bródno Sculpture Park in Warsaw: Contemporary art as community building block

Some cities have a “wrong side of the tracks.” In Warsaw, that distinction could be better described as wrong side of the River Vistula, a waterway that splits the city. The eastern half, which contains the neighborhood of Bródno, has traditionally been underinvested, but ever since a new Metro line opened in 2015 that spanned the river, local artists and arts groups have tried to figure out how to build up the neighborhood’s cultural capital. Beginning in 2009, the Bródno Sculpture Park managed to create new public space for the arts on a limited budget. Every year, new installations, including works from Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson, are added, expanding the park and community engagement. Additional workshops and temporary programs have added to the park’s local impact.