The book Eventful Cities. Cultural Management and Urban Revitalisation is a successful attempt to connect theory and practice related to the processes of cultural event development, management and marketing, and to look at these processes in a wider global, social, cultural and economic context. Written by Robert Palmer* and Greg Richards**, it provides a unique blend of practical and academic analysis, with a selection of major events and festivals in cities where “eventfulness” has been an important element of development strategy. The book contains plenty of examples and case studies of cities and events across the world.
1. Greg, In your book, you use the term “eventfulness” as not just “a form of civic animation” but as “a process that helps cities to attain their goals and become more dynamic and liveable places”. You say that “eventfulness also creates far more than economic value and public value: it acts as a catalyst to develop shared experiences, shared values and shared visions about the city”. How does this concept work in practice of a multicultural city where many different ethnic and language communities live together? How could they create “shared visions and values”?
In the Eventful City we talk about the Intercultural City rather than the Multicultural city, but the principle of creating a shared vision for the process of eventfulness is applicable to any city and to all the different groups in a city. The process of developing any major policy of course has to start with a vision which can give direction and purpose. In the case of cities, which inevitably bring many different communities together, it is important to create a vision which can be shared by those different communities, otherwise the result is likely to be exclusion and/or conflict. This vision also needs to be developed by and communicated clearly to all stakeholders groups in the eventful city to ensure that they all feel included in the process. In doing so, cities also need to recognise their own position as a key stakeholder in broader event networks. The public sector effectively functions as a gatekeeper for other stakeholders, often providing funding and sometimes coordinating the organisation of events or organising events themselves. It is therefore also important that the public sector avoids adopting a too dominant role which may end up excluding certain groups. Some cities have developed a fairly tokenistic approach to events, with each community group allocated its opportunity in the city events calendar. This creates a ‘me-too’ approach to cultural events which eventually may prove limiting and unmanageable. This is one important reason why we advocate an inclusive and intercultural rather than a multicultural approach.
2. In Chapter I you discuss the terms: “the managed city”, “the postmodern city”, “the entrepreneurial city”, the creative city” and “the intercultural city”. How about “the happy city”?
Our argument is that eventfulness should be seen as a system that allows cities to become more liveable places, increasing the quality of life for all. So the ‘happy city’ should be the outcome of adopting an eventful city approach. The problem with some other models of urban development, such as the ‘creative city’, is that they have been seized upon by advocates of what Jamie Peck calls ‘fast policy’ as a quick fix to serious economic, social and cultural problems, which in our view actually need a longer term, more considered approaches. This belief was one of the main reasons for writing the book, because we could see that cultural events were becoming used primarily as part of an economic development objective which ignores the real needs of residents in favour of civic boosterism. However, cultural events have now become such an important part of the economic, social and cultural DNA of many cities that it is now hard to disentangle them from wider political and economic agendas. The eventful city approach is one means of ensuring that cities do not lose sight of the fact that events are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, and that they produce a wide range of outcomes for the city. We see eventfulness as a tool which should be used to ensure that, in the longer term, the city becomes a better, happier place. This requires a coherent vision, long-term commitment and an inclusive approach, which contrasts with many ‘creative city’ type programmes currently being developed. In our view the aim should be not to focus on one group in the city and then hope for some ‘trickle-down’ to the rest of the population, but rather to begin to stimulate eventfulness at the grass roots level in order to produce cultural, social and eventually economic benefits for all.
Creating sustainable eventfulness is a question of understanding the relationship between individuals, social groups and the physical and spatial fabric of the city. Grass roots eventfulness can only emerge effectively if the appropriate spaces are available. These are not just physical spaces – the kind of ‘trusting spaces’ that Eduard Delgado (the founder of Interarts Foundation, Barcelona and prominent figure in cultural policy and research field in Europe) spoke about that are essential to the modern network society – but also temporal spaces – the breaks in the rhythm of the city which can create emotional effervescence. Rather than management, we see the process of developing eventfulness as an act of civic curation. In curating the city, the cultural programmers become enablers of creative rhythms and spaces as tools for shaping the future of the city.
3. There is a lot of research done on cultural policy on a city level across Europe, and from variety of perspectives. A lot of research work is still “static” – staying on the shelves, unused by policy makers. Are you optimistic that your book could influence policy-making at city level? In what way do you expect that your book helps in the processes of urban revitalisation and local policies?
This book should be relevant to all cities because they are increasingly facing similar challenges in the field of urban revitalisation. Our experience of the European Capital of Culture (ECOC), for example, is extremely relevant in this respect. There has been a veritable explosion in the number of cities wanting to host this event (and ECOC ‘clones’ in other parts of the world) and a dramatic growth in the amount of money being invested in the cultural programme and cultural infrastructure associated with it. Much of this investment has taken place without serious consideration of the implications or structured legacy planning. As a result, many cities have failed to capitalise adequately on their cultural development programmes, while a handful of success stories have been widely touted as justification for large scale investments. Our intention in writing the book was to provide a balanced view of what eventfulness can deliver to a city and how best to approach urban programming in order to maximise the desired outputs. There should be valuable lessons to be drawn for every city from the book, particularly in terms of learning from the successes and failures of others. It is not written as a handbook, because every city is different and needs to develop its own approach to cultural programming – but it does provide clear indications of what works and what doesn’t work in different situations. We have tried to make it as relevant as possible to a wide range of cities and communities, which is probably why we ended up filling over 500 pages and using hundreds of examples!
4. One of the very important factors influencing creative processes today and the way we organise events are the information and communication technologies. For example, the study Excited Atoms by Judith Staines discusses virtual mobility, giving examples of artistic productions and creations online. Would you agree with the term “Virtual eventful city”?
There is little doubt that cultural events are increasingly moving into the virtual world. In the book we examine many examples of this, including the development of festivals in Second Life or the virtual reproductions of certain events, such as the running of the bulls in Pamplona. It is also one of the major discussion points in our consideration of the future of the eventful city in the final chapter of the book, because it goes to the heart of a major debate on the state of urban life. With the advent of the Internet some commentators, such as Faith Popcorn and her concept of ‘cocooning’, envisaged a future in which city dwellers would increasingly retreat into the comfort and safety of home. But our research indicates that the consequences of the ‘network society’ are somewhat different. There has certainly been a growth in what Manuel Castells calls ‘networked individualism’, with people increasingly making social and economic contacts via the web. But this in turn has actually stimulated a greater need for what we call significant ‘moments of physical co-presence’ – in other words the need to interact with others in communal events in public space. This phenomenon is currently being played out in cities across the globe as people increasingly flock to watch the World Cup on giant screens in city centres or football stadiums rather than watching TV at home. The feeling of shared emotional energy is something that you simply can’t replicate in your living room or behind a computer terminal. For this reason, we see the staging of virtual events as an adjunct to, rather than a replacement for, events in the physical city. Effectively, the two support each other – physical events spawn virtual counterparts which in turn create more interest in attending events in the ‘real world’.
One area in which the development of a ‘virtual eventful city’ might be particularly useful is in the innovation of new event concepts. By linking cultural actors together in new combinations and through social networks, virtual mobility can help overcome some of the restrictions experienced by traditional, real world events – including the growing problem of rising costs and falling subsidies.
5. What is the main role and responsibilities of cultural producers, animators, managers, entrepreneurs, administrators in an “eventful city”? Where should be the emphasis in cultural management training and education today, in light of your findings and conclusions related to cultural management and urban revitalisation?
Our analysis of the activities of different stakeholders in the eventful city highlights the fact that these actors can adopt a range of different roles with respect to events: as architects, facilitators, engineers, contractors, etc. It is also clear that the roles of different actors and the boundaries between the public, commercial and voluntary sectors are in a constant state of flux. Particularly in the current economic climate there is likely to renewed scrutiny of the need for direct public sector management and funding of cultural event programmes. Cities such as London, Montreal and Baltimore have already seen cuts in their budgets, and it is likely that many other cities will follow. It will be increasingly important to develop a mixed economy of events which is more resilient in the face of such shocks, and this also implies that cities have to become smarter and more creative with the events they have.
In terms of education and training this also implies a shift away from the current focus in many institutions on ‘events management’ towards a more holistic approach which recognises the essential synergies between stakeholders in eventful cities and regions. The new climate requires a new approach for cities and new skills among those involved in organising and planning events. In particular they will need to be able to link between networks and stakeholders in different sectors in order to secure the support and resources necessary to generate eventfulness. This means that apart from an understanding of the dynamics of cultural events themselves, training needs to focus on the communication between stakeholders and maximising the synergy between a city and its portfolio of events.
In our experience it is also important to develop the critical faculties of those involved in conceiving or developing events. Very often, events are run by those who are enthusiastic about the event itself. Personal passions and individual entrepreneurialism are important, but the real question that often needs to be asked from the perspective of the city itself is whether events in general, or a specific event in particular, is the best way to deliver benefits to the communities in the city itself.
6. Collaboration and networking is a key for success of any artistic events. In your book you mention the term “collaborative advantage” – my guess is because in the cultural sector “collaboration” is more important than “competition”. Are there any negative consequences of collaboration and networking, or they could bring only positive results?
Collaboration is certainly crucial for the eventful city. All events involve a wide range of stakeholders, and if they work effectively together then the city can develop a form of ‘collaborative advantage’, which in many cases will be more valuable in the long term than the immediate economic or cultural impacts of the event. This is evident from the number of cities who have used the process of developing events as a catalyst for rallying stakeholders and citizens behind a specific vision for the city. This is clear in the cases of cities like Glasgow, with the ECOC in 1990, or Barcelona with the 1992 Olympics and subsequent events.
However, it is not always evident that collaboration is a more natural mode of working than competition in the cultural sector. This seems particularly true for cities that host a number of major events, such as Edinburgh. The last strategic review there indicated that the major festivals often saw their reference points and potential collaborators as major festivals in other parts of the world rather than in their own city. Festivals on the doorstep may often be viewed as competitors for funds and attention in the local cultural scene.
But some cities are slowly waking up to the need to stimulate more collaboration between events within the city and with events elsewhere. This is evident in the formation of many city event organisations which have developed collaborative marketing programmes. Organisations such as Rotterdam Festivals or Antwerpen Open play a vital role in developing eventfulness strategies, coordinating programming and providing marketing support. If such collaborative ventures are well managed, there is no reason why there should be negative consequences.
Some cities are waking up to the fact that collaboration and competition necessarily coexist, and that the resulting tension can be used creatively in developing eventfulness. In the Dutch city of Den Bosch, for example, this principle has been incorporated into the programme of events being developed for the 500th anniversary of the death of the painter Hieronymus Bosch in 2016. They are working with local residents and cultural groups to develop a degree of ‘co-opertition’ between different parts of the city in creative activities such as the Bosch Dinner and the Bosch Parade. Similar strategies have been used in Brussels in the development of the Zinneke festival.
7. LabforCulture moderates a Young Cultural Policy Research Forum online. Considering your own experience, what would be your main advice to the young researchers who plan to pursue a career in the field of cultural policy?
In cultural policy research, just as in any other research field, the most important thing is to ask the right questions. Young researchers in particular are often keen to find answers, but in my experience the more one researches, the more elusive answers become – particularly to the big questions. I learned a lot from reading Peter Medawar’s book The Art of the Soluble, which includes the famous quote: “If politics is the art of the possible, research is surely the art of the soluble. Both are immensely practical-minded affairs.” He did a lot to demystify the conduct of science and the art of doing research. In particular, he pointed out that there are many different ways of doing research, and that there is no conflict between ‘scientific’ research and art. In fact, you could argue that the artistic element of doing research is likely to become more important as we need young researchers to think outside box in their creative search for the right questions, and one of these questions is certainly about the role and potential of city eventfulness.
Greg Richards is Professor of Leisure Studies at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He has worked for many years in the field of cultural and creative tourism, conducting diverse applied and academic research projects, and managing the ATLAS Cultural Tourism Project, which incorporates researchers from over 30 countries. He has worked on projects for numerous national governments, national tourism organisations and municipalities. He also worked extensively in tourism research and education, with previous posts at London Metropolitan University (UK), Universitat Roviria I Virgili, Tarragona (Spain) and as a Reader at the University of the West of England (UK). He was also a European Union Marie Curie Fellow at the Interarts Foundation in Barcelona.
Robert Palmer is Director of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage at the Council of Europe. Formerly, he was founder and director of Palmer-Rae Associates, an independent cultural consultancy working regularly on international projects and assignments. Prior to this he was the Director of two European Capitals of Culture – Glasgow (1990) and Brussels (2000) and the author of a major study on European Capitals of Culture for the European Commission. He was also the Director of Culture for the City of Glasgow (1987-1997) and Director of Drama and Dance at the Scottish Arts Council (1980-1987). He has undertaken cultural projects in over 20 countries – Europe, Canada, and South-East Asia.
Read the blog post also on LabforCulture – the networking platform for information on European arts and culture.