Mariangela Lavanga is a lecturer at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on cultural and creative industries, urban (re)development, creative cities, creative clusters and cultural policy. Mariangela holds a PhD in Communication Economics from IULM University in Milan, a MSc in Urban Management from Erasmus University Rotterdam and a BA/MSc in Economics from Bocconi University in Milan. Between 2006 and 2010, Mariangela was post-doc researcher at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) – Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). She has over 10 years of academic and professional experience as a researcher, lecturer and consultant, providing research and consultancy services for government authorities, foundations and organizations in Europe.

1. Mariangela, your PhD thesis (defended in 2006) was on “Cities and Culture. Policies for a Sustainable Urban Development based on Culture.”.It seems that the word “sustainability” is somehow “over-used”:  in the management, business, social and cultural studies. How would you briefly justify its importance in relation to the urban development and trends?

The debate on sustainable development highlights the crucial role of cities. Cities are the centre of creativity and innovation but they are also places where there is a very unbalanced use of resources. Furthermore, the fact that more than half of the world population today live in cities makes the sustainability issues even higher in the policy and research agendas. However, only environmental, economic and social considerations have been taken into account. Notwithstanding the increasing importance of cultural and creative industries, the role of culture within urban sustainable development has been largely neglected.

2. One of your areas of expertise is on creative industries from an urban perspective. What are the main misconceptions on the importance of this topic as part of cultural policy development on local level?

Every city today wants to become a “creative city”. The biggest misconception is thinking that the attraction of creative people can sustain the development of cities and that creativity can be copied from a city and imported into another. In addition, economic priorities have overcome the cultural ones. By the early 1980s cultural industries have been be included in urban cultural policies as a way to regenerate cities. Today culture has been included within a creative industries agenda of economic policy. Are cultural policies becoming economic policies? If we think in terms of sustainability, I believe that culture can play a crucial role in urban development because of its multidimensional impacts – not only on the economic sphere, but on the social, physical and cultural ones.

3. You lecture at Erasmus University, Rotterdam.  What is your impression on the way how the young generation today accumulate and digest information and knowledge? Are university programs advanced in offering teaching and learning methodologies which fit well to the rapidly changing technological and online environment?

I can not generalize. I think that there are no huge differences between my generation and the current one. In every class there are some students who excel, can easily discuss and criticize the literature, while the rest need more time to assimilate and digest it. One of the main differences is the overuse of power point. Students want and need summaries. When I was a student you were supposed to take notes while the professor was talking. No way was he giving you summaries or notes of the class. In general, I think that today the communication between students and professors is much better (e.g. the very detailed course manuals, the use of Blackboard – the online course management system to enhance teaching, learning and interactivity).

4. do you feel in situations when you are a member of a collaborative team of researchers coming from different countries? What kind of advise you could give to young researchers who plan to undertake complex multilateral research projects in a multicultural environment?

I really enjoy being abroad and working with scholars and students coming from different countries. It really inspires me! I come from a little village in the central-southern Italy and since I was a child I wanted to leave for a more stimulating environment. I never felt so attached to one place. My advice to young researchers who plan to undertake research projects abroad is to be open and very interdisciplinary. Of course it will be tough and there will be moments when you will forsake the day you left your home country, however, in the long run, the experience will pay you off as it will be invaluable.

5. You have received many research prizes and awards in the last 10 years. Which one of them is the most valuable for you and why?

Apart from the university scholarships that allowed me to follow the BA/MA at Bocconi University and the PhD at IULM University in Milan, I must say that the most valuable recognition was being shortlisted for the Cultural Policy Research Award in 2010. I think the CPRA is an important achievement for a young researcher and it has high impacts and visibility both in academia and outside. At the end, even if I didn’t win, it was a very stimulating experience because the award was linked to the Young Cultural Policy Researchers’ Forum. I had the opportunity to present my research proposal to the jury members and to fellow young researchers and I really enjoyed the discussions during the Forum.

6. What are your research plans for 2011? How are they connected with your collaboration across Europe?

First of all I want to increase the number of my publications. I plan to finish several papers linked to my past projects: Places and their Culture: The Evolution of Dutch Cultural Industries from an International Perspective, 1600-2000 – National policies for creative industries: economic policies or cultural policies? – Small cities in the cultural economy: sustainability issues as follow up of my PhD thesis. In the meantime, I think about new research proposals in three main areas:

  • cultural and creative industries and financial crisis;
  • the tensions between creativity and innovation in cities;
  • cultural and creative industries and urban sustainability.

Together with colleagues at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and abroad, I would like to set up an international research network and apply for European funding.

7. What is your hobby? What is not written on your professional CV which you might wish to share with young researchers at this Forum?

My first hobby is very much linked to my interest for cities. I love to take photos of architecture. Another hobby is linked both to photography and fashion and it is quite funny! I enjoy selecting and collecting fashion advertisements and fashion shoots from fashion magazines. I have several pink folders that I browse from time to time while imagining wearing such beautiful dresses and clothes.

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