People Make Places

Posted by Carol Jones, Oct 11, 2013 0 comments

Carol Jones Carol Jones

I live and work in a small city, the capital of a small country that has four times more sheep than people. Cardiff ( has a population of less than 350,000 but has a growing reputation as a vibrant city where people want to live and visit. It has, as we say in Wales, ‘hwyl’ – a complex and intangible mix of passion and sense of belonging that isn’t easy to translate but has been said to sum up Welshness in a word.

The contribution of creativity to the social and economic success of cities is a hot topic. And that’s no surprise…CREATIVITY MATTERS. It can drive economic opportunity, aid social problem solving and cohesion, generate new ways of thinking or bring together established ideas in new ways to drive things forward.

But it’s not just about economic growth – creativity can make our cities a better place to live and somewhere more exciting and stimulating to be, to work and contribute. Creative cities are also often better governed and better organized places – though perhaps it’s difficult to discern if better government produces more creativity or more creativity makes better government. (Though I know what I think.)

Either way our cities can be hotbeds of creativity - full of the buzz of arts venues, bars and restaurants and awash with architect-designed buildings. But it’s about more than that, more than being a hub for enterprise and culture even. Creative cities provide countless opportunities for everything from accidental connections to formal collaborations. And it’s those opportunities, those sparks that act as a catalyst for new thinking and innovation.

So cities have all the vital ingredients they need to meet the urban challenges of the future – the recession, unemployment, poverty and how our cities work and deliver. Cities that are home to residents from differing backgrounds with wide and innovative perspectives provide the perfect breeding ground for radical solutions. It’s this diversity and tolerance that not just makes the spark but allows us to make something, mould it, create something special.

  • So what part does arts and cultural organisations play in this?
  • Are we already at the forefront of moving cities forward or can we do more?
  • What do we bring to the table and where are the shining examples that can be replicated across the globe?
  • Do we make the most of our spaces to encourage shared experiences, collaborations and make people feel they belong and can contribute?

Culture-led regeneration in the UK often revolves around the urban fabric of cities – build it big, or often, just build it, with an emphasis on culture and consumption. This cultural consumption generates business, enhances property markets and can bring international intention but also has its limits. Building-led development can lead to social exclusion (both real and symbolic) and can undermine existing, often smaller, creative spaces that concentrate on production and the vital part of any regeneration equation…people. It’s not just about making money, it’s about making meaning and how people respond and engagement with cultural spaces is key to this.

Real creative vision requires a much deeper and wider set of transformations that takes cultural marketers way beyond the traditional view of ‘place’ in the marketing mix and involves keeping community at the heart of what we do - communities of artists, audiences and local people building partnerships and re-imagining the city and its spaces.  This re-landscaping and urban renewal should not be led by planners and architects but be bottom up – a series of micro transformations led by cultural vision and powered by the community.

And that brings me to Chapter, a rebellious, multidisciplinary arts center set in the middle of a traditional, mixed community in the west of Cardiff, that celebrates the collision of contemporary with community, of art with audience, of local and global. I’ll talk at the Conference about how it has used its social spaces to drive it forward both artistically and financially and how it contributes to the wider creativity of the city.  It’s also profiled in a publication called People Make Places by the UK Think Tank, DEMOS (free to download) which explores how we can find new ways to reconnect public, private and shared spaces and how they can provide the impetus for growing the shared life of our towns and cities.  It throws up, and attempts to answer, a number of questions that I’ll throw open to this debate too:

  • What does a user-led framework for public spaces look like?
  • What makes a public space effective as a social, democratic space of interaction for all?
  • Does providing more personalized experiences to meet people’s different needs strengthen the shared life of an individual space, neighborhood or city?
  • How can we encourage users who have little confidence in terms of participating in the public life of our cities be encouraged to take more risks and access a wider set of experiences?
  • What role can cultural marketers play to make this happen?

Ron Evans will be presenting the following session at our National Arts Marketing Program Conference November 8-11 2013 in Portland, Oregon:

For more information or to register for the conference, click here.

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