I’ve had many great opportunities to witness how different communities organize themselves through, around, or into arts and cultural districts. In September, 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting a community in Marseille (800,000 population) in the south of France, a cluster of 8 small neighborhoods that formed a fascinating and alluring heritage and creative district with an approach I hadn’t seen in the United States.
Marseille was motivated by the opportunity to serve as European Capital of Culture for 2013, an effort that brought together players across government, creative, and business sectors to build working relationships like they never had before. The now 30-year-old Capital of Culture program rotates through the nations of the EU selecting cities to show off their distinctive creative and cultural assets. A total of 75 municipal entities in the Provence region (1.8 million population) – an area with no history of regional planning and little cooperation – demonstrated unprecedented unity and cultural vitality for their year in the European spotlight. It was branded Marseille-Provence 2013 or MP2013.